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How To Build a Teeter Totter
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December 2007 -- January 2008
(Media Spotlights Swing Voters ... ignores Teeter-Tottering Voters)
I've always resented the media's fascination with swing voters, mostly because it deflects attention away from the voters who really count--the ones on teeter totters. So I decided to confront this egregious bias right in the media's own front yard ... or at any rate on the front porch of Wallace House on Oxford Street in Ann Arbor ... that's Wallace as in Mary and Mike Wallace.
As the photo here shows, there's a clear bias for swings at Wallace House.
But it was nothing that Totter 2.0 couldn't balance out through a conversation with one of the 2007-08 Knight-Wallace Fellows, Steve Edwards. After his Knight-Wallace fellowship year here in Ann Arbor, Steve will be returning to his hosting duties with the radio news magazine Eight Forty-Eight at WBEZ Chicago. So I was glad to have a chance to totter with him before he leaves later this spring.
We talked quite a bit about the media--as related to presidential campaigns, the state of public radio, and the art of interviewing. But we also touched on Bill Cosby's visit to Ann Arbor a couple weeks ago, and dealt with a brief crisis of faith in the uniqueness of the totter. For details of that crisis, read Steve Edwards' Talk.
For details on the sinking of a cargo ship named the Ice Prince off the coast southern England, read the
BBC News story. It was carrying a load of timber, which has started washing up on beaches. The third photo in the series provided under that link is reproduced here in smaller format.
Occasional readers of Teeter Talk might wonder what the heck is up with English kids that they don't know that proper totter riding (even on a makeshift totter like this) requires the totterees to face each other.
Hard-core regular readers, however, might consider the possibility that the influence of Teeter Talk extends across the Atlantic. Namely, when a guest on Teeter Talk sits for their portrait with their back to the camera, the apparent result is that English kids will imitate this same riding style.
(Why I'm a Loser)
I did not win the AATA mascot-naming contest. The winning entry was 'Scooter'. At the time I submitted my entry, I thought it was so extraordinary that it could not fail to win. But my entry was not extraordinary enough to lodge itself anywhere in my own memory. It was literally forgettable. So it stands to reason that it was not extraordinary enough to win.
I also did not win the Innovate or Die pedal power contest sponsored jointly by Google and Specialized Bicycles. Incredibly, neither pandering to the Google judge by naming the device I built an "API for Pedal Power" nor pandering to the Specialized Bicycles judge by wearing Specialized bicycle shoes in my video was enough to tip the balance in my favor. The winning entry was a vehicle designed to transport and simultaneously filter water for use in developing countries. And one of the Finalists constructed a device that powers a half dozen different devices (compared to the two appliances that mine can drive), so it's hard to quarrel with the choice of winner and finalists.
Except for one. An entry from MIT was awarded a Finalist prize. Some grad students hooked up a bunch of indoor bicycle trainers to electric generators and combined them to briefly power a supercomputer. And the computer was running code that will help push along the research they're doing on ... nuclear fusion. So I suppose that the judges may have felt that the potential was huge for a positive environmental impact based on replacement of fossil fuels with the same energy that powers the sun.
It's just not clear to me what the pedal-powered device is that the MIT students built. If it was the devices used to generate the electricity, and the way they hooked them together to deliver the current necessary to run the supercomputer, then it's not clear what was particularly innovative about their approach to human-powered electricity generation. At least in terms of efficiency, I think the gold standard for the conversion of human effort to electrical energy was a different entry in the contest, namely David Butcher's machine, which eliminates even the minor mechanical inefficiencies inherent in a bicycle transmission. Mr. Butcher quite literally re-invented the wheel there, so there's no question that it was innovative, but this did not earn an acknowledgement from the judges. Perhaps it is because for his entry into the contest, Butcher hooked up his pedal-powered generator to a model train ... not a supercomputer.
So I would speculate that what the judges recognized in the achievement of the MIT team was that they managed to actually design and build a supercomputer that draws little enough current to be powered by a team of cyclists. Who knows.
In any case, I guess an MIT supercomputer beats a model train ... or a washing machine ... every single time. It probably also beats a bubble machine. If the grid goes down, though, even while those MIT students are still calculating with their pedal-powered supercomputer, they won't have any way to clean those very sweaty MIT-color-coordinated, logo-adorned cycling jerseys and shorts. Which will be too bad for them, because if they knock on my door with a basket full of their dirty cycling clothes, I'm just not going to wash them with pedal power, even if the future of nuclear fusion research depends on it. I will, however, offer them a ride on my teeter totter. Because that's what mid-western politeness demands.
That's enough grousing. I've got laundry of my own to pedal clean. So here's a great big Thanks! to Teeter Talk readers who've already sent along their encouragement for further development of pedal-powered laundry.
(Looking for Chris Teeter's Sculptures? Or, Why Advertising?)
Chris Teeter is a sculptor. If you're hunting for images of his sculptures, stop reading this and follow that link.
In my experience, internet search results are good enough, enough of the time. But the search queries that appear in the logs for this site suggest that there's some room for improvement. On the ordinary semantics of 'relevant', the sculptures of Chris Teeter are not relevant to Teeter Talk, yet the string "chris teeter sculpture" appears multiple times in the logs. That's likely because each of three major search engines, Google, Yahoo, and Ask, give a Teeter Talk reference in the first or second page of results for that search phrase [as of 15 January 2008].
Of course, if someone is looking for the artistic works of Chris Teeter, it's not so awful--from my point of view--to have people land on a Teeter Talk blog archive with a mention of Chris Bathgate, plus a mention of 'sculpture' in a essay inspired by Doug Kelbaugh. And from what I've seen of Chris Teeter's work on his website, it's not unreasonable to think that folks who enjoy his works of art might also enjoy Teeter Talk. It's worth pointing out that Chris Teeter's own website ranks higher than Teeter Talk on the above search string. So the benefit of 'good enough' search results is that they provide opportunities for folks to find Teeter Talk serendipitously. And until internet search companies are more concerned with providing better than 'good enough' search, users will never pay for search alone. So internet search companies are concerned with providing ads--ads that aren't necessarily relevant to anything a user is doing or wanting, but that are relevant enough, enough of the time, that users accept these ads as part of the bargain for getting good enough search results.
In the same way, readers of various publications accept the appearance of ads amongst the content as part of the bargain for the chance to read content they value. Heads up to Teeter Talk readers: sometime in the next six months, that left sidebar should fill up with authentic advertisements whose appearance is the result of an interaction with a business owner, not an algorithm.
Back to Chris Teeter. He lives in Columbia, Missouri, so I don't suppose our paths will ever cross. I don't think I've got the horsepower in my legs to drag Totter 2.0 on its trailer all the way there, just to 'show him' a good time on the totter. But, gosh, how he'd make a perfect guest.
(Michigan Democratic Primary: How Voters Choose)
The presidential primaries take place in Michigan today. On the ballot for the Democrats are Hillary Clinton and Dennis Kucinich, plus Mike Gravel. Apologies to Mr. Gravel, but the teeter totter is classically meant as a two-person event and I had to make a choice.
There's also a larger version of the cartoon available.
(The Totter Visits a Chicken Coop)
Chapter 107 of Ann Arbor's City Code reads in part:
9:38. Domestic animals and fowl.
(1) No person shall keep or house any animals or domestic fowl within the city except dogs, cats, rabbits, canaries or small animals commonly classified as pets which are customarily kept or housed inside dwellings as household pets.
(2) Subsection (1) shall not apply to animals or fowl that are kept or housed at city park facilities for exhibition.
Otherwise put, keeping chickens is not allowed in the city of Ann Arbor. But back when Amanda Edmonds tottered, she claimed she knew definitively that there were chickens being kept in Ann Arbor. She even offered a description of the chickens' approximate location (which I redacted even further out of consideration for the chicken keepers).
Quite independently of Amanda, Ed Vielmetti introduced me to someone who was keeping chickens in Ann Arbor, and I invited that person to take an on-location teeter totter ride next to their coop. [Knowing that Ed Vielmetti is connected in some way to this illegal coop should allow chicken-hating sleuths to eliminate somewhere around 2 percent of the population of Washtenaw County].
Police Info. Desk --> City Attorney 994-2670
Based on the general geographic location and the specific layout of the coop, it turns out to be almost certain that Amanda's friend's chicken keeper was in fact the Chicken Keeper I visited last Thursday with my portable teeter totter.
The Chicken Keeper lent me a book, and the inside notations (which I've scanned and posted here) suggest that they did not take lightly the decision to keep chickens.
For folks who are curious about how chickens might live in a typical Ann Arbor backyard, I've put together the photo-illustration below. It's not meant to be an exhaustive portrayal, and it might prompt some additional questions beyond those it answers. Some of those additional questions can be answered by reading the Chicken Keeper's Talk. That Talk also includes the tale of an unsolved poultricide.
Not long after discussing on the totter how space for the inventory of Books by Chance is an on-going challenge, John Weise documented on his Flickr site the low-cost and low-waste approach he takes to bookshelf construction. The write-up John included on Flickr with that photo is a nice tutorial on how to build bookshelves.
For readers who've committed every word of every Talk to memory, yesterday's introduction of the HD Action Figure I received for Christmas might have prompted a sense of deja vu. A guest of Teeter Talk who tottered almost exactly a year ago reported on the totter that the best Christmas present he had received last year was an action figure of himself. Kudos if you can remember who it was without peeking under that link. If you can also remember who gave it to him, then you deserve bonus points.
Featured in the January edition of the Ann Arbor Observer as part of an article about eating locally-produced food is Shannon Brines. If you don't receive the Observer as a part of their free, direct mail distribution, you can find it at various newsstands for $2. Or if you don't want just to look at pictures of Shannon, but would rather buy some salad greens from him in person, head down to the Ann Arbor Farmer's Market on a Saturday morning.
I saw Shannon Brines at the Farmer's Market last Saturday, when I was doing some research on the attitude of egg vendors towards a possible revision to Ann Arbor's current ordinance that prevents people from legally keeping chickens in their backyards. Steve Kunselman gave an update during last night's City Council meeting (7 January 2008) on where the effort stands to allow Ann Arborites to keep a limited number of hens. That update was interrupted by announcement of a tornado watch via the emergency broadcast system. By the end of the tornado watch announcement, Kunselman had wrapped up his update. From what I heard, it sounds like the City Attorney's office will work on providing the necessary language for an ordinance revision, which Kunselman will bring forward for consideration by Council sometime in the near future.
It's hard to think of local chickens and eggs without thinking of Peter Thomason, whose hens over in Ypsilanti are providing him and his family with fresh eggs. Peter and his wife have recently started chronicling some of what they've learned about economics, faith, mental health, recovery, farming, homesteading, building, nutrition, health, poetry, and education on their blog. It's pretty hard to quarrel with a guy who builds a teeter totter for his chickens.
Brandon Zwagerman has uploaded to his Flickr account 166 photos of Mittenfest II. So it took a minute or two for me to find the one I've included here, of me pedal-powering Charlie Slick's bubbles. The pedal-powered bubbles exploit was previously described here back in December.
(Who Can Ride a Desktop Teeter Totter?)
A few weeks ago I wrote about the benefits of subscribing to this website via a feedreader. Long story short, as a subscriber to the feed, you'll have a shot at winning a desktop-size teeter totter. Apparently, the appeal of this kind of prize is not universal. Commented one subscriber anonymously via the reader comment form [labeled Contact at the top of the page]:
hey dave not to complain, i'll keep reading the site using GoogleReader, but what exactly is a desktop teeter totter for, just a decoration or what, how about a teeter totter that's actually rideable?
Well. A desktop teeter totter is rideable. And what Santa brought me this year will perhaps allow me to demonstrate its rideability sometime in the near future. For now, allow me to introduce 10-inch-tall HD Action Hero, who will need some similar-sized companion in order to teeter on a desktop totter. Working on that.
[Note: images not to scale. Duh.]
(Warming the Totter Back Up)
I posted the following haiku about two years ago, and I think the recent weather warrants dusting it off and re-posting it, even if puns are probably frowned upon within the circle of serious haiku writers:
Feath'ry fleece of snow
A teeter totter's up end
Covered by the down
Ever since Chris Easthope's ride, when the totter was literally ice-encrusted (check that photo out for yourself), I've tried to keep the totter under a tarp--not to protect the wood, but for rider comfort. I had to break out some cardboard pads for me and Chris to sit on. And last Saturday, because Debra Schanilec was driving all the way from Clarkston, Michigan, I wanted to touch up a few damp spots on the wood (from condensation, I assume).
To find out what, if anything, Debra got people for Christmas this year, which celebrity lives in Clarkston, but who Debra's not (yet) seen there, and to find out what kind of behavior I will absolutely not abide on the totter, read
(Hauling Cargo by Bicycle)
If Santa Claus were a cyclist, I figure he'd probably haul all that Christmas loot in a trailer like I use. It's pretty handy for pulling odd-shaped loads, like the pedal-powered electric generator I used for Charlie Slick's bubble machine at Mittenfest. Or for Totter 2.0, which is not really recognizable as a teeter totter under the custom canvas cover that Lynda, Don, and Diane at Fox Tent and Awning measured out and sewed together.
Without the cover, one passing motorist guessed that the trailered totter (disassembled into its board and its base) was a trebuchet. I wonder how an instrument of peace, like a teeter totter, could be confused with a medieval engine of war. In an interesting continuation of this theme, apparently some motorists parse Totter 2.0 with its canvas cover as a small artillery piece.
A note to the many motorists who've yielded to their curiosity and chatted me up as I've been riding along or stopped at a traffic light: thanks for your interest and your generally encouraging words. If I were Santa Claus, I'd send some Christmas magic right back your way. Merry Christmas.
(Photos from Mittenfest II: Bubbles for Charlie Slick)
Last Saturday evening, 22 December 2007, I loaded my pedal-powered electricity generator onto the back of my bicycle cargo trailer and headed off into the darkness towards Ypsilanti's Elbow Room.
The occasion was Mittenfest II, a musical event organized by Brandon Zwagerman, that featured two days of music, at three different venues, with a couple dozen different musical artists, among them Charlie Slick, whose bubble machine I would be powering.
The image shows Charlie testing out the light display in the setup before the show. From the photo, it will be apparent that I left the washing machine module of the pedal power setup at home ... because Charlie didn't say anything about needing his laundry done.
It's hard to quarrel with the description of a Charlie Slick performance offered by Jasper, of WebVomitDotInternet:
He [Charlie] shows up and it's like "Alright you monkeys. I'm gonna play some songs and you're going to dance. And even if you think you're not going to dance, I will fucking make you dance. And I will throw glitter on you and blow bubbles at you [emphasis added] and you're going to eat this shit up because I am awesome."
I did not pedal continuously through Charlie's performance, because that bubble machine of his--if you look really close at the photo of the setup, you can see this for yourself--is a Pro Bubbler, not some twinkie kid's toy. So it draws some serious wattage. But as those still images above illustrate (grabbed from some video I shot while pedaling) I wasn't exactly slacking on the bubbling task. In about twenty minutes of pedaling I produced 55 Wh.
DC motor to spin backwards and generate current: $40
Ultracapacitor to smooth the current delivered: $150
Watt meter to monitor output: $30
Assorted wires and connectors from RadioShack: $20
Angle irons and bolts from Stadium Hardware: $15
Powerbar to munch on while pedaling: $1
Drop of Charlie Slick's glitter-tinctured sweat: priceless
(Argo Dam Redux)
When you're setting up a teeter totter beside a dam, there's a chance that people will walk by and wonder what you're up to. Cindy Overmyer was on her way to a Stewardship Network cluster at the NEW Center when she passed by Argo Dam. And when I invited her to ride, she said she'd stop back by to see if Matt Naud and I were still tottering after the meeting. True to her word, she did. And when I demonstrated I had failed to correctly remember her name, she just let that slide.
Cindy's Talk reveals her to be someone who helps inject some activity into Ann Arbor's parks, in particular Argo Pond. So it was nice to hear her perspective on the possible removal of Argo Dam sometime in the future.
Her Talk also should serve as an example to potential totterees. If you see Totter 2.0 out in the wild somewhere, and you want to snag yourself an impromptu ride, all you have to do is walk past and I will probably invite you to climb aboard. I'd appreciate it more, though, if you walk up to me and just say, Hey, I wanna ride that thing.
(On location at Argo Dam--Democracy and Dams.)
Argo Dam was in the news recently due to a report issued by the DEQ [Department of Environmental Quality] concerning the need to clear growth around toe drains in an embankment near the dam. It was thus a fairly timely first on-location totter ride, that I took last Thursday with
Matt Naud, the City of Ann Arbor's Environmental Coordinator.
The current discussion surrounding the Argo Dam and the possibility of its eventual removal has a history longer than just the last few weeks. The topic was discussed on the totter two years ago during Conan Smith's Talk. Part of the reason Argo Dam was on my mind two years ago was a long piece in the Ann Arbor News on Argo Dam, which had appeared a couple of weeks before the Talk.
Last Thursday, it was a little hard to talk about anything else but Argo Dam, given that we were teeter tottering right below it [a tottering photo in front of the dam is included with the Talk], but Matt Naud and I managed to find some other things to chat about as well. As a result, I now know which animal craps 92 times a day. Read Matt's Talk, and you can, too ... know which animal ... in case that wasn't clear.
(How Ypsilanti Reads, or The Rewards of Feed Readers)
If you read a bunch of websites on even a semi-regular basis, you probably have some way of doing that systematically. Setting up your browser with a set of bookmarks is one way. If you're happy with the way you read Teeter Talk and the rest of the web, then there's no reason to use a feed reader ... unless you enjoy prizes.
More on the prizes in just a second. What I'm suggesting is that you do your regular reading of the web using a feed reader. Think of a feed reader as a single place you can go on the web, where all and only the information is displayed that is new on your favorite sites since the last time you read them. Two popular examples of feed readers are Bloglines and GoogleReader. No software to download or install. Just click on either of those links, set up an account, and add this feed http://homelessdave.com/ttwithhdfeed.xml along with the feeds from other sites you read on a regular basis.
As links to individual Talks show up in the blog entries on the feed reader, of course you can click on them and be taken right to where the real action is on this site--the Talks. The great thing is, you don't have to keep checking and checking and checking for new material on this or any other site you like to read.
Here's another great benefit to subscribing to a site's feed that is peculiar to this site: if you subscribe to Teeter Talk's feed, there will be prizes available to you that are not available to folks who read the site, but don't read it using a feed reader.
In fact, the first feed-only desktop teeter totter give-away was conducted Tuesday this week, and resulted in the award of two roughly 10-inch long, wooden desktop teeter totters, handcrafted from Michigan-grown, Michigan-milled black walnut acquired from the ReUse Center directed by Melinda Uerling. On the left you can see an image of what you might be playing for next time ... if you subscribe to Teeter Talk via feed reader. Previous recipients of similar totters include Bill Clinton (former President), John Dingell (current Congressman), and Kris Talley (totteree Number 100).
Both winning addresses for the first totter give-away were in Ypsilanti (to win you had to submit a valid shipping address). As an acknowledgment of that, I've changed the word 'Detroit' to 'Ypsi' in the site slogan for the homepage.
(A Video on Pedal Power)
Some readers will know from various Talks that if I'm not tottering, I'm likely pedaling. Elsewhere, I've posted some documentation on a homemade
pedal-powered laundry spinner I use for our household's laundry. Even for readers already familiar with the laundry spinner, it may be news that the same setup now generates electricity.
Based on this setup, I've created a video about pedal power for submission to a contest sponsored jointly by Google and Specialized. The contest bears the somewhat gloomy title: Innovate or Die.
Trimmed out of the final cut was all the video footage that included the side of the tub displaying the stickers that totterees have given me. There was a 2-minute time limit.
So I figured I'd include this still shot here on Teeter Talk. Think of it as a mental challenge: which totterees correspond to which stickers?
Some stickers may have gone missing over the last two years. At least one of them (Share the Road), I managed to mangle when peeling the backing off it. I'm happy to add stickers to the tub.
I'd sure appreciate it if readers would watch the video about pedal power, and rate it, or add it to your favorites on YouTube as you see fit.
(Two years, two totters)
Come Sunday, 9 December 2007, exactly two years will have passed since René Greff's pioneering teeter totter ride. Looking back over two years worth of rides, it's a time mostly to say, Thanks.
So, I'd like to again thank readers who have suggested names of potential riders, readers who have introduced Teeter Talk to their friends, families, and co-workers, as well as just plain readers who've quietly enjoyed any part of the text on this website. Thanks, obviously, to the totterees themselves. And a special thanks goes to those totterees who have stepped forward unprompted by invitation to take their ride on the totter. Recruitment is an ongoing challenge, and I really appreciate readers' help with that. Finally, thanks to my lovely bride, without whose support Teeter Talk would not be possible, and without whose inspiration I would not have been moved to construct the original teeter totter as a wedding anniversary present.
Looking ahead, I'd like to introduce formally the newly constructed Totter 2.0, which is not merely portable, but transportable via bicycle trailer. I expect that Totter 2.0 will aid in expanding the geographic diversity of totterees, and might ease somewhat the challenge of scheduling a time to totter.
Further, I hope it will provide an opportunity to seek out interesting places to totter. I imagine that for on-location tottering with Totter 2.0, the documentation of the Talks will include a profile shot of the whole teeter totter with something interesting in the background.
Of course, potential guests always have the option of a ride on Totter Classic, which remains firmly anchored in my backyard, and available for rides.
Without going into details of Totter 2.0 construction, it did not proceed smoothly in all phases. The basic technique I used was to screw and glue together multiple layers of lumber. I sometimes found it necessary to trim this laminated lumber to length. What the self-descriptive image included here illustrates is that I generally adhere to the principle of follow-through. It's a pretty good principle in sports. In carpentry, it translates to pushing the saw all the way through the wood no matter what ... even if sparks are flying off the blade.
Eventually I'll apply some kind of sealer to the wood so that it can be properly baptized with a bottle of single malt whiskey ... in the name of the Totter, the Fun, and the Lowly Host.
Thanks for reading. And here's to another year of tottering.
(Another Boy Scout)
In the 3 December 2007 post, which mentioned two former Boy Scouts who had ridden the totter, I missed at least one other Scout (although the topic did not come up on the totter itself). And that one achieved the highest rank of Eagle--no mean feat.
I would like to have all of this background information on totterees compiled into some kind of database so that the commonalities and connections between them could be extracted and displayed visually using something like Thinkmap, which powers VisualThesaurus. And one other thing, Santa, I'd also like a pony.
Zach London's Fortress Party last Saturday night defies description. Zach had offered the following summary:
Remember the forts you made as a kid that consisted of a sheet over the back of two sofas? This is the grown up version. The house has been rigged with eye-hooks every few feet so clothesline can be wired six inches below the ceiling and used as a scaffold to hang sheets for the ceilings and walls ...
Even letting my imagination run completely amok did not prepare me for the splendor of it all.
Various themed 'rooms' are built out of sheets, and Zach had set up Totter 2.0 as a thematic centerpiece for one of the rooms: Totters of the American Revolution. Zach had mentioned in an email almost a year ago that although, in general, he didn't care for puns, that one tickled him. I remember thinking as I read that email, Pun? What pun??
It took a year and a Fortress Party for me to get it.
So if it's not funny to you, give it about a year.
And if after a year it's still not funny, and you're still wondering why it should be funny, then you've probably arranged your life in a way so that something important is missing. The missing something is probably a ride on a teeter totter.
(A Good Turn)
At least two former Boy Scouts can be counted among the totterees to date. Kudos to readers who can name both of them without peeking under those links.
As a former Boy Scout myself, I'm familiar with the slogan, "Do a good turn daily," which is not to be confused with the motto, "Be prepared." So last Saturday as I cycled past the intersection of Scio Church and Oak Valley Drive, when I saw that the wind had blown over the sign expressing support for Peter Beal, I was struck by the opportunity to do a literal 'good turn'.
So I appealed to that part of the Scout Oath where I promised to 'keep myself physically strong,' and wrangled the 4 x 4's supporting the sign until they were once again standing tall and proud.
Judging from the fierce wind blowing outside my window right now, this is an exercise that might bear repeating.
So if you pass the intersection and you see that the sign has flipped, I'm sure Peter would appreciate the kindness of your flipping it back.
TT Log Archives
|2010||October to present|
|2008||September, October, November, December|
|2007||July, August, September|
|2006-2007||December, January, February|
|2006||September, October, November|
|2006||June, July, August|
|2005-2006||December, January, February, March, April, May|
NB: All totterees are already listed in the left hand column (in chronological order). What is available in the TT Log Archives are just the log entries.