Category Archives: How Stuff Works

Electronic Scooter Hacking

I’m learning.  I’m converting an electric scooter I found to a horseless electric roman chariot, for personal transportation, of course, and I’m making the motor controller work today.

I was lead to believe that I could treat my scooter throttle like a big resistor, a big potentiometer.  TURNS OUT that mostly they’re hall effect sensors that give you a varying voltage (0-5V in, 1-4 out).  I didn’t find a lot of info on this on the internet, but thankfully Geo filled me in on some of the details, and I used my power supply and voltmeter to figure out the rest.

So, my circuit is getting modified (in the direction of simplicity, awesome) and will not involve a 555 to PWM the motors to the tune of a throttle’s varying resistance.  I think maybe this is helpful information to publish! More Roman Charioteering to come!


I also found this website informative:



Filed under Electrical Fascination, How Stuff Works, Learning Experiences, Project Updates

The Littlest Birds: Answer on Swarming

Today Damon theorized an answer to my previous question — why big birds select V formation flying while little birds seem to prefer swarms.

The aerodynamic effects that bigger birds rely on to help reduce drag don’t help little birds that much, and more importantly thanks to the way little birds keep a roughly constant spacing in a swarm information from disturbances (like an incoming hawk swooping down) gets passed along as a wave like a traffic jam through the swarm, spreading the alert much more quickly than would be possible if each little bird had to look up and see the diving hawk.  As a result the birds can react much more quickly and hopefully stay alive!  Cool!

For more info, Damon suggests Princeton robotics, swarming & controls expert Prof. Naomi Leonard.

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This is Why Birds Fly in V Formation

Some friends and I were on the beach the other day, staring up at the sky watching pelicans and seagulls fly by in big Vs. “Did you hear that the military is considering having its planes fly in ad-hoc assembled V formation, no matter where any particular plane is supposed to land, to save fuel?” “That’s really cool!  Why does flying in V formation save fuel?”

Downwash must be involved, I thought.

Downwash is the vortex of air that shoots straight for the ground on the back of a wing. Downwash actually exists in sort of a square behind any foil moving through the fluid: Imagine a square-shaped drain in a sink, with all the water pouring in over the edges.  That’s what the air’s doing after a wing passes by — one rolling wave of air coming off behind the wing, two waves that extend backwards from the wingtips, and a fourth wave that counteracts the first one, sort of chasing after the plane.  THESE, I thought, must have the greatest effect.

Turns out that’s right! In short; the lead bird makes some vortices that curl upwards on the outside. The next bird floats on this small updraft of air. This updraft lets the bird pitch more horizontally (or reduce its angle of attack), because it doesn’t have to work so hard to try and keep the same altitude. Reducing the angle of attack significantly decreases the drag on the bird. And, this is no extra work for the first bird, because it would be producing these vortices anyway!  Hooray!


downwash in those curly clouds

Next I wanna figure out why small birds like swarms better than flying in Vs.

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