Comma is shpping the Panda interface again. I received mine last week. It’s a wifi enabled OBDII interface. The Panda is more than just a reader though. It decodes and enables writing to the Media canbus. It’s going to make for some fun projects. Using Cabana I should be able to create a Database file of the Kia Optima’s CANbus protocol.


Panda in the 2016 Optima
Panda closeup


Building a homebrew generator

A few years ago I built my own generator. I cobbled it together with some parts I had laying around the house. I found a free lawnmower on craigslist and I used the engine from it as a power source for the generator. I coupled the engine to an automobile alternator and a power inverter. The result is a cheap AC power generator. It only produces a few hundred watts of power, but it’s enough to power lights or emergency equipment in the event of power failure. I did this project for fun, not as a replacement for a real backup power generator. Here are some pictures:
The generator
The generator
Wood coupler panel
Belt and pulleys


Building an Ethanol Still

A few years ago, when gas prices were exorbitant, I started to build my own Ethanol Still. In light of the global energy crisis, I figured that being able to produce my own fuel was a useful endeavor. Creating ethanol fuel requires distilling corn (or other vegetables/fruits) and extracting its potential liquid energy. I did some research on the web and discovered the Charles 803.
I bought plans and began building the still. I’ve put this project on hold for now but perhaps one day I’ll complete it. Until then, here are some pictures of the project:

Laying out the copper pipe
Reducer coupling between reflux and boiler
Cutting the main copper pipe
Drilling out the boiler
Drilling out the boiler
Boiler section
Boiler section
Boiler section
The ethanol still
The ethanol still
The reflux column


How high gas prices paid for my new (used) car

The stage is set:

I drive my VW Jetta exactly 50 miles a day to and from work. When gas prices started going up in the Summer of 2006, I decided to figure out exactly how much fuel was costing me each workday. So, one morning on the way to work, I stopped at the gas station nearest my home. I filled my tank and reset my trip counter to zero. I recorded the price per gallon ($3 something a gallon!). Then, I drove directly to work, worked, and drove back to the same gas station. I pulled up to the same pump I filled up at that morning. I took note of how many miles I had driven, and sure enough it read almost exactly 50 miles. Next, I refilled my gas tank. It cost me $7. I had burned $7 dollars worth of fuel just going to work and back! That came as quite a shock. I knew gas prices were high, but I never thought that I was spending that much each day. $3 a Gallon?!? Somethings gotta give! After doing some homework on the web (, et al., I decided to buy a much more fuel efficient car (and a soon to be FREE CAR).

Enter the $1,000 commuter car: The 1995 Ford Aspire

1995 Ford Aspire

40 + MPG of pure road worthy goodness. This was to be my new commuter car. It’s safer than a motorcycle (it has airbags). It was designed to be affordable, and it was: I only paid $1,000 cash for it. As a bonus, the owner was a mechanic whom had just just rebuilt the miniscule 1.3L engine and had it purring like a kitten.

Perfect!!! A cheap car, with a good engine and high MPG rating. I decided to tidy the car up a bit, so I ripped out all the seats except for the drivers’ (afterall, I wasn’t going to be toting anyone around it; hell I doubt anyone would even want to be seen it). It even has ICY cold A/C. I installed a car alarm (without the siren) for the remote doorlocks. I ripped out the carpet and put subwoofer carpet all around. It has a neat contour to it. I don’t need pretty, I need functional and ultra fuel efficient.

But how did you get it for free?

After much calculation, I bought the Aspire and decided to see how much money it was costing me to drive to work each day. I performed the same routine as with my Volkswagen. I even used the same pump at the same station.
I drove the 50 miles as normal and stopped back at the gas station on my way home. I took a deep breath and topped off the gas tank.

It cost me two dollars. Yes, only $2 to go to work and back!?!

I was paying $7 A DAY the week before. I was stunned!
That’s a savings of $5 each day that I work. I work 20 days a month, so that’s $100/month I saved on gas! And all I have to do is get used to driving this little car. Wait a second, considering that this car was only $1,000 dollars, if I save $100 per month, it will pay for itself in 10 months.
Oh, it paid for itself alright – with dividends!

1: It uses the cheapest gas and less of it.

It’s a great feeling getting 300+ miles for about $20 dollars (in 2006)!

2: Patriotism!

It’s a great feeling pulling into a gas station and driving right past the Hummers that are stopped at the pump. I love it when I catch them glancing over at my little microcar and then see them looking back the $$$$$$$ on their pump.

3: My other cars maintain their value.

My Volkswagen Jetta has about 60,000 miles on it. Putting a few hundred miles a week on it was certainly going to affect it’s value drastically in a short amount of time. Now, she just sits in the garage looking pretty. I also don’t need to pay for the car wash each month (there’s another $20 I save). Since I drive it much less, I put less wear-and-tear on the car. Less maintenance = less money out of my pocket = more money in the bank. Probably a few hundred dollars a year.

4: Easy to maintain.

Parts for this car are cheap. New tires on our BMW cost over $1,000. New tires on my Jetta cost around $500. New tires for the Aspire cost about $20 each.

5: Cheaper car insurance.

I now get a multi-car discount. My car insurance actually came DOWN when I added this car to my policy. I didn’t expect that at all. Nice!

6: The benefit of having multiple cars.

I remember when I only had one car and it needed repair. I was stuck. I couldn’t go anywhere – it was my only car and it was in the shop. That sucked. Owning more than 1 car is a great stress reliever. Got a nail in the tire of the Jetta? Throw the tire into the trunk of the Aspire, drop it off and pick it up later after it’s been fixed. No more sitting in tire shop lobby hell watching Martha Stewart and having to choose between Southern Living or Fishing Today magazines.

7: It’s a Micro Utility Vehicle.

After ripping out the rear seats and passenger seat, I was left with quite a bit of room in the car. So much in fact, that it’s like having a Micro SUV. I can load up lumber from Home Depot (remember theres no passenger seat so I can just push 2×4’s in all the way to the engine firewall. I don’t have to worry about cutting/scratching leather seats, scuffing the dashbaord, etc.

8: It’s retro, tiny and fun to drive!

It’s incredibly fun to drive a small car and it’s retro old. I get funny looks from some people as if it’s a concept car.

9: It makes me appreciate my other cars.

On the weekends when I take out my other cars, I can really appreciate the creature comforts: Leather seats, woodgrain dashes, sunroofs, horsepower etc. I used to take them for granted, but now I really appreciate just how nice my other cars are (relatively).

10: Goodbye Speeding Tickets.

Okay, so this one’s a bit of a stretch. Last year, I got a $300 speeding ticket in my Jetta. I’ve never had a speeding ticket in my Aspire, nor do I think I ever will. I know when I’m doing 55 in my Aspire. My foot is to the floor and I’m getting passed by UHaul trucks. In my Jetta I’ll get up to 70 without even knowing it. Since I’m in my Aspire 90% of the time, that’s only 10% of the time that I have consciously avoid speeding.

It paid for itself in less than a year by:

  • Using less fuel – a LOT LESS.
    $100/month less.
  • Preserves my other cars’ values and saves them on maintenance. At least a few $100/year.
  • Lowers my car insurance premiums (multi-car discount): $80/year
  • Is much more affordable to fix, repair, maintain – No expensive dealership repairs here baby! I can replace parts on this car using cheap junkyard parts. $15 for an alternator!?? I’ll take two!


$1,400 total investment in the car
$100/month gas savings for 36 months = $3,600

Net gain: $2,200 versus driving my Jetta to work for the same time period.

Efficiency is the new cool. Feel free to ask questions or opine below.