Sunday, March 31, 2013

Ten-minute hack: Keep the snow off your windshield (just in time for spring!)

The most irritating thing about the morning weekday ritual in these northern lattitudes is scraping the show off my windshield. I'm already cold and cranky; having to do some manual labor to get the car ready to go is just icing on an anger-cake.

While I was watching TV with the family one night, a commercial came on for a windshield frost guard. I had to laugh a bit, as I said to myself "That's basically just a sheet you put over your windshield."

I decided to test that theory.


Jersey-knit sheet. Red. Queen-size. It was on the top of the "Sheets we don't really want to put on the bed anymore" pile.

Ten-minute hack

I opened the car door and laid the sheet's short end across the top of the door frame, then shut the door.

Sheet is closed in along the top frame of the door.

Then, I stretched the sheet across, and did the same on the other side.

Sheet stretched fully across the windshield.
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It turns out my timing couldn't have been better, because we got a couple of inches that night.

Car is covered in snow. Neither sheet nor windshield are visible.
However, I just peeled the sheet back and...

Car is still mostly snow-covered, but the sheet has been removed and the windshield is completely clear.
... all set!
I shook out the sheet, threw it in my trunk, dusted off the other windows and the flat surfaces, and drove away.

Final Thoughts

Overall, I'd call it a successful experiment.


  1. It was free (amortized against the cost of a sheet destined for the rag-pile).
  2. It worked great.
  3. If the sheet ever gets too grimy, it's machine-washable.


I still don't think I'd buy a dedicated windshield cover for this job, but here are some issues I can predict happening.
  1. Jersey knit wicks water. This could be an issue if you get a rain-then-freeze weather pattern; you may end up with sheet stuck to your windshield. A waterproof material would be preferable.
  2. Since the ends of the sheet are extending into the car, they could get a little grimy and carry that grime into your car (or wick water in), which could be a problem depending on your tolerance for that sort of thing. The ones that are sold for this purpose have some stiffness to them and bungee nylon that wrap around the rear-view mirrors; if I felt like doing more than a ten-minute hack, I could probably fabricate something equivalent with bent-out coat hangers and some rope.
  3. Even after shaking the solid snow out of the sheet, the wicking action had pulled a lot of water in, and I ended up with a soggy sheet in my trunk. My trunk doesn't care about wet stuff, but if yours does, you'll want a plastic bucket to keep the sheet in.
With luck, we shouldn't have any more snow this year (HAH!). But if we do, I'm ready.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Another Year of FIRST Robotics

The FIRST Robotics regional has wrapped up in Pittsburgh, PA. I didn't really have time to participate as a mentor or volunteer this year (although I got a chance to present for my company as a sponsor, which was really nice). But I did get a chance to watch a couple of rounds. One I caught really summed up why I love FIRST.

Tem 3955 (blue, center) built a robot that could climb the pyramid rung-by-rung by repeatedly extending a two-claw gripping arm and then hooking a lower grip onto the bar below, a bit like a rock climber. The machine was a beautiful thing to watch.

But in this match, they slipped; only one hook "bit" on the highest bar of the pyramid and they were left hanging. In that position, they're worth 20 points at the end of the match, but they'd be worth 10 points more if they could get the lower chassis above the middle bar. You can hear the crowd shouting "Pull yourself up!" But if they do and the chassis bumps the middle bar, they could tumble right off and lose all 20 points (and possibly damage their robot or a teammate's robot on impact).

Scoring for the climbing pyramid. Source:

Rather than risk what they already had, they decided to hold on. And in the end, it proved to be the right choice; they won the round 69-55; the twenty points they earned were instrumental to their team's victory.

This is a machine that these students built themselves in six weeks, from scratch. But it's not about the machine; it's never really about the machine. It's about the moment-by-moment decisions made by the students on and off the field. I can imagine the pressure the three-student driving team felt trying to decide how to handle the situation; at the end of the day, the moment was in their hands alone, and it's their choice that will decide whether they win or lose.

Teamwork. Quick thinking. Focus. Strategy. And also control. Knowing how to do as much as you possibly can... And no more.

And no less.

This is why I keep coming back to FIRST.