With Wings As Eagles: Craig P. Steffen's Blog

End of Summer Surge

2016 August 15 08:12

Now that the summer is winding down, but full fall semester hadn't settleed in (that happens today) I had a bit of a chance to get ahead on some house projects. I have to say I'm still loving the solid-surface countertops we put in in 2007. Here is the sink, freshly cleaned for the first time in a while:

The 2016 Summer Olympics started just before the fall semester, and since we have another person in the house, we wanted to be slightly better set up for watching sports and eating in the TV room. We re-arrange the TV room so that most people had a place in front of them to eat, so that we don't have to have massive amounts of TV trays. Here are two seats along the right side of the room with their own tables.

Brats and hot dogs to roll in the end of summer and the Olympics opening ceremonies.

Opening ceremonies on th big screen.

We've been able to clean sort stuff that hasn't been really clean in a while, including the freezer.

We watch the Olympics on the big screen, onto to which we point a projector:

One of a our long-term problems has been the input filter on the project. Here's the cover; it's kind of an irregular shape:

The original foam filter disintegrated when I tried to change it. I put one in of a too-heavy cloth, and it's overheated several times in the last year. Before the Olympics started, I replaced that with a couple of layers of cheese cloth cut to fit, and that seems to have fixed it. It's now run for a couple of all-day stints without a problem.

A random picture of the cats.

Thrice is under the table, chilling. Pangur is on top, looking intently at the hummingbirds that are at the feeder we put out on the deck.

2015 Texas Trip: USS Texas and Battle Memorial

2016 August 03 08:51

On our other big sight-seeing day in Houston, we went downtown and the USS Texas memorial ship, and the memorial to the Battle of San Jacinto.

Battleship selfie. You know, like you do.

My wife, on one of the anti-aircraft turrets, taking aim at plagerism and comma-splices.

A lot of the gear on the battleship still kind of works, which is cool. This turret doesn't shoot, obviously, but the articulation works.

Bridge, which we couldn't go into but could photograph.

The engine spaces were amazing, but it was difficult to get photos, because everything's massive but you can't tell because there's nothing for scale. I did snag one photo of the engineering main instrument panel:

The battle site is an interesting walk-around, but not a lot to photograph, other than plaques and a lot of grass. The memorial itself is amazing and huge. Here it is looking like one of the final stars in Super Mario 64:

Everything really is bigger in Texas. Driving back to the house, we have to wait for a crossing oil tanker.

(I think we were actually waiting for the ferry, but I liked the photo.)

Flying back home, gratuitus instrument panel photos:

One nice thing about this trip was that it was the major long-distance trip that my wife and I have attempted to take in our airplane where everything went flawlessly. Two legs out, two legs back, the airplane was completely consistent and dependable.

2015 Texas Trip: NASA

2016 August 03 08:28

Continuing a series of posts that I last worked on, in....er.... February, one of the places we visited in Houson (visiting my brother and sister in law) was the NASA Center in Houston. As a space nut, this was a pretty awesome trip.

The guest rooms we stayed in were very well-equipped:

While we were out on the town for a day, I charged all my stuff.

A few highway photos while we were driving into town.

Houston is VERY big on flyover-overpass exchanges. Here's a good example.

A bit of skyline.

Another overpass set; at least three layers!

A lot of the stuff on display at NASA in Houston is so big that it doesn't particularly lend itself to photography without serious wide-angle gear, and I just had my phone. I attempted to take a few shots to commemorate the occasion.

Here's one of the shuttle carrier 747's with an engineering mock-up shuttle on top of it, parked outside the museum:

Another highlight of Houston NASA is that they have a complete Saturn-5 laid out in a horizontal display building. This is looking down the first stage from the second stage. The first stage is sitting on its ground carrier vehicle; look at the enormous tires!

An (I'm guessing) engineering test Command Module (the brown bit) with its escape tower on the right.

As of this trip, I have now seen all of the Saturn-5 rockets on public display in the US. There's one at Saturn Apollo Center at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, there's this one at NASA in Houston, and there are two at Huntsville, Alabama, one inside like the other two are, and one stacked vertically outside (which is REALLY impressive to see). I've read there's one more Saturn 5 first stage outside somewhere in Louisiana; maybe I'll go fly over it someday.

Outside the Saturn 5 display building, they have some rocket engines, and this. It's a "Little Joe" test vehicle that NASA used to test the escape system for the Apollo Command Module. You can see it here, sitting with a command module mounted on top of it.

Another flyover interchange.

Oh yeah; the kid

2016 August 02 07:49

Oh, right. The *other* thing that's been going on in our lives is that we've adopted a kid. We started the process of international adoption from China last February (2015), aiming to travel to China in May of 2016, right after the end of the spring semester. We managed to hit that perfectly; we travelled in May the week that my wife finished finals.

The paperwork process is long and annoying. I may post about it sometime. It involved background checks and lots of getting verification of the previous layer.

Early in the process last year, the adoption agency we were working with started a program bringing kids from China who were in danger of aging out of the adoption system and bringing them to the US for three weeks. We were part of the way through our initial paperwork, so when the social worker was at our house, we talked about that program. They had a couple of kids still without host homes, so at that point we decided to sign up. It was a way to try out parenting and help the program, without the commitment to keep the kid.

Not surprisingly, one of the things that can happen (and they hope happens) in the hosting program is that the hosting parents fall in love with *that* kid, and decide to adopt them. We definitely did that. We wanted to answer three questions with the hosting. 1) Are we capable of being parents? 2) Do we want to be? 3) Do we want to be parents to *that* kid? By the end of the three weeks, we knew the answers to all three questions was YES. So once the kid had headed back to China, we formally requested to be able to adopt him specifically, then continued the rest of the paperwork.

One of the things my wife and I did as preparation for the trip and for adopting a Chinese child who didn't speak english was to take a year of beginning Mandarin. Here I'm taking one of our exams in the second semester. One of the dialogs was all about location words. So the dialog is about the computer that is ON the desk, and the dog that is UNDER the desk. The teacher had props for the dialog, which I thought was hilarious.

We flew out of Lexington to head to China for the adoption. Our flight was early enough in the morning that we got a hotel room with shuttle service to the airport. Here are our suitcases, ready to go to the airport for the big trip.

A nice, auspicious sunrise on our initial climbout.

The adoption took place in the province of Jinan, China. My wife, kid, and me at the big central park in Jinan City. The sculpture in the background is reminiscent of the Mandarin character for the name of the city.

There will be more posts about our trip and about raising a kid, but I wanted to get the topic out there.

Plane is fine

2016 August 01 16:49

While I'm catching up on the status of things....

The plane is fine. In the annual this spring, we dug into the hydraulic system. The hoses were original, and pretty stiff. The flap up/down control was super-stuff. It turns out I was wrong about the diagnosis of that; it was the cable, not the pump. That's fixed. The retraction speed is fixed. We don't really know what the problem is with the pump that had been in there, but I bought another one and that one worked fine. I still have the bad pump to try to figure out what was up.

The brakes still act slightly funny; it will be interesting to find out if it's better or worse when it's cold. We'd decided that the old problem with the mag checks might have been a weak plug, so we put a massive back in the bottom of #2. However, a couple of flights later, I had another bad mag check, so bought and installed a brand new fine-wire plug there, and it's been fine ever since.

I need to take it down to Knoxville tomorrow to get its IFR sign-off. After that, I can start flying it more, potentially.


2016 August 01 16:28

My blog server had pretty severe bit rot. I hadn't kept up with the site maintenance, I'm afraid. I don't know exactly what the problem is, but for at least this calendar year, I coudln't reboot the server without serious work to get it back running again. I think what probably happened is that something in the emulation layer got out of synch with something in the packaging, and so it just woudln't boot correctly. I got the great folks at my hosting site, vps.net to get the server running again a couple of weeks ago, and so I managed to pull a full backup, but then within the last week it died again.

Ove the past couple of days I backed up the backup, so I have everything from the old server image in multiple places. Last night and this morning, I bit the bullet and had the server completely re-installed. Now I've re-installed everything from the blog. If this entry shows up (It will be the first August 1, 2016 entry) then we know it worked.

When doing stuff like that, you discover all your sins in the installation. Like the fact that the blog is all packed into /var/www like it should be, but some of the support script are in a directory in my home directory. Ooops. And the includes are scattered around in wierd places.

More on that in a while. The house is fine, the cats are fine, the plane is fine. The family is fine, and has had another (human) member added to it, which is very exciting.

All for now. This has been a systems test; please ignore. If this were an actual blog post, I'd have a picture of an airplane instrument panel or some electronics or some such.

Hydaulic System

2016 March 20 22:26

A schematic map of the brake system in my airplane. Figured out from looking at the hydraulic lines in the airplane.

2015 Texas Trip: prep and travel

2016 February 20 23:28

Then at the end of March 2015, I flew my wife and I to Texas in our plane. It was pretty awesome. First we had some prep. As part of that, I made a tool to try to not make too much of a mess of the plane when removing the oil filter, which I needed to do to change the oil. (I *really* wanted to have summer oil in the plane before flying it to Texas in April.)

Bandsaw out.

Saw some 4-inch PVC pieces to shape.

Primed, painted, and ready to glue together.

Here's the finished piece, sitting below the oil filter. This is a catch pan to sit under the filter as you unscrew it from the back of the engine that catches most of the oil that drains out of the filter itself as you disconnect it. That keeps that oil from running down the front of the firewall and out on the nose landing gear tire and making a mess. (In the later oil change, I discovered that leaving it to drain for a couple of hours to let the filter mostly drain also helps a lot.)

It was supposed to be chilly the morning that we left, so I took advantage of the engine heater we'd recently installed. Here I've plugged the source end of the extension cord into a light timer.

The other end plugs into the heater plug inside the cowl; here you see the end of the extension cord going into the oil door.

I got the Stratus mounted and power cables run to it, so that I could use it all the way down and back. A nice addition for long-distance flights.

Flying down, I took the Stratus out of its mount on the windshield because it seemed to be overheating. I was very amused to see that it still picked up ADS-B ground stations and GPS signals just fine, sitting here on the throttle and having no view of the ground and almost none of the sky.

We flew the whole flight down IFR. We took two legs to fly it. Flying into KIAH at the end of this flight was my first time flying into a class B. It was fun and interesting. The controllers were very nice to me. Taxiing was fine, except for my blowing my taxi instructions slightly and getting yelled at by the ground controller.

The FBO was clearly used to bigger planes, but they were very nice and accomodating. They parked our plane along their flight line, with cones to make it more visible.

There's a plane taking off (indicated by the arrow) on the runway right behind our plane. Neat!

2015 California Trip: Part 2

2016 February 20 22:24

After I went to Minneosota, I went on for the real purpose of the trip, to California to the GPU Technology Conference. When I got to my hotel, I opened the hotel directory to look something up, and I swear this was on the page as I opened it:

One interesting thing about this (clearly well-funded) conference is there were several neat cars in the conference center hotel:

I think that these were there to advertise some outing that the conference was advertising. I looked into it; it took more than half a day, so I decided not to do that.

Interestingly there were a bunch of power pods around the conference, with power cords set up for charging. (NVIDIA was the major sponsor of the conference.)

Given all of the security problems with plugging a USB device into an unknown device, I'm slightly surprised that they did this. But people definitely used them. It's definitely not the sort of thing you'd want to do at DEFCON, but that's another story.

I picked up three books at the book store:

The hotel was really close to the San Jose airport. Most people probably woudln't/don't think that's an asset. But it was great watching airplanes flying over low.

The view out my hotel window. The view did not suck. I grew up and mostly have lived in the midwest, so having palm trees immediately outside of my hotel is terribly amusing to me.

I rode public transit around the bay area while I was there. Not something I do strange cities very often, but I'm really pleased how well I did. I took the train up to Mount View to have lunch with a friend, and came back one evening.

Out waiting for the train, saw another plane flying over.

I realize that Buffy the Vampire Slayer was in SunnyDALE California, rather than Sunnyvale, but this station amused me nonetheless.

I stayed in California one extra day at the end, so I went to the Computer History Museum in Moutain view. It's AMAZING. They have tons of fantastic artifacts.

Here is a Babbage Difference Engine that someone built. It's a mechanical that was envisioned (but never actually built) by Charles Babbage. When people talk about "turning the crank" in a calculation, the crank is indicated the green arrow. Apparently turning the crank is an important very skilled job.

A NeXT Cube. With the original WORM drive, even. I don't know that this is the machine that the World Wide Web was created on, but it was on a machine basically identical to this.

The museum has a PDP-1 computer from DEC. Here's the front, with racks of paper tape for the loader and the paper tape reader. It was pretty cool to see it play Space War.

And then I flew home to Atlanta. This was directly above the parking lot where my car was. I would have loved to stay and watch airplanes for an hour, but since I started on the west coast, I lost three hours, so I needed to head out so that I wasn't getting back *too* late.

2015 California trip: Part 1

2016 February 04 08:33

One of the things that frequently bogs me down in blog posting is when I have a post to make that has a ton of photos, I end up not doing the post for weeks because I don't have the time to put together to edit, crop, and prep them. So the really good, dense posts end up being the ones that slow things down. So for this post, I'm just going to split up the posts, and do the image editing and writing when I have time to do them separately. So this is part 1 of something, maybe 3 for the whole trip.

In March of 2015, I took a trip to a conference in San Jose, California for work. The conference went the entire week, starting on Monday evening and going through Friday. The airline flights lined up in a wierd way; there basically wasn't any way to construct the trip to fly out of my normal airport (Knoxville, TN)(TYS) without adding several hundred dollars, so the base price ticket would have been flying out of Louisville, which more than I want to normally drive.

So I set the cost of the base ticket by the Lousiville flights. But if I'm driving out of Lousiville, I might as well drive slightly farther and fly out of Atlanta. That gives me MUCH more flexiblity in picking flights. In fact, it gave me enough flexibility to actually add a whole leg to the trip by only kicking in a bit more on the tickets myself. So instead of flying directly to California, I flew out of Atlanta to Minnesota first thing on Saturday, spent the weekend visiting family and friends, and then flew from Minnesota to San Jose on Monday.

Just about to leave the house at 04:20 in the morning. It amuses me that the clock with four hands (the long red one is the 24-hour hand; it's just after 08:20 GMT) are all pointing in basically the same direction.

It was first thing on Saturday morning, and it was a relatively warm spring-like day. There were a ton of people out at that time of the morning towing boats; I presume for the first outing of the spring.

By the time I got to the I-75/I-40 split on the west side of Knoxville, the sun was a bit up.

My suitcase, notable because it's bright red (easy to spot if they tell you the wrong carousel by one) and for having a tag for a conference that hadn't happened yet.

And it got interesting when we got to the airport. Enterprise rental at MSP apparently had a surplus of cars, so they were offering to upgrade to anything on the lot for a very small sum. They had an electric blue almost-new Ford Mustang on the lot, so I took it.

The dash on the Mustang was interesting. The center box can be configured for a number of different things. It can display text gauges:

or quasi-analog gauges:

The "vacuum/boost" gauge is amusing. One, because I'm pretty sure that car wasn't turbocharged. Also, I paid attention to that gauge while driving. It probably was connected to some sort of manifold pressure sensor, but it definitely wasn't reading true, or else the zero was (possibly deliberately) way off. To get the gauge to come anywhere close to 0 vacuum, you should have to bury the accelerator, and I could get it to hit "zero" with only moderate acceleration. Ah well, probably for the best.

So I visited family on Saturday. But I decided that with a magnificent car like that, it was a moral imperative to a least do a little road driving with it. It would be a shame to have something like that and just stay around the Twin Cities. So I pinged a college friend, who also lives in the Cites, and proposed that we take a Sunday morning road trip down to our alma mater. She was game, so I headed up to her house first thing Sunday and we did some driving across the state. The photos from the trip itself will be from the next post.

The Minneapolis skyline over the hood of the Mustang.

Me, ready to road trip. I kept me in this photo mostly because it amuses my wife.

This trip continued in a future post.

A quick one....

2015 December 27 22:35

Photos that amuse me. I was driving somewhere and messing with the Stratus with ForeFlight.

Early 2015 summary 2 of 2

2015 December 27 09:14

The rest of the stuff from early 2015.

The three cats enjoying the snowy view. It was really really cold in February:

February was the first big round of adoption paperwork. I sent the first application packet with a commemorative inverted-Jenny stamp. I figured we could use all the luck we could get (so far it's paid off; things are going well).

Again, cold while driving.

And snow coming down. I highlighted a couple of big flake clusters with arrows.

One step back. We managed to leave a hose on the front spigot, and the cold weather froze the tap, and the valve had a crack in it when it was open. Here's before:

And after:

(As of this writing, December 27, the outside tape is still broken. Argh.)

Oooh--another technical success. And this one I did once and is finished! I replaced the plug on the vacuum cleaner:

And one final photo of Pangur and Thrice watching the snow.