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

would you like some popcorn with that

2005 April 29 10:00

The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy movie opens everywhere in theaters today. As a life-long Douglas Adams fan, I'm definitely going, but at this point, I have mixed feelings. I want so very much to like it, but I'm afraid of getting my hopes up. I think the best thing is to is to go into it hoping to see a neat, quirky movie that might bear some resemblance to the original Hitchhiker's.

I posted a while back about things in aviation being finally modernized on the web. I'm very pleased about finding the movie tickets web site. By zip code, you can find movie theaters near you, and find out what movies are playing there. Neat.

The final nail in the coffin of my using non-Intel laptops may not be OS issues, or application software issues, it may be that some companies distribute binary-only, intel-Linux-only browser plugins. As web sites increasingly use such technologies to animate their pages and make them (which I think is dumb but that seems to be the way of things), it becomes increasingly difficult to browse new, cool sites using Firefox on PowerPC Linux. (I'm not complaining at these companies. I would do precisely the same thing in their position. I'm actually please that they are supporting Linux, given the current environment of OSs).

I'm 32 years old, and I'm getting crotchety already. Humph. :-) Need to get to work now.

we came, we saw...

2005 April 28 00:21

Penguicon was a blast again this year. We saw the usual suspects. The network in the hotel wasn't as good as last years. A combination of that and ending up sort of volunteering for the con, I didn't get a chance to write any blog entries. I will be posting my photos sometime soon.

The Guest of Honor address Friday night was by Cory Doctorow, and was very good. Among other things, Cory has written a sci-fi novel, Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom which he has provided for free download, and also published with Tor books. One of the formats is Palm OS .pdb file. Interestingly, .pdb files (standing for Palm DataBase) aren't really database files, and the extension doesn't really tell you what's in it. The files also have an internal file format, which is part of the meta-data attached to the file. This being a text file, it's internally a ".doc" document. There is a freeware document reader for Palm OS called cspotrun. So now I have his novel and a reader on my Palm Zire, and I can read it on the bus and other places.

One interesting thing that I noticed. It's no problem to read the text on the screen. It's the first book that I've read that way, and it's not a problem. "Turning" the next page by pushing the down arrow button is just as easy as turning the page. However, I absolutely hate the scrolling mode. That makes the text scroll by, presumably at the pace that you'd be reading it. Which in principle I can do, but it drives me nuts. I guess the part of my brain that reads is very finely tuned to read and travel down the page at the same time, and just doesn't react well to the text travelling up the page while this is going on. If I ever have occasion to read a teleprompter, I'll have to sort that out.

I'm in the basement writing this to spend some time with Ripley. Sitting in the papasan chair with my laptop on one leg and the cat on the other works out pretty well.

Just got back from seeing Le Mis' this evening. It was very cool. Towards the end of the first act, when Jean Valjean is asking Javert to give him three days, and they're conflicting on identity, I couldn't help comparing it to Neo and Agent Smith conflicting on Neo's identity. Seeing this reminded me of evenings in college listening to that soundtrack with my friend Chrissy. I'm glad I've seen it live on stage after all this time.

bottle in the ocean

2005 April 22 13:19

I'm on over wireless to dfu's laptop, over bluetooth to his cell phone, out over the network. Cool!

I had a much longer post written, but due to the network wierdness, it got eaten. :-)

We're on the road going east through Michigan; I think we're near Kalamazoo. More when we're there.

at base camp

2005 April 22 00:41

We're at base camp tonight, and head to Penguicon first thing in the morning. I don't know that I'll be writing about the con while I'm there, but I'll try to post photos after I get back, at UHACC if nothing else.

A cute photo of Wil Wheaton at a Poker tournament in Las Vegas this week. The monkey's name is "Darwin". :-) Argh. I need to post a message to work before I go to bed. There's wireless and DSL, so this is not a problem. Rock!

The slashdot article is still "pending"; I think at this point it's not likely to be posted.

Storms a-comin'!

2005 April 19 17:21

I just submitted a story to slashdot, which I think has a decent chance of being accepted.

If the slashdot crowd does arrive, I'd just like to take this opportunity to say "Hi Mom!".

Eighty Eight miles per hour!!!

2005 April 17 23:00

I was up in Wisconsin visiting my sister this weekend. Drove 500 miles up yesterday, and 500 back today. On the way back, my total average speed for the trip was about 66 mph. That's pretty good; 50 is respectable, 55 is pretty good, and I generally shoot for 60.

I did listen to music some both legs of the trip. I'm dorkily proud that my music has never touched a Windows system. I'm sure there are much better ways of doing this, but I tried this out , and it seems to work.

Bottom Right: My PDA, a PalmOne Zire 31. I have the RealOne mp3 player installed on it. It has a SD slot.

Bottom Center: 128 MB "Secure Digital" media card. The music has to reside on an expansion card for RealOne, not the internal memory. Go figure.

Bottom Left: USB reader for Memory Sticks and SD Media.

Top Right: plugs into the headset jack in the PDA and puts the sound on the casette player in the car.

Top Center: USB power supply that plugs into the lighter jack.

Top Left: plugs the PDA into the above power supply.

I pulled the music off the CDs on my laptop, encoded the .mp3s there, and then put the music on the SD card using the USB reader. I only have 2 CD's worth; with some songs not used, that fills up about half the card. That's little enough that I don't want to listen to it continuously.

...I would have started with lasers, eight o'clock, day one!

2005 April 10 11:12

Aviation has an interesting relationship to newfangled stuff; computers and the like. While new gadgets are certainly in use in a lot of airplanes, anything that goes into a vehicle that flys folks around the sky (even more so when they're paying you) has to be certified to a very high degree.

Web-based means of doing things have been slow to take hold, but they are quite available nowdays. I'd like to highlight a couple of web sites that I use for looking up airports. This morning I became interested in finding out what airports are in Bellingham, Washington. It turns out that Bellingham has a nice little class D airport not too far north of Seattle.

Here are the two web sites. First, aeroplanner.com. Aeroplanner allows you to look at official air navigation charts on-line. You can zoom, pan, and input where you want to start by coordinates, or city name. It's very nice to find out what airports are near a city. The site also has flight planning interfaces. Some really nice features are available with paid subscriptions. I have a "premium" membership there. This allowe me to, for instance, look at the Terminal Area Chart for a large airport without having to order one (and of course the on-line ones are always up to date).

The other site is airnav.com. This site contains almost the exact same information as the Airport/Facility Directory, which is an official publication which lists specific information about airports.

So when I go to look up a town, whether to find out how I might fly to it or what airports would be close if I lived there, those are the sites I go to first.


2005 April 09 09:49

The word technology has morphed into meaning "gadgety stuff", like PDAs and computers and such. Douglas Adams once defined it as "the stuff that doesn't work yet".

I like the Wikipedia's definition better. I think of technology as knowledge that makes life easier. When steel was first invented, it was a huge technological achievement. I'm sure that lots and lots of combinations of smelting and forging techniques were tried before a reasonable set were found that produced desired results. Once that knowlege is gained, however, someone else could produce steel without having to understand all of the techniques. You just have to be able to follow the recipe.

Even simpler things, like a wheel, are firmly in that category. The idea of taking a sledge (something that you drag on the ground) and making it into a cart by putting wheels on it was a completely revolutionary idea. Once you understand the basic idea of a cart, you can apply to principle to other cards or other vehicles, you just have to know enough about to make a round wheel, and the rest is assembly.

Wood stove technology is something that I've become aware of recently. My father in law had a Round Oak (it's a brand name) wood stove in the basement of their old house for the longest time, without ever having used it. They recently had a big garage/shed built at their retirement cabin, and he brought the stove from their old house and set it up as a way to take the chill off the shed in the winter. As it turns out, Round Oak stoves are something of collector's items, and so he's been trying to get newer, nicer parts for his. It's a neat thing to have to sit around on winter evenings. (There are some Round Oak stove photos in the middle of this page for those curious to know what they look like.)

And I have to admit that it is nifty. It's gotten me curious about the technology of wood burning stoves. What makes a good one? How do you make them more efficient? What's the trick of having them burn so that you don't have to feed them all the time? Is it possible to have a stove burn overnight so that you don't have to re-light the fire in the morning? My father in law is going to take his apart this summer, I think, to clean and re-condition the inside. I'm hoping to be able to take photos of the thing in pieces, so that I can see how they're made. I might put up a page about it.

That got me curious about wood stoves in general, and so I did some searching. It turns out that there was a bunch of EPA legislation in the early 1990s regulating the types of wood burning stoves that could be sold, so now there are "EPA approved" wood stove. There are apparently three general varieties. There are "catalytic" stoves that have an element that promotes the burning of the unburned gasses from the wood. These have to have their elements replaced every few years. There are "pellet" stoves, which use pellets made from wood products. They require electrical fans to circulate the air. To me, part of the point of having one (if you had one) was that it doesn't need to be serviced, and it can operate independently of electricity. The third type are "recirculating" stoves, which vent the exhaust around the firebox and so burn more efficiently that way. (I don't get how that actually works, I've just read about it.)

If I find a really good on-line source, I'll post it. Perhaps I'll pick up a book. But first, it's time to go run errands and mow the grass the first time this season.

my mind is my center

2005 April 08 21:34

I fired up the front page of my blog to check something, and the thing tried to log a cookie. My own blog! There was a blogger-generated navigation bar at the top of my blog (probably a standard feature on blogger blogs). It's a neat idea; it allows you to search the blog's contents. However, it seems to have been setting cookies as well. I'm a fanatic about that kind of thing; needless tracking of my activity makes me cross. Grr...

So the navigation/search bar has been taken down; no more cookies. Sometime I'll figure out how to have a search function without it.

I got Xinerama set up again on my machine at work. It's so nice. Now I just need to get the window manager to allow me to move windows from screen to screen.

"My mind is my center and everything that happens there is my responsibility. Other people may believe what it pleases them to believe, but I will do nothing without I know the reason why and know it clearly." Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams

Houston, we have a problem

2005 April 07 01:06

I spent the latter part of the evening burning DVD-Rs and listening to Ron Howard's commentary track on the Apollo 13 Special edition.

Early in the ascent to Earth orbit, one of the engines in the first stage of the Saturn 5 rocket shut down unexpectedly. The guidance experts on the ground said that the mission could continue, as long as the other four engines continued running. Jim Lovell (commander, played in the movie by Tom Hanks) says "Well that was the glitch for this mission".

I had assumed that line was added as dramatic irony. As it turns out, that was directly from a transcript of the flight tapes.

[I should probably admit here and now that in addition to spending way too much time thinking about airplanes, I'm a little bit of a space nut, particularly about the Apollo program. Be sure to watch this space for a long rambling post about the AGC, the guidance and control computer used in the Apollo spacecraft.]

patterns in motion

2005 April 05 22:46

I saw the oddest thing riding home on the bus today. Hundreds of people walking across campus, almost all of them going uniformly in the same direction, and almost all wearing orange. The reason it was so noticable was almost everyone that I could see was moving in the same direction. It was interesting how extremely strongly that contrasted with the usual foot traffic on that part of campus, which is probably about the same concentration at that time of day, but moving in random directions.

There was, in fact, a specific reason for the behavior. The Illini basketball team had a welcoming reception-thing this afternoon when they came back from the national NCAA championship game. But there you could definitely tell what direction they were going by just a casual glance. That siuation was similar, actually, to the sort of work I did as a graduate student. High energy physics discerns patterns and structure by analyzing the motions of many small particles.

I'm pleased to report that Neil Gaiman's sculpture is well under repair.

Penguicon is cranking up. I'm riding up with UHACC. I can't wait!

a delicate balance

2005 April 02 09:30

My photo linking thing works, and I've updated the only other entry with photos in it. It's a delicate process that to wedge some raw php into the file that blogger is going to put out. I go to the "edit html" tab, input the php, and then hit "publish" without previewing or anything. It seems to work. I'm not sure if I'll ever be able to edit those entries without screwing up the photo links, but I guess I'll burn that bridge when I come to it.

Work this week went from my being very angry and annoyed on Wednesday to yesterday, when I reached a peak of being interested and excited about work which I haven't acheived certainly since late summer of 2003, and possibly since the summer of 2000 when I was in graduate school.

What I'm working on now in a way is much more immediate than anything I've worked on before. My graduate school work and what I worked on in 2003 were somewhat niche projects, and I knew that at the time I was working on them. What I'm doing now is immediately relevant, and with luck could be very far-reaching in my field.

[Editorial note: Yes, I'm being utterly non-specific about what I'm working on, or even what my job is or where I work. This blog is a personal thing, not to be mixed up with work considerations.]

In case anyone's wondering, here's the function that I'm using to link to photos:

  function csdnimage($arg1){
      $mystring=sprintf("<img src=\"../blog_photos/%s\"><br/>",
    else if(file_exists("../../blog_root_dir")){
      $mystring=sprintf("<img src=\"../../../blog_photos/%s\"><br/>",
      $mystring=sprintf("<font color=red>photo missing: %s</font>\n",$arg1);
I pasted this function into the template in my blogger settings. To function, it requires a file called "blog_root_dir" to be in the root of the blog structure. The above checks for the existence of that function at two different places, and then prints a correctly formed <img...> tag into the resulting html. (And yes, it took a little messing about to get the above text to look like raw html when the native language of the page is html.)

To link to a function, I put something like this into the "edit html" window: <?php ffbimage("my-image.jpg" alt="" border=3>