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

I can quit any time

2005 May 27 00:02

Flying is an addiction. From observing others deep in its grasp, it is an all-encompassing obsession that takes a terrible toll on the victim and his (or her) family. Flying is very hard to shake, because it pushes your "adventure", "control", "gadget" buttons, all at the same time, plus it's a lot of fun.

People who fly a lot like to get together with other folks that also have the same obsession, because at some point if you fly, your neighbors realize you're a nut and stop talking to you. These evens typically happen on weekends, and are called "fly-ins". This is where you and your buddies (loosely defined) all fly to some place, have lunch, and talk about airplanes. Some are more formal, and have registrations and agendas, some are just some people flying the same airport for the afternoon. Since most people that attend them are victims of the same addiction, it's a little bit like an addiction support meeting, except that people aren't actually trying to quit.

Over the last couple of years, I've toyed with ideas of different amateur airplanes that I'd like to build or perhaps just own sometime. Some that I've spent some time investigating have been two tandem-wing design families, the Quickie and its bretheren, and the Dragonfly. There was a fly-in at Southern Illinois Airport a couple of weeks ago hosted at Southern Illinois University's aircraft mechanic's school.

The host was Sam Hoskins, an alum of the school. One of Sam's former teachers taught two seminars, one on carbruaturs and one on magnetos (the devices that provide ignition in an airplane engine).

Demonstrating Bernuili's principle in the carbruator seminar

This is a photo outside the hangar. The airplanes you see there are various types of tandem-wings. The large tail sticking out of the hangar is a 737 that students of the school use to practice their techniques.

I'm heading up to Wisconsin tomorrow to pick up my sister. It's going to be a long weekend. If all goes well, I'll return with photos the dorm I lived in the last three years of college.

rumors of my death, etc...

2005 May 18 08:58

I got rather sick a couple of weeks ago, and it took until Monday to get caught up time-wise.

Nothing new on the flying front. The flying club had their annual spring cleaning on Saturday, so pulled the airplanes out of the hangar and washed and waxed then. That was fun; they're all clean and shiny.

I did a presentation at work Monday, and I managed to sneak in a reference to a project I worked on in graduate school. I had a single small reference to it on one slide, and a hidden slide with more information in case anyone asked. They didn't. The project was experimenting with a PCI flash-ADC board (if you want to see it, go to the "project" link and scroll all the way to the bottom). The experiment I was working on as a postdoc wants to build all their own front-end electronics, and this PCI card was a proof of concept prototype. Paul Smith designed and built the board, and I wrote the Linux kernel driver and the software that read it out.

I like Blogger, and it's free. And I was advised that it's the fastest way to get your thoughts on-line. And that's true. Unfortunately, I think they have become so popular that they dare not add features for fear of overloading things. The green font in my last post was painful to do right, and the last paragraph, after the review ended, the links aren't highlighted. Argh. And I went to look at my blog recently, and it wouldn't come up, which turned out to be because blogger itself was down.

So at some point I'll need to be on the hunt for another blogging tool. I think that movable type is the gold standard for people who are serious about it. (I'm not being elitist, that's just what I've observed. Neil Gaiman has a pretty serious blog, and he uses blogger--but his publishing company hires people to make it right when it breaks. Super control-freak propeller-head types who do their own web page coding, which I aspire to be like, use MT. ) Of course, if I want really super mil-spec hosting software, I could just make the jump right away and never have to worry about it again.

guides to the Galaxy

2005 May 01 12:41

I submitted a review of the Hitchhiker's movie to slashdot yesterday morning. It wasn't accepted, so I'm reposting it here:

The HitchHiker's Guide to the Galaxy movie came out yesterday. It has been reviewed all over the place, both good and bad. Roger Ebert, and others who have had their reviews posted on slashdot, didn't especially like it.

However, I'd like to weigh in here as a long-time fan who read the books and got them (which clearly Mr. Ebert and others didn't).

First of all, the movie is good. It's funny, quirky, and you have to stay on your toes to follow all the plot bits the first time (I've only seen it the once). No, it doesn't have the seamless tight plot of, say, The Terminator, but you know, neither has any of the other Hitchhiker's incarnations. It's not epic science fiction, but I don't think anyone ever prentended it was going to be. It's silly, strange, very intelligent science fiction. For those used to sci-fi being like Independence Day, it's a bit of an acquired taste. But that was true of the books as well. Anyone who doesn't like the movie is the sort of person who would have read the books and missed the point.

So, the movie itself. Arthur is a good, suitably British, with a mix of the befuddled character of the books and the hero of the radio series. Ford is suitably wierd and spot-on. Trillian is the first Trillian that I've seen that matches Douglas' description; sexy, charming, and very smart. I'm not sure that I totally agree with how Zaphod is done, but he definitely fits the role of president-of-the-galaxy on the run.

The Vogons are suitably vile, excellent work by the Henson creature shop. Marvin has the usual bits, and is woven into the plot a bit more than before. Look for cameos of Simon Jones and the Marvin from the BBC TV series.

I'm very pleased that lots of lines from the radio series and books survive intact. Many were changed, because the plot isn't precisely the same. I'm also glad that several bits of narration were done as guide entries, which connects the film very well to the other Hitchhiker's incarnations.

I sat in the theater next to people that had never experience any of the previous. They didn't have the movie-going experience of their lives, but they thought it was funny.

In conclusion: see the movie. It's good. It is Hitchhiker's. Is it Douglas Adam's Hitchhikers? Hard to say, but it would be hard to prove that it wasn't. It's not Independence Day with Arthur replacing Will Smith. It's funny, wierd, and overly cerebral, just like the other incarnations. I very firmly believe that people who don't like the movie at all wouldn't like or get the books.

I went shopping at Fry's in Chicago yesterday, and I helped a friend buy an iPod. It turns out that she was more interested in using it to record lectures and conference presentations.

Since I have a PDA that plays music, and so can my laptop, iPod's really haven't been something that I've gravitated towards. However, having an easy way to record sound to a digital format (as opposed to recording on a micro-casette and then digitizing) would occasionally be useful. Recording speeches and whatnot, for one thing. Plugging into the voice circuit in an airplane would be another one that could occasionally useful. Not to make a safety recording in the event of a crash, but as a way to go over communcation post-flight and review if there were things that I missed, or could have done better.

So now I'm all interested in Linux on the iPod. My brief Googling on that subject seems to indicate that the "3rd generation" iPod was the first to be able to record sound, and the most recent one current supported one for iPod Linux. They are available on ebay, but expensive enough still that I won't be rushing right out and getting one.