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

new blood

2007 January 31 09:43

There was a huge upsurge in homebuilt aircraft designs in the early 1980s, partially driven by the designs of Burt Rutan. I'm not sure if it's an illusion, but it seems to me like new designs have been relatively stagnant since then. I've talked here before about about the Hummel Bird, but that design is 30 years old or so.

Bruce King lives just east of San Antonio, and having built a Hummel Bird, has the same thoughts about it as I do, that it's kind of small for a late 20th century person. So Bruce built an aircraft more suited to his frame, that he calls a "BK1". Having built that prototype, he's now planning to sell plans for the airplane and he's currently building a second prototype to work the bugs out of the plans.

Bruce's web site is pretty comprehensive. He has trip reports about flying his planes to Oshkosh and Sun-and-Fun. I actually have photos of the BK1 from my trip to Oshkosh in 2005. His BK1 appeared in the January 2007 issue of Air & Space magazine.

I can't find it now, but I thought he said that he is planning to start marketing the plans at Oshkosh 2007. Even if he doesn't I will be keeping a close eye on this one.

in the beginning was the Word

2007 January 30 17:02

I saw Douglas Adams speak at Indiana University in...I guess it was 2000 or early 2001 (he died in May 2001. One of the bits that Douglas put into some of his speeches was talking about first thinking that computers were calculating machines, and then thinking they were typewriters. Until today, I was never able to find a good reproduction of this discussion, but today I ran across one on BBC, a transcript of his speech at the 3GSM World Congress. He announced that the Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy website that he'd started at the Digital Village would be moving to the BBC.

Here, cut from a couple of different sections of the speech, is the heart of Douglas's computer discussion:

Of course whenever we invent something new, we always base it on something we are familiar with. That’s why the first movies were just filmed plays for proscenium marches and all. That’s why we originally thought that a phone is something that we use to alert you that someone is bringing around a telegram, much the same way we now phone someone to tell them we have sent them an email. That’s why we first designed computers as a kind of super adding machine with a long feature list, then as a typewriter with a long feature list. Those of you who are familiar with Microsoft Word will know what I am talking about. Then as a television with a typewriter sat in front of it.

Now with the coming of the World Wide Web we have reinvented the computer as a kind of giant brochure. Now the computer is none of those things but those are all things which we are already familiar with and we model them in the computer in order to make the computer usable. The mistake we make of course, is to build in the limitations of the thing we are modelling along with its usefulness. ... So if the computer isn’t a typewriter or a television or telephone or any of these other things we have modelled in it, what actually is it? Well obviously it’s a modelling device. We can model in it anything we care to imagine and since it is also a communication device the possibilities are endless. Any of your modelling devices can communicate with any of your other modelling devices and create more and more powerful and more complex models.

It's a terrific speech; please read the whole text.

I don't think they can hear you

2007 January 30 10:55

I'm studying for the FAA written exam. That's the test that shows you've done the book learning for the exam. Since it's an official test, it's required that the exam question pool be public. That means that I can take practice tests. One thing that I've always found hard about things like regulations and laws is that they are spelled out in words, when a graphical representation would be much more clear. For Example, Federal Aviation Regulation 91.113 is the right-of-way rules for aircraft. As other regulations, it lists who must give way to whom, and what the exceptions and overrides are. You have to diagram it just to make sure you're not missing anything. I've attempted to do that here. If there are aircraft of two descriptions, then the one that is higher in the table has the right of way. Headings in italics indicates divisions between different situations and are not themselves descriptions. The relevant descriptions are below the headings.

in distress
converging head-on converging not head-on overtaking
alter course to right same category different categories overtaking aircraft pass clear to right
aircraft on right has right-of-way baloon
powered parachute/weight shift/airplane/rotorcraft

I will be free, and the world will be different

2007 January 25 21:42

For over a year now, I've been working on a wall map made up of World Aeronautical charts. My concept was to have a map that I could mark to show places that I'd flown, once I got a pilot's license. My equivalent of a map with little pins with flags. Well, that map is finally up in a meaningful way. I started the map while living in Champaign, dismantled it, and set it up again in Kentucky, and now it's expanded as far as I want for the moment.

My concept of "flags" took some work. Aeronautical charts of information-dense enough and colorful enough that the traditional little flags wouldn't work. Nor did "erasable" marker when I tried that. What turns out works really well are notebook reinforcers. Those little white paper circles with holes in the center and adhesive on the back. They stick to the charts pretty well, their white color is pretty well contrasted to the chart itself, and the inside hole diameter is big enough that you can still clearly see the airport inside.

[Changing topics, but stay with me--they connect in a bit.] One bad (and good) thing about the world of open-source software is instead of like in the Windows world, where there is always a good piece of software to do what you want, instead there's several that all do slightly different things. This is a strength, because you always have a lot of options, but also a weakness, because often you can't find quite what you're looking for.

I've been trying to find a good image organization and display package for quite a while, and I've finally found that gthumb is almost exactly what I want. Sometime in December, I tried out several photo album construction programs. The first thing I did with each of them was pointed them to my folders full of pictures, and most of them, the first thing they did was to start to import all the photos into their own directories (as in, make copies of every photo). Well, the reason I wanted to organize photos into albums was that I didnt' want to have multiple copies of photos around at all. However, gthumb was quite sensible. It allows you to have source directories for photos, and albums, without having mutiple copies. It also makes decent web page photo albums, which is where we get back to the map stuff.

I have two pages talking about my big map. One is a hand-constructed page that shows the first half of the evolution of the map. The second one is an album generated by gthumb, showing the map from its first edition through the present, which I then annotated by hand. Just to remind you, the airports with the little white notebook re-enforcers around them are airports that I have been to. The ones with letters are airports that I have landed at myself.

skyvector links work now

2007 January 25 00:30

Apparently Blogger specifically excludes putting in "script" tags in the source, and that's what you needed to do to get the maps to work. So I created a php function to include another file, and that file contains the naughty code that blogger doesn't like. Once it hits my site, it works.

So in case you viewed yesterday's post and couldn't see the map, I think it's fixed for real now.

forging links

2007 January 24 09:32

Before I head to work, here's an example of one of the nifty Skyvector links. This one shows home; I haven't flown in or out of here yet, but soon. Click on the chart image to go to their interactive site, where you can drag the map around and zoom:

closed pattern, Morristown

2007 January 23 21:21

I spent an hour and a half today doing patterns at Morristown. I've done some cross-country flights recently, and I realized that while my landings were Ok, my approaches were sort of lousy. When updating my log book on Sunday, I realized this was because I hadn't done any pattern work since October. So 10 take-offs and landings today. I tempered my tendency to come in high and fast, so now that's better. I made two pretty good approaches after which I was able to turn off the runway on the very first taxiway, which is about 1000 feet from the threshold.

This last Saturday was my second solo cross-country, and my last daytime solo cross-country in my flight training. It was Loooong. I flew a round trip from Morristown to Chattanooga, stopping at Knoxville on the way back. Lots of little problems, including fighting with the VOR to come back. For some reason, I can navigate to any airport except Morristown's.

A couple of other things: There's a fairly nice article on Wikipedia about airport runways and their markings.

There seems to be a new site with digitized Sectional charts. I have a subscription to Aeroplanner.com, and that's what I used, but this new site, Skyvector, is interesting. It allows you to set links to go to a particular airport, which is neat (see the airport links above), and it has a nifty linking page that has instructions for simple links and a form to construct complicated ones.

Oh, and for those working on their licenses or you already have yours, check out duats. It's a site that provides the same services as flight services stations; pre-flight briefings and filing flight plans and stuff. The really cool thing about it is that it can fill in most of the details on the flight plan form for you, based on your information and a flight profile. It has routing software that will format your route for you, based on a routing that it picks or you can type it in explicitly. I used this to file the flight plan for my solo cross-country Saturday, and it was really slick.

Lots more ideas for blog posts stacked up, but I've been busy at work...so there should be new stuff soon.

Be patient; I'm pushing a large RV!

2007 January 06 21:48

My beetle has a tow hitch attached to the front suspension and it's wired to be towed as a trailer. I'm suspicious that this has impacted the wiring. One of the issues is that when I push on the brakes, the speedometer illuminator light comes comes on as does the lights on the front fenders. The other wierd thing is that one of the tail lights (and brake lights) is brighter than the other one.

In the process of thinking about this, I wanted to know what the connections are on a trailer plug (the wiring that goes from the towing vehicle to the trailer to make the trailer's lights work). I did some searching to find the wiring diagram for a trailer plug. I knew about 4-pin plugs, but apparently there are also 6 and 7 pin plugs. I didn't find one page that had good diagrams of all the different types, but I found a few pages that cover all of them.

I'm just collecting these diagrams together for reference. This has been a public service message. :-)

The Heart of Gold

2007 January 05 23:39

I bought my VolksWagen Beetle for a lot of reasons. Most generally, I wanted to learn to take care of an engine, particularly an air-cooled one with simple parts; sort of like an airplane engine. I definitely didn't buy it to work on body work. One of the big things, though, was to understand how to maintain a carburator.

My auto mechanics teacher in high school said repeatedly that a carburator wasn't a magic box. And it's not the only thing in the engine that has to be precisely adjusted. However, I suspect that the reason carbs have a repuation of being fiddly is that their operation is dependent on the physics of fluids flowing through restricted passages. The flow rates that end up governing the running of the engine are very strong functions of sizes of thos passages, so very small adjustments produce very good results. I imagine it would be very easy to get to a set of adjustments where the engine won't run at all.

An of course, fiddling with it when it's running right probably won't help unless you do things in the right order. Which of course is what I was doing, without thinking about it, which is why the carb is so far out of adjustment. Argh. It was running a little funny (this is back before I decided to rip everything out in September) and so I adjusted the fast idle adjust screw to increase the idle and make things run a little smoother. Well, as it turns out, you don't adjust the idle speed with that screw.

Tomorrow, the procedure is:

That'll be a pretty good run for a day. With that out of the way, hopefully I can start using it as a daily driver again.

Why does Rice play Texas?

2007 January 03 22:32

I got the "From the Earth to the Moon" Signature Edition for Christmas from my wife. The series, and other places, have different cuts of Kennedy's "We will go to the moon" speech. Having seen several bits, including the random statement "Why does Rice play Texas?" on those DVDs, I went looking for the full text of the speech.

I found a page a Rice University (where the speech was apparently given) that contains the full text of the speech. Here are the couple of paragraphs with those statements. Happy holidays and happy new year, everyone!

There is no strife, no prejudice, no national conflict in outer space as yet. Its hazards are hostile to us all. Its conquest deserves the best of all mankind, and its opportunity for peaceful cooperation may never come again. But why, some say, the moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask why climb the highest mountain. Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic? Why does Rice play Texas?

We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.