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

road trip!

2009 April 30 10:46

My car plug splitter is in the car, powering an inverter (lower right), the Sirius radio,

and the GPS (which is taped to the dashboard).

Must be a road trip!

Yup, after an absence of 3 years, I'm going to Penguicon again. Wil Wheaton is guest of honor, and although he has planned to attend in the past and cancelled, it looks like he's really going this time.

Should be fun!

I'll be leaving Thursday afternoon. If you want to keep track of me, follow me on Twitter or just look at the right sidebar here.

consider and jug

2009 April 30 08:10

I've been moving forward on the beetle engine restoration. I have parts, and I need to get them ready to install.

I got a piston/cylinder set from veedub parts.

As you can see the new "jugs" come as raw cast iron. If you put them in the engine that way, they'll run, but they'll rust too, and that reduces their thermal efficiency. I'll paint the cylinders sometime.

Each cylinder comes with its own matching piston

which has been carefully matched in diameter, so you don't want to mix them.

I got a beam balance (I've always wanted one) to weigh the cylinders.

The set is pretty good; they're well within the maximum imbalance tolerance of 5 grams for new pistons. Before installing them, I'll probably balance them within half a gram or so just to maximize the balance of the engine.

The manufacturing of the cylinders seems prettygood, but I'm going to do some finishing. The top surface of the cylinder mates with the flat part of the head and forms a sealing surface (no gasket!). The sealing surface on both sides should be flat and smooth, like a mirror. I think I'll sand these down a bit so they're smoother. You can still see the machining marks in the top.

who hires this crew?

2009 April 17 20:44

The wife-unit is a couple of states away, so I decided to get the Netflix queue going again. I put in _Fight Club_, which has been sitting around the house for at least a month.

I watched the first 12 minutes, took out the disk and watched John Stewart instead.

Ok. It's a movie called _Fight Club_. Advertisements and posters strongly feature a very buff Brad Pitt, sometimes with his shirt off, and the movie has a reputation for being violent. So how does the movie start? With 12 solid minutes of expository inner-voice dialog that make me want to shoot the main character. And evidently the arc of the first bit of the movie is the main character making fun of people with testicular cancer, as a lead-up to his line saying "she doesn't have testicular cancer (about Helena Bonham Carter)?

Who thought this was a good idea? What editor looked at a rough cut of 12 minutes of frankly offensive exposition at the beginning of an action movie and said "yeah, we'll go with that".

A quick look at IMDB indicates that the director is David Fincher, who has directed a whole lot of music videos, which isn't necessarily bad. He's directed some movies that were pretty hard-core thrillers that I haven't seen. He directed _Alien 3_, which now that I think about it had a whole heck of a lot of expository boring bits for a movie in an action series.

Kevin Smith (who's an acquired taste as a director but I really like him for his honesty) has a long story about meeting with Warner Brother producer John Peters about making their Superman movie. Peters had three directives for the movie: 1) Superman can't fly 2) Superman can't wear his costume and 3) The end of the movie has to have a big reveal of a giant spider that's the villian. That particular movie didn't get made, but Peters went on to be producer on _Wild Wild West_. When I see movies like _Fight Club_, I realize that it's most likely that Smith was telling the truth, and it represents a movie was stupid ideas like that do get made.


now normally, you would not...

2009 April 16 21:36

Something I forgot to mention about my C-172 flight a couple of weeks ago. This was only my second time flying with him, and I continue to like him. His way to get someone the feel of a new type of airplane is to have you do steep-banked turns. So I did a couple, pretty well in fact, at a 45 degree bank. Then he had me do a couple of steep-banked turns in the style that you do them for the commercial, to a 60-degree bank.

Holding a 60-degree turn is a little tricky to learn. I certainly felt like the plane was completely over on its side. The hard part is while in this turn, to stay at the same altitude. The first time I attempted it, the instructor said "You are now entering a graveyard spiral. Once you get past a certain angle of bank, all the back-pressure in the world won't pull you out of it. You have to bank out of the turn slightly, pitch up, and then bank back into it."

Once he said that, it made sense, and I got the airplane to hold altitude again with no problem. Thinking back on this later, his quiet dry way of saying "your are now entering a graveyard spiral" rather amuses me.

With luck, I'll be signed off to solo in the 172 soon.

lessons learned

2009 April 16 07:51

A quick follow-up to my post last night. I just ran out of steam and went to bed.

Lessons learned for this episode of working on my Beetle engine:

- replace cylinder heads in pairs. I would guess that the reason I got into this problem in the first place is that someone replaced the head on one side of the engine but not the other, so the heads were at different wear points. Replacing (or reconditioning) one but not the other is a false economy to make the engine run in the short term but severely sacrificing longevity.

- By the same token, if you buy one head from someone, buy two, so that you have a matching set.

- If you buy a set of heads (or whatever other parts) that aren't absolutely the stock part for your engine, know exactly what's different. BEFORE buying them, do a brief search and see how hard they are to replace.

- KNOW what the part numbers are for the things you're buying, particularly for major engine components. Know what engine(s) those parts are compatible with.

- Finally, when you buy something for a vintage car, no matter how small, KEEP THE PACKING SLIP OR INVOICE. You will someday wonder what something is, and where you got it, and how to order another one. I haven't done this, and before this week, it was mostly a matter of guessing and using the on-line catalog. If I'd had the invoice from VeeDub parts, this week's ordering process would have been much less painful. Due to the very weird nature of the part I ended up with, not necessarily easier as finding the part, but with the invoice I would have known for sure what part number (of theirs) I ordered.

I will put a folder in the bookshelves that hold my car manuals, and whenever I get a package, I will put the paperwork in that folder.

So it looks like I am going to be doing a complete top-end re-build to my engine. Stay tuned over the next couple of months for lots of photos of prep and assembly.

my new best friend in the VW world

2009 April 15 22:03

Saturday night I discovered that the #2 cylinder in my Beetle's engine had a big crack running around the base.

Well, that means a Change In The Plan. One of my big faults is I like to have a plan and stick to it. I'm happy to have a tree of contingency plans, that's just a plan with fallback positions (I'm a programmer, after all). But catastrophic excursions from The Plan tend to make me grumpy. ("Hey, Craig, instead of going to the airplane museum, which is what the plan always has been for this weekend, let's go to the Museum Full Of Paintings Titled Madonna and Child. I told my best friend that you wouldn't mind changing the plan and meeting her there and staying for the day"). [Just to be clear, my wife does not do this. She is aware and tuned to this particular neurosis of mine. When plans do change, as is inevitable sometimes, I sigh and mostly accept it gracefully, knowing that she doesn't it intentionally and that we work very well as a team.]

Back to the car. The cracked cylinder was a major Plan Deviation, so I was grumpy on Sunday because I wanted to be assembling engine. Monday, I called Vee-Dub Parts in California to ask them to send me more parts. Cylinders and pistons wear together, and a set isn't that bad, so I decided to just replace the lot in the engine. As long as I'm getting new pistons and cylinders, it seemed silly to be putting one new cylinder head and one old one on the engine, so I asked Vee-Dub to send me (in addition to the piston & cylinder set) another one the cylinder heads that they sent me before. It's a stock head, except that it has deep thread spark plug holes (3/4 of a inch rather than 1/2 which is stock for VWs). That's when the conversation went downhill.

I was told there was no such thing, that cylinder heads that require deep spark plugs are all high performance heads that have specialized over-sized valves. I was pretty sure that the valves were stock size, but I hadn't measured specifically. I said that I would call them back with measurements and the date of the last invoice so they could at least look it up.

Yesterday (Tuesday) I called them again and spoke to someone else, this time armed with more information. I read him off the casting number and a description of the head, and so he said that he'd check it out and call me back. By the way, here's the head in question:

The casting number section shows the part number:

The big number is the casting number, which says something about when it was cast and where. The smaller number on top is the official part number: 043-101-375H. This is what I read off to the guy on Tuesday, and he said he'd try to find someone who carried that part, and that he'd call me back. No call Tuesday.

I did get a call today, however. They called me back and after talking to 6 suppliers, they did find one that would sell them that head. He told me on the phone similar information to what I found on Google last night:

That head, the 375H head, was manufactured for Mexican fuel-injected beetles. I don't think they've been made for a long time. He had no idea how I came to buy one from their store. (When I made the original purchase, I was told that it had the deep spark plug hole. Let me stress that wasn't a surprise; what I didn't realize was how rare that head was.)

So Vee-Dub Parts totally came through for me, and they're sending a piston-cylinder set and another new head that matches my existing one. I sort of liked these guys before, but now they've earned my business for VW parts, and I'll buy frmo them unless they absolutely don't carry what I need.

Now waiting for parts again. You do a lot of that when you own a vintage car

never plan anything with a vintage car

2009 April 12 00:26

I was doing really well for my weekend checklist. I got stuff done in the house, and started the evening working on the beetle.

The oil pump body went in fine. Here it is with the gasket prepared and ready

Oil pump body in the car. Through the upper hole, you can see the slot in the camshaft gear that the oil pump gear engages into. The red lines show you the direction of the slot as in the photo.

The oil pump driven gear, with its shaft sticking up. The tang on the end of the shaft goes into the camshaft gear slot.

Here's how the gear goes into the oil pump body

A critical measurement is making sure that the shaft s ticks the correct amount into the camshaft gear slot. First you make sure that when it's engaged correctly, the gear drops all the way into the oil pump body. Then when the gear is rotated and pushed into the body non-aligned, then the amount that it ends up sticking out is how far the tang of the shaft goes into the camshaft gear slot. Here is the initial measurement; the shaft doesn't stick into the camshaft gear nearly far enough. We need to extend the shaft from the gear.

Here's how the extension is done, as per the Gene Berg instruction sheet that came with the oil pump. The shaft sticks into the large socket, and the small socket pushes the shaft further out of the gear.

The back end of the shaft before extending

And after

Just right, about a quarter inch into the camshaft gear.

Well that's all fine and ducky. The oil pump body is in the engine, and the gears are set and ready to install (which will be later in the assembly process). Last thing before I quit for the night was to pop one of the cylinders off to see what the next part of the job was going to be like.

Right side of the engine, #2 cylinder removed.

Which is fine as far as it goes. HOWEVER...

The base of that cylinder has a massive crack in it

The inside of that cylinder is interesting.

The three different areas of wear is interesting. Farthest into the cylinder (remember we're seeing this from the crankshaft's point of view) the piston rings have worn the cylinder shiny smooth; marked with a red dot.

Up farther, you can see the part where the piston skirt was scraping but not the rings. The green dot shows where the skirt was scraping and the purple dot shows where it wasn't.

Curiously, then, above the crack, at the cyan (light blue) dot, where the piston skirt would have rubbed, it clearly didn't. So I'm guessing the crack was there when the cylinder was put it or it happened right afterwards, because that area isn't worn at all.

So--I'm in for a new set of pistons and cylinders. Since I was already putting on head on, I might as well get another one and that way the whole top end will be new. The engine obviously needed it anyway. The expense doesn't bother me, and isn't bad. It just bugs me that my driving it to Penguicon this year is now very much in doubt.

hand operated air-cooled compass adjuster

2009 April 09 23:36

I'm taking another art class this semester, this time it's casting. We're casting things in brass and silver, and then refining them from blanks to a finished product.

One thing I'm making as one of the "free" projects for the end of the semester is a brass screwdriver for adjusting compasses. Good compasses have very small pieces of metal (or magnets; I don't really know which) that can be positioned to help compensate for any steel in the body of the vehicle, so that the compass reads true in all directinos. The screwdriver you use must not be magnetic, so no steel or iron, and thus brass is the perfect material.

This is what the rough-cast piece looked like, with the sprue piece still attached:

Now I'm getting it to the point that it's fairly smoothly shaped, but still needs sanding and polishing.

The loop on the end is so you can tie it to something; a tool this small could get dropped easily.

Its use is turning the compensation adjustments on compasses. These two have their adjust screws highlighted. First, an aviation style compass out of an aircraft:

And a buy-in-department-store type that you stick on your windshield, although it is a nice enough one to have adjustments.

On thing I did noticed was that the blade is too wide for the first compass and too thick for the second one. That's no problem to fix with a file. However, the original wax blank was getting so thin that I didn't want to make it any smaller and wanted to finish sizing it with the final metal piece.

movin' on up

2009 April 09 08:42

After my abortive attempt about a year ago to get hooked up with a Cessna 172 to fly, I am now in the process of checking out in another one. I flew one with an instructor the other day. I didn't get signed off, but I should be able to in the next lesson.

That isn't me flying, by the way, this is me on the ground taking a photo of the same 172 taking off.

Interestingly, this particular airplane has a feature that I've never seen in a small aircraft. I think every other one has had a battery master that was a toggle (in the case of older airplanes) or else a rocker switch. This one has a plunger that you pull:

One thing I didn't do in my training flight was turn on nav lights (like "parking" lights in a car) or the collision beacon. I'll have to work on remembering that.

As I mentioned in my earlier flight, the elevator trim becomes far more important in the 172, because it has much greater elevator forces:

At the bottom of that same photo is another big difference from the 150. The C-172 fuel selection can select either of the main fuel tanks, or both, wheras the 150 is just on/off.

keeping it was the right thing to do

2009 April 09 08:09

Although I've had my Palm Centro for a few months now, it still registers to me as the "new" cell phone.

I really liked the Treo 650 that I had for 2 1/2 years, but it did have a couple of annoying bugs. One was that the microphone voice software had some problem with it that it would only work for about 90 seconds, less in a noisy environment. After that, it would stop working in some wierd way and you couldn't hear it on the other end.

And unfortunately, the bluetooth in the Treo 650 didn't work very well either. You could use a headset, sometimes, but it was never capable of answering a call with the headset. And sometimes it wouldn't work at all. The Treo did work fine with a wired headset, and so I would always carry one for long conversations; I don't really like to have conversations with a cell phone pressed against my head anyway; the new smaller one's really aren't comfortable.

In a last bid to get a bluetooth headset that worked, I bought a Treo-branded bluetooth headset:

Unfortunately, this didn't pair with the Treo 650 any better, and so it sat in a drawer for a couple of years.

So...now along comes the Palm Centro that I bought a few months ago. First of all, it works fine as a hold-it-to-your-face phone. I've had 20 minute conversations on it, and it's fine. (Although it's battery life is lacking; that may be because the battery was old.)

Secondly, the Treo headset actually pairs just fine with the Centro:

What's really cool about all this is the convergence in the technologies. As it turns out, the Treo 650 and the Centro use the same power supply. Which means that I can use the old power supplies for the new phone, so I now have three power supplies for my phone, including the nifty travel one with the built-in plug adapters.

Furthermore, the sporty thing about the Treo headset (in addition to that it actually works with the Centro) is that it uses the same power supply as the phone, so I only have to bring one power supply when I travel (the light on indicates that it's charging).

One thing that's a little tricky about the Centro is that all of its functions are controlled by one button. To turn it on, hold down the button for about 5 seconds, and the light will flash a bunch of times, then flash every several seconds to indicate that it's on. When it's on, hold it down for several seconds, and it will flash several times to indicate that it's off (then stay dark). When it's on and paired with the phone, tap the button to initiate or answer a call.

The trick bit is to pair it with the phone for the first time. With the phone off, you have to hold the button down long enough for the phone to turn on, then continue holding it down until the light goes on steadily. This wasn't immediately obvious. In fact, thinking that my old headset didn't work, I bought another one on ebay (very cheaply). The guy sent me detailed e-mail instructions on pairing, which basically told me the above. Totally worth it, and I now have an extra headset.

Here's a brief video of setting the headset to pair mode (sorry I haven't had a chance to down-convert it; it's 4 MB).

Mythbusters return to new episodes tonight!

2009 April 08 13:39

This is a 3-minute blog post (from work, naughty naughty!) to remind people that Mythbusters starts a new season of new episodes tonight. It's possible that it may be a two-hour episode, too.

And in other news, Grant Imahara and Adam Savage are on twitter.

what just popped in there ray

2009 April 08 07:03

I've always thought that I wanted to learn to play an instrument. I mean really learn it. I played piano when I was in grade school, and again for a semester in college. I played tuba in high school for a couple of years. Except for the stint in college, I was too young, and then, I didn't have the time to continue with it.

But now I'm older, and I have a little more time to throw around, and I more have the ability to decide to commit to something like that. The question is what instrument.

I'd love to learn to play drums. But they're loud, take up a lot of space, and are totally non-portable on the scale of taking it with you on vacation/to a party.

A flute would be the other end of the spectrum; a simple, very classic instrument that's perfect for carrying around. My wife made a face when I mentioned it; she doesn't even like good flute music. So that's probably out.

Piano is far more universal than drums, but it worse portability issues.

Guitar strikes a reasonable medium. It's not something you can throw into a shoulder bag, but it's easily moved in a car and can be taken on an airplane if you have a nice case. It can be used to play a vast swathe of different kinds of music, and you can play it and sing at the same time.

So I'm going to sign up for guitar lessons starting in the fall. It should be fun.

Here's my strength training regimen:

I got Guitar Hero III and a guitar controller as a birthday present from my awesome mother-in-law (I picked it out). I've been playing it the last few evenings, and it's really fun. I'm still in the trying-to-get-used-to-the-controller stage, and my wrist is sore after 20 minutes of playing. But did a "concert" the other night, and game asked for an "encore". The song chosen was KISS's "I wanna rock and roll all night", which I managed to get through without being booed off stage on medium difficulty, without having practiced it. So now that song is unlocked.

And while GH isn't going to help me understand pitches, it's already improved my ability to separate out instruments in a song, and I'm much more in tune with the rhythm of guitar parts in songs.