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

And...we're back

2012 December 23 23:50

Getting my blog back up to speed has been on my to-do list for more than 3 years. As of tonight, it's done. All my blog entries from March of 2005 through the present are all here in one blog. The photos work, links work. Long live the blog, etc.

I started out using the blogger platform in 2005. It was (may still be) a great platform. I'd already established my own web site at craigsteffen.net, so I quickly figured out how to get blogger to generate entries and export them via auto-magic ftp to my own site. That arrangement worked fine until...I think it was late 2008.

I think it was that year that blogger announced that they were going to discontinue the external-ftp service. So I decided to set up a different blogging software. I looked over some of the packages available, and I decided that pivot was what I wanted to use. It stored its files as flat files on disk, but could be configured with menus and stuff.

I was able to pull most of my old blogger entries into pivot, sort of, but the images never quite worked right. And I discovered that I couldn't make pivot do categories of posts, which is one of the things that I really wanted to work. So after a short time, I decided that it would be easier to just write my own software rather than trying to get someone else's to do what I wanted.

So I've been working on a set of php and perl scripts in my free time for the past couple of years. The blog that you see here is the result. Up until the past few days, the last time I spent serious time working on it was a year and a half ago, the summer 2011. Starting in August of 2011, I've been working on a different bigger project, mentally I've been busier and had less left-over concentration to work on my blog scripts.

However, I've been working on it a lot in the past four days here at my parent-in-law's for the holidays. Thursday and Friday I posted 8 entries that I'd been meaning to put together for the past few weeks. Yesterday and today I've been working on hammering out the script that converted the original export file that blogger created for me in 2008. Today I finally ran that and it was able to pull all the 450-odd entries that I'd had in the old blogger blog. This evening, while watchin football, I ran the script that converted the pivot entries, and also the one that converted the blogger entries. The embedded photos were located in different directories, so I had to carefully combine the two sets of entries to get everythin to work right.

So there might be a few nits here or there, but as of now, I have all the entries from all three major phases my blog has gone through, all working and indexed using the main interface, the one I wrote. It's a bit clunky, but it works. There are the originall bloggger entries, the pivot entries, and the current flat file blog entries.

Happy Holidays, everyone! And happy blogging. :-D

Relays and diodes

2012 December 21 23:28

One thing I really like to have in a car is a warning buzzer than tells me when the headlights are on when I open the door, so that I don't leave the lights on and drain the battery.

My vintage Beetle never had such a circuit. It did have a buzzer that would buzz if you left the key in and opened the door. And it also turned on the dome light when either door was opened, independent of anything else. However, the switch to make both of those things work independently is a switch you can't get any more. It's a double-pole switch that switch the circuits independelty, and neither of them to ground. The only switches you can get for the doors are single-pole grounding switches. So the circuit to do all of this with a single switch per door gets a a bit more complicated.

I've designed a circuit to do the job. I want to have the buzzer go off if I open the door and any of the following is true:

And also the interior lights to work properly; that is, it goes on when either door opens.

Here's the circuit; two relays (they can be small ones) and four diodes. Now I just need to get all the connectors organized and the wires run, and the componnets wired up.

The only problem with this is I haven't been able to figure out to wire the relays so that if either the door is opened or the key is in, there isn't current being drained from the battery. Ideally it would only draw when both were true. But for the moment, I'll have to put up with a bit of current draw when the door is open, even if the dome light is turned all the way off. That's probably not that big of a deal.

Home away from home...

2012 December 21 22:12

This entry is just for me. Please forgive my self-indulgence.

I've now rented a hangar to put the airplane in when I finally get it back from the mechanic's.

It'll look better with the airplane in it, I'm sure. :-)

When I get a chance, I'll take down a broom and trash can and get the debris out of the floor.

Another to-do item--the hangar actually exceeds the wing span of the airplane by several feet. I'll put lines in the floor toward one side so that I can roll the airplane in and there will be more room on the side of the door, which will make it easier to load.

Didn't stop us; only slowed us down...

2012 December 21 21:56

Driving for Christmas, after the first stop, as we were about to get back on the interstate, we got a charging system warning. I was actually quite pleased with the Taurus; the status indicator said "check charging system" and the battery light came on, and it buzzed. (When I lost the alternator in our Escort, the first I knew of it was when the tachometer stopped functioning.)

We got a new alternator, which got us on our way within a few hours.

I'd like to put in a plug for the Richmond, Kentucky Ford dealer here. They got us in in the middle of a busy weekday and we were on our way in less than three hours from when we got dropped off. (It also confirmed my conviction to always have my AAA membership up to date.) They were fast, they had an alternator in stock, and they fixed a couple of other things with the car (headlight).

With the looking at the alternator, and the recent picture that I blogged of the generator belt in the airplane. So here's a picture of the serpentine belt in the Taurus that I took today:

This is looking down the right side of the engine bay (the engine is transfersely mounted). The pulley in the upper right marked with a yellow dot is the power steering pump. Below it, mounted with the blue dot, is air-conditioning compressor pulley. In the upper left of the photo, marked by the cyan (light blue) dot is the alternator; that's kind of on top. I believe the lowest pulley marked with the red dot is the drive pulley on the end of the crankshaft, so by process of elimination the one on the left with the purple dot is the pulley for the water pump.

So as far as I can tell, the two grey pulleys in the middle marked with grey dots are idlers. They're smaller than the others, the back side of the belt runs against them.

Plumbing: 1 for 2

2012 December 21 21:12

I've gotten into a couple of plumbing projects at the house. One successful, one's still pending.

The one I've been working on longer is the downstairs toilet. For those of you who've visited our house, this is the one in the bathroom off the kitchen that always used to run more often than it ought. Well, during November it started to get really bad, running every several minutes. It finally had to be fixed.

I tried replacing the gasket where the flush valve sealed; that didn't fix it. So I realized the seal that was leaking was the next one down, where the valve assembly pictured here:

seals against the bottom of the tank. Unfortunately, the ring that fastens it to the bottom of the tank is on the outside bottom of the tank, which you can only get to when the tank is completely off.

Removing the tank got interesting. It turned out that the nut on one of the three bolts that held the tank on was rusted solid. I ended up cutting it off with a rotary grinder. Here's the remains:

Here on the lower left part of the outlet, you can see where it had been leaking.

Here's the tank all put back together and ready to install. Bolts shiny, seals fresh, ready to go.

Aaaaaaand...our shower has started dripping again. Blech. This one I haven't fixed yet. The valves aren't leaking, it's just dripping out of the shower head.

Here's the outer parts of the valve taken apart

Here's the cartridge; this contains the bits that should be replacable:

Unfortunately...I can't find one. I looked in four real local hardware stores, and they didn't have it, and I don't think it can be ordered.

So that one's going to be ongoing. I'll probably have to cut walls and stuff and put in shut-off valves. That's going to have to wait until January.

What you find on the floor...

2012 December 20 20:51

I mostly don't talk about my job here, but I think I've mentioned that I go to a big computing conference every year. This year the Intel booth had a really great exhbit--they leased (or something) the real live original bridge set from the original Star Trek series. If you went to one of their talks, you could go and hang around the bridge and take pictures and stuff. I'm going to post a couple of the pictures here, to have a record of it.

Mr. Sulu's helm station on the bridge.

The navigation console on the bridge.

Hey George, I'm in your spot! :-D

This blog post expires on...

2012 December 20 18:59

The new plane has two GPS navigation units. I don't think I would have made that choice in configuring it, but it will be fine for the moment.

GPS units used for IFR flight must have current navigational and waypoint and airport information to be legal. The unit itself lives in the panel in the airplane, but the navigation data lives on a flash-memory card that sits in a socket in the front of the unit that's removable.

The information is updated every 28 days, so you need to remove the card from each unit and program it with the updated information. Most people have two of each card, and swap them out every time the information is updated. The seller of my airplane had two cards for each GPS as well, and a programming unit that will interface with either type.

There's a company called Jeppesen that packages the information into a form that the GPSs can understand. I downloaded their software and bought one update for each of the two GPS units in the airplane:

The older of the GPS units is an Apollo GX-60. It was designed by a company called "II Morrow" which has since been absorbed by Garmin. This one is an old-school unit; its screen is monochrome and it has an older-style interface. Its memory card is a PCMCIA memory card. PCMCIA is a expansion bus that used to be used by laptops a lot. Here's the Jeppesen programmer writing data to the GX-60 card:

The other GPS is a Garmin 430W, a relatively modern GPS unit (6 years old or so). It has a multi-color screen and a relatively modern interface. The data card for the Garmin units is a proprietary card that's only available from them.

Open and Say Ahhhhh...

2012 December 20 17:29

As in the previous post, I drove down to South Carolina to look at the plane and go flying with the seller on Sunday November 4th. I liked what I saw, so we arranged to have the plane inspected later the following week.

So on Tuesday evening November 6, I drove most of the way down to Rome, Georgia. I drove the rest of the way on Wednesday morning. The seller flew the plane there later that morning. I had my machanic do initial look-see during the middle of the day. He didn't spot anything immediate, so I gave seller a deposit, we signed the contract, and then I drove the seller to Augusta Geogia and met his wife to drop him off. I then drove most of the way back to Rome. I didn't make it all the way, but I pushed through (this is late Wednesday night now) so that I was north of Atlanta.

I was glad I had. Thursday morning, Driving north from Atlanta, the traffic going into Atlana was pretty fierce; I was glad I was going the other way:

Along that same strech of highway, here's a single shot I got of a Smart Car entering onto the interstate in front of me. The way it moved down the highway and outdistanced me made me much more confident about the Smart's abilities as an interstate car. This was the closest I ever got to it.

Thursday morning, I spent time in the shop taking inspectional panels off of the plane. This is the first time I've helped with the prep work for an annual--a first in my young life:

Inspection panels off on the left wing to expose the aileron controls:

I have lots of photos of the various bits of (now my) airplane. I'll parcel them out among other posts. Here's one more, though. I find it terribly amusing that the Lycoming engine/propeller combination means that the drive pulley for the generator belt is behind the propellor. That means that to put on a new belt, you have to take the propellor off the crankshaft.

The engine is to the left here, the propellor and spinner to the right. As in all Lycoming engines, the starter ring gear is here at the front of the engine. The generator pulley is near the bottom of the photo.

I can't resist

2012 December 20 16:57

On October 31, a plane that I'd seen in listed in August for a reasonable price, and then listed again in early October at a lower price, got listed again at an absurdly low price. It was exactly the kind of airplane that I'd been sort of vaguely looking for, with all the features that I required, with almost all of the secondary things hathat I sort of wanted, at a price that I couldn't ignore any more.

That evening as soon as I was off of work, I called the owner and talked to him about coming down and seeing it. He said that two other people had also called about it (which was later confirmed). I decided I really ought to go down right away and look at it as a result, so we set up that I would drive down that Sunday and meet him to look at the airplane and fly it that Sunday afternoon. This post shows some pictures from that trip.

The drive from where I live in Kentucky to owner's (now seller's) place in South Carolina was 411 miles, according to mapquest, just about 7 hours. I drove down starting early Sunday morning and met him at 2pm. I was there probably 4 hours or a little more, and then headed back that evening. I grabbed a hotel that night and then drove the rest of the way back Monday morning (I had specific on-call duty at work on Monday afternoon).

Here's plushie @wilw at the Clinch Mountain overlook in Tennessee, on the way south.

Just south of Clinch mountain, I drove by the city of Morristown. Here's the turn-off of 25E into the town of Morristown where I turned every time I went to the Morristown airport when I was taking flyin lessons in 2006 and 2007.

While I'm a mid-westerner at heart, I have to admit Appalachia and the south have some pretty driving vistas too.

The next post will be about the next trip that I took down to Georgia to have the plane inspected.

So, about the plane

2012 December 06 19:53

Things are moving forward fine with the plane. I'm now in the well-known positon among pilots of calling my mechanic every few days and asking when the plan is likely to be done.

It's actually going fine. The parts for the big post-inspection item is at the shop, and the other little things are on order. So the plane will be put back together, better than it was, and annualed, soon-ish-ish.

I have a flight instructor who I know, is a Mooney expert, and a known quanity on deck to do my transition training. More of what I need is to get back up to speed from a few years of frankly not flying very much. I flew 5 hours of Mooney time in July, mostly takeoffs and landings, so I suspect it will be less Mooney-specific stuff and more just getting out and flying a lot. And it will be in my airplane, which I understand from an intellectual point of view but totally hasn't sunk in yet.

If it gets done when I think it will, I have a plan for getting it before Christmas. If it doesn't, then I'll just deal with it when we get back home in January.

Nothing is a problem--it's just a matter of patience. It's far more important for it to be done right than soon.

Front suspension on the car

2012 December 06 19:43

On the whole, the vintage Beetle is doing pretty well. I've taken it on my periodic long commute twice this calendar year, and it did pretty well. I'm sorting out how to drive it and keep the engine cool enough, which is partly bracing the deck lid (engine cover) open a bit while driving and changing the main jet in the carburetor. But it is a good (although loud) highway car.

There are two problems with it at the moment, so it's decomissioned for the winter. One its had as long as I've had it; there's a characteristic vibration that most Super Beetles get at some point; it's euphemistically called the "Super Shimmy". One of the things that makes the "Super Beetle" different is that it has a totally different front suspension setup than the earlier cars. The tie rods are very long, and so it doesn't take a lot of deterioration in the suspension components before the leverage provided by the leverage of the tie rods to allow wheel vibration to shake the car.

My car has it; unfortunately it's sort of difficult to quantify since it sometimes happens more than other times. Sometimes, it vibrates between 43 and 45 mph and that's it. Somtimes it vibrates any speed from 35 to 50. Well, it's been getting a bit worse this year, so I think it's time to at least look carefully at the suspension and try to remedy it. My vague plan is to take my time and take the front suspension apart slowly this winter, and see how things look once everything's apart. I'll probably buy a bushing it and then put things back together and see how that goes.

The other thing is brand new. My fuel pump seems to have ruptured, putting gasoline into the crank case. So I need to fix the pump, and change the oil a couple of times in a row to get all that flushed out. Not a huge deal, but a pain none the less.

And of course, I'll be instrument it with logging electronics soon. More on that later.

Laying in supplies

2012 December 05 23:36

Boy, it's been a busy month at work. We have a big review tomorrow and Friday. A lot of the last month has been preparing for it. And in there was Thanksgiving. And in there I decided to buy an airplane (but that's another post).

One project that I'd had in the pipeline for a while but I just had't gotten all the pieces together was to create a temperature logging gadget for my vintage Beetle. I'm very curious as to how things warm up and cool down when it's first started, during driving and afterwards. So I'm going to install an Arduino data logger in the car, and instrument it with lots of temperature sensors so that I can download and graph data from it. There may be interesting things to learn there.

I've had an Arduino Mega for a couple of years but I've never really done anything with it (yet). I did buy a protoshield which is somethin that plugs into the Arduino board's sockets but allows you to solder things to connecto the Arduino withould making the connections permanent.

The Arduino Mega is on top, the protoshield is on the bottom.

You can sort of see the power rectified that's sticking up from the protoshield. It will drop the voltage from the car down to 8V. The Aduino likes to get somewhere in the range of 7 to 9 volts as input and then regulates it down to 5V internally. The documentation says that higher voltages aren't really recommended, which is wny I'm not driving the board directly with the 12V from the car (which can get as high as 14.5V or a bit higher when the engine is running fast.)

The Arduino itself is a microcontroller; it's a processor with inputs and outputs. Not very interesteing just that; it can blink lights, that's about it. Along with the protoshield, I bought two add-ons that will make it into a good data logging device. Once is a real-time clock:

That's a battery-run clock, like the type that's on a computer's motherboard, that tells the computer what date and time it is when it's powered on. The real-time clock allows the Arduino to put a time and date with each measurement it records, so that the sequence and spacing of the data is understood.

The other component I got is a micro-SD card reader:

I can put a micro-SD card in the jack and once that's wired to the Arduino, the Arduino can open files on the micro-SD and write data to them.

The first thing I'll measure is temperature. I bought a bunch of temperature sensors, but they're boring so I didn't take a photo.

The goal here is to be able to print out all kinds of information to see how my car is doing more precisely.