Archive for June, 2007

Sloppy writing suggests…

June 22nd, 2007

“Sloppy writing suggests to the reader that you do sloppy work.” –Farzad Kamalabadi.

I read a lot of stuff, everything from research papers published in prestigious journals to posts on web boards.  Of course, I expect the “fine” work in journals to be well-written, and I’m not usually disappointed.  But, in my e-mail and on web boards, I see some pretty atrocious spelling, grammar, and organization.

Recently, I saw a post from a guy asking for advice on dismantling a 65-foot tower.  It lacked capitalization, uniform punctuation and spacing, and spell-checking.  He was immediately chided for these things.  He responded in somewhat of a fit of rage about being judged by his writing rather than receiving an answer to his (somewhat ill-posed) questions.  The whole thing erupted into a mini flame war, which completely obliterated any hope of learning on the part of the originator.

This was instructive, I thought.  Sloppy writing does indeed suggest to the reader that you do sloppy work.  Of all activities, there is no room for slop in tower work.  I wouldn’t give him advice, either.

Instructables, artists, and preservation of the fundamentals

June 16th, 2007

I took the car to the shop today for its annual preventative work.  While I was waiting, I flipped through Popular Science.  Wow, that magazine has changed (for the better) over the past few years (I haven’t read it in maybe 5 years).

They have a section called “How 2.0” that has skeleton projects, some with parts lists and vendors.  Cool.  We’ve come full-circle.  It reminds me of the Instructables web site that I stumbled across a couple of years ago.  The Popular Science section is really important because it represents a mainstream publication leading to the reversal of the “Decline of the Fundamentals” described here earlier.

One of the interesting things about this is that many of the characters leading the preservation of fundamental skills are artists.  Not only are artists helping us see our world differently, they are helping us preserve valuable industrial skills.  Sounds wierd to an engineer, doesn’t it?

“You should have a reason for everything you do.” –K3ZO

June 15th, 2007

I happened to stumble across this K3ZO message mentioned on Don, K8BB’s, web site: 

It’s perhaps one of the most insightful things posted to CQ-Contest during its 15-year life.  Preparation and planning is important to success in most aspects of life.  Why should contesting be any different?

Peanuts and Cracker Jacks…

June 14th, 2007

I swear, they must be giving out ham radio licenses in boxes of Cracker Jacks these days…this gem is from eHam…

Can 2 radios in the same house different antenna’s a 2 meter and a 10 meter, transmit at the same time without disturbing the radio waves or will it change the patern of them and if so how well will we get out?

I think I’m going to put a sign in my shack that says, “Don’t disturb the radio waves.”

“Estamos en Mexico”

June 1st, 2007

The Spring AGU conference is often in Baltimore, MD. However, from time to time, they hold a joint conference with one or more other organizations, usually in their “part of the world.” This year was one of those years…the Joint Assembly was in Acapulco. My advisor suggested that I submit an abstract, which I did. Sarah was excited about coming along, too. We have a few pictures and lots of stories to tell. But, this is one of my favorite stories from the trip.

Since Sarah had to work and most of the equatorial/midlatitude ionosphere activities were early in the meeting, she elected to fly down part way through the week. The taxi that three of us shared from the airport to the hotel on the first day was a little pricey. So, for Sarah’s arrival, I decided to have an adventure. The bell boys at the hotel told me that I could take the “Coloso” bus line to a certain bridge, then take the “Aeropuerto” line to the airport. Total cost: 9 pesos (about 80 cents).

Through my own impatience and a little bit of confusion, I ended up at the wrong place. I was accosted by taxi drivers as soon as I got off the bus. I told them I wasn’t interested; but, they were helpful and told me that an airport bus would come on the other side of the street. Once on the other side of the street some more taxi drivers told me that it would be 2 hours until that bus arrived. I don’t know if they were pulling my leg or whether it was true…but, I relented.

“Cuanto cuesta?” I asked.

“Sesenta” (60 pesos, about $5.50, probably a little high; but, not outrageous)

“Esta bien. Vayamos.” I replied. Not knowing quite what I’d gotten myself into, I jumped in. We started having a nice chat. I was somewhat flattered when he asked if I lived in Mexico since my Spanish was “so good.” Right. So, anyhow, I had no idea what time it was and the clock on the dashboard said 3:21, which would mean that I was 20 minutes late.

“Es correcto?” I asked, gesturing toward the clock. He whipped out his cell phone, which said 2:36, whew. Then, he began to set the clock in the car. “No importa tanto,” I said, “estamos en Mexico.” We laughed. No sooner had I said this, I noticed that we were rapidly approaching a yellow light as he was fiddling with the clock. “Mire, la luz (se cambia)!” I said. He looked up and punched the gas, sailing through the now red light.

“Estamos en Mexico,” he said. We rolled laughing.

The airplane

June 1st, 2007

My officemate Scott has a knack for winning things, either in competition or at random. Several months ago he said, “Hey, I won a radio controlled airplane last night.” I responded with enthusiasm and suggested he let me know when he was going to fly it. About a month ago, he said, “Remember that airplane I won? It doesn’t work. I think it’s somewhere in the radio. If you want to try to fix it, I’ll give it to you.” Duh. Of course, I’ll try to fix a potentially a free toy. After assuring me that he didn’t want the plane back if I got it working, I accepted it.

The plane showed up on my desk about a week and a half ago (just before our trip to Acapulco and Mexico City…which may or may not get blogtime). It’s a FlyZone Red Hawk, definitely not high-end, but free and good for a beginner such as myself. I retrieved the plane on Monday since it would be tough to carry on my bike. On Tuesday, I set about tracking down the trouble. Bingo! There were three cold solder joints on the transmitter board. I bought 8 AA batteries from ECE Stores (Eveready inudstrial alkalines for $2.64…the best deal on batteries in Champaign-Urbana) and the plane was ready to fly.

I took the plane to the fairgrounds, which are about a 5-minute walk from our duplex, hoping that the neighborhood kids wouldn’t see me. The elderly asian man who lives at the end of the street took interest in it and we chatted; but, he didn’t follow me. Whew. I set the plane on the harness track, did the preflight check, and revved the motor. The plane lifted off the track magestically and veered straight into the wooden fence, despite my best efforts to control it. That didn’t take long. Welcome to the world of the R/C pilot.

You see, this wasn’t entirely unexpected for me. When Seth (my brother) and I were just barely teenagers, we were fascinated by R/C airplanes. Seth finally managed to convince Dad to buy (I don’t know whose money was actually involved) one…a nice trainer with a 0.40 nitro engine and all of the accessories. The sage advice from experienced R/C pilots was: you will crash it…at least a few times. Dad got cold feet and sold it. We were somewhat devastated. Good move.

I collected the plane from the grass in front of the fence. Ah, nothing wrong…my lucky day. I set the plane back out on the ground and started the motor again. Ugh. Something doesn’t sound right. The motor had broken away from its mount. It was attached using the fine-pitch screws like those used to attach motherboards to PC cases. They were stripped-out. I replaced them with small sheet metal screws when I got home. This was much sturdier. It was too dark to fly again by the time I got the plane working again.

The next day (Wednesday), I took the plane out again. I tried taking off from the ground again. But, the plane kept getting stuck in the gravel. Must have gotten lucky the first day. Some neighborhood kids where skateboarding on the paved access paths in the fairgrounds. “There’s too much gravel down there. Why don’t you fly it up here on the pavement?” they called. “There are more trees, cars, and power lines, up there, I responded.” They lost interest in my feeble efforts after a few minutes. Kids are just like adults, a lot of them are all talk and no commitment. Good riddance.

It occurred to me that perhaps rather than practicing take-off and landing, which is what I wanted to do, I should actually follow the instructions, which suggested hand-launching for the first few flights. Holy cow, the instructions were right. Perhaps I should read them more often. I was rewarded with about 30 minutes or so of good flights and a few soft crash landings in the 3-ft deep grass before the battery died. I did actually kinda manage a real landing on the track, too. Rock on.

I charged the battery overnight and couldn’t wait to fly again. I managed a couple of good short flights that ended up in the tall grass. But, I really wanted to try landing on the track. While bringing the plane parallel to the track in preparation for descent, the wing brushed a tree and the plane careened to the ground. Only the landing gear appeared to be damaged. I bent them back into shape with my Leatherman Tool. I set the plane back on the track and did a preflight check. Everything appeared to be working OK. So, I decided to fly again. The plane felt a little sloppy this time. I couldn’t turn right and had trouble climbing and diving. I tried to bring it back over the track; but, it headed off to the northeast (toward a large herd of airplane-eating trees.) I cut the engine and started it into a dive, thinking that the plane was already over the trees. Fortunately, I saw it come down 50 feet in front of the trees…whew! Unfortunately, it sustained some pretty severe damage, some of which I’m still discovering.

I repaired the broken V-tail with some epoxy and packing tape, plus part of a K8GU QSL card. It appears that the servos are no longer attached to the airframe. That’s tonight’s project…although, I should probably do something with Sarah.

The moral of the story is this: R/C airplanes are not cheap, even if they’re free. Just like the saying goes, “Linux is only free if your time is worthless.” It’s a heck of a lot of fun, though. I’m afraid I might get sucked into another expensive hobby!