Sunday, June 29, 2008

Enjoying the gaps (between the storms)

Another weekend for which the sophisticated Weather-out-the-Window(tm) is wholly redundant. When the windows are shaking from the thunder and the electrical power is as unreliable as a politician's campaign promises, there's not much point in even getting up to look. Brave Sir Hogarth is certainly living up to his sarcastic moniker - he has spent the weekend either clinging to the closest pack member or trying to find a deep cave (or the illusion of one) to cower in. Not a big fan of convective weather, he. Not at all. Nor am I of the associated 15G25 winds, to be fair.

We were able to squeeze in one significant outdoor event which thankfully was completed mere minutes before the onset of what were to ultimately become a 48 hour series of violent thunderstorms. Saturday morning was the scheduled date for the Grove City Independence Day Celebratory Parade, Grove City apparently having decided to beat the rush for the true 4th of July celebrations a week hence. Kinda like the Michigan and Florida Presidential Primaries, but without the incumbent loss of interest on the part of the participants.

In any event, this parade was to serve as the coming out for the Central Crossing High School Marching Band's new debutante of the clarinet, one Ms. Co-pilot Egg. And me with a spanking new camcorder and a complete lack of product to spend against my 500MB weekly allowance at That presented a prodigious intersection of opportunity and desire, the results of which you can see here in glorious HD:

I'm very happy with the performance of the $50 (half off sale from shotgun mike that I bought for the camcorder. It's a big, goofy looking thing in comparison to the tiny camcorder, and it had (I recently reconfigured the mounting method) the unfortunate trait of being somewhat of a camera hog (it kept dipping down into the video frame), but it did a wonderful job of capturing the music without a whole lot of the background chatter.

As long as I had a few more minutes on the computer before the next storm came along and knocked out our power (7 or 8 outages in the last 24 hours already), I went through some of my pictures from last week to see if there were any more that I liked. I had forgotten about this one:

Here's one from the Indycar museum trip that I took a second look at:

And, at the risk of re-defining the Chronicles as a "car blog," and also as further proof of the old "An idle Google is the devil's playground" trope, there is this:

After repeatedly chanting the mantra to myself that "A Cobra makes no sense, A Cobra makes no sense..." I got to wondering if there is a kit car based on the wonderful Mazda Miata chassis/engine. And, as you can see, there is! It's a pretty spiffy looking kit, too:

And a hot (yet economical!) little street car once completed:

Being a kit car, there are naturally various ways of putting it together:

And there are dealing-with-the-real-world options available:

200 hours to build. The kayak took 80. Having hours to burn, albeit often interrupted by power outages, I looked at every page in this build log:

A car like that would make a lot more sense given the type of driving that I do and the price of the fuel required to do it than would the voraciously gas-hungry V-8 and straight-line handling qualities of the Cobra. Which is not to say, mind you, that the issues of dollars and facilities aren't absolute show stoppers. They are. But still... something to daydream about on days when the thunderstorms keep me out of the sky.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Our friends, the birds

I haven't been feeling well for the last couple of days. A flu-like malaise, basically, that makes the long hours trapped in the office a waking nightmare. Work is work and can't really be avoided recently; commitments and deadlines and all of that.

But along about noon there was a gap in the schedule. No appetite for food, but I thought it might be nice to at least get some fresh air. We're only a few miles from one of our local reservoirs, and there is a little parking lot right by the flow off from the dam. Top down in the Kiata, relaxing with my head against the headrest, eyes closed to better enjoy the soothing sounnds of the water running off of the dam...


I guess I should have considered what an attractive target my upturned face was to the circling birds.


Sunday, June 22, 2008

London Pit 'O Cobras

They don't call it anything near as cool as the "Pit 'O Cobras" of course, but that's what I would call it. The real name is the London Cobra Show, which I find to be somewhat lacking in describing an event that shuts down a few central blocks of London, OH to provide a venue for a gathering of hundreds of Shelby Cobras (99.999% of which are replicas, but still... each and every one of the possesses the winning trifecta of shiny, loud, and fast!) every June.

Flying being off of the agenda for various and sundry reasons, the criticality of the Weather-out-the-Window(tm) forecast was reduced such that I could safely delegate the task to a lesser denizen of the house:

He reported back that it was weather sufficient to the task of a top-down Miata ride across the 20 intervening miles from home to the burg of London. An early start, as usual, being desired in avoidance of heat, weather, and crowds had us (me and my photographic gadgetry) on the road by 0900. A swell drive it was, with nary a slow granny or even slower farmer to be seen on the country paths that are my preferred means of navigation when traversing the Central Ohio farm land. The problem with a drive like that is, as you may be able to imagine, the temptation to just keep a-going upon arrival at the presumptive destination, but said temptation was easily averted upon the hearing of the deep, bass tones of a high powered V8.

As mentioned, the very, very large majority of the Cobras at the show are replicas, and a very large majority of those are built from a kit, and a good sized majority of those come from a kit manufacturer called Factory Five. Factory Five could be considered as the "Van's Aircraft" of Cobra replicas: they have sold thousands of kits, peer-level support is incredibly easy to find, and the kits have gone through multiple iterative enhancements to refine the building process down to something resembling a science. I think that they are on at least their third re-design of the basic Cobra kit, with each preceding re-design having been focussed on improvements in kit quality, ease of construction, and not least importantly, safety of the end product. There are no air bags in these cars, so they are built tough and crash worthy.

Here's a naked one; you can see the steel cage that protects the driver:

Here's some of the suspension gadgetry - it is no coincidence that it looks like the suspension of a race car:

The Cobra kit can be built by using a Ford Mustang as a donor car for the rolling bits and engine, or you can buy a kit that provides all of the parts needed (except the engine and transmission) brand new.

Here's what they look like with their clothes on:

I've been looking at these things for years with the idea of building one, and I think it would be a great deal of fun to do so, but there's a problem. At the end of the day, I'd end up with an expensive toy, and I already have one of those. A car like this would not lend itself to my daily drive to work (the cost of the gas to feed even a small V8 alone would be prohibitively and painfully expensive) and would be difficult to store. Beyond that, I don't have the tools for facility to support the build. And, as it turns out, you're always having to work on the darn thing:

I could build a variant that could be used for spec car racing, but as cool as that would be, racing is expensive, time-consuming, and puts an uninsurable $25,000 car at risk every time it goes out on the track. Not for me, thanks!

So, best to just look at these every now and then:

From the comments:

Your reasons for not getting one are well-considered, logical, and show great perspicacity and restraint.

So what color is yours going to be?

A very astute question! You guys know me too well! And as fate would have it, it's a question that I have given long consideration to. I was thinking something like this:

The purists would hate it, of course, but a subtle reminder that they themselves are driving replicas should suffice to squelch the criticism.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Kayaking 101

Co-pilot Egg and I attended the beginner level kayaking class offered by Clintonville Outfitters tonight. They hold the class at Aquatic Adventures, a scuba and swimming training facility just a few minutes from our house. Our instructor, Matt, had trailered over a nice selection of kayaks to choose from, and Egg and I chose a pair of Hurricane Kayaks.

I was particularly interested in the Santee 100LT, which is a ten-foot recreational model weighing in at a mere 31 lbs. My 17 ft. touring model is a real strain for me to move at 47 lbs, so I was interested in looking at something lighter that I could move around by myself on those days when I want to take it to a reservoir or lake. I also wanted one that would be small enough for Egg to control. She took the 100LT and I went with the next larger model, the Santee 116. It too is significantly lighter than my Shearwater at 36 lbs.

After a brief introduction regarding some of the different types of kayaks available, we started the in-water training. Egg volunteered to be first in the water and had very little trouble getting into the boat. We were using a "deck launch," which is really just a way of saying that we stepped into the boat from the edge of the pool. On my two trips down the Darby, I didn't have the luxury of an edge to step off of, so I've been using a "get yourself all muddy with the nasty smelling crud on the banks of the river and then try to push yourself across the mud like a freshly born sea turtle" launch, which I'm here to tell you is a vastly inferior cousin to the deck launch.

As I cannon-balled myself into my boat, narrowly avoiding an ignominious plunge into the water, Egg paddled off across the pool. Much like my single experience with snow skiing, she almost immediately learned that getting moving is pretty easy, but getting stopped is an entirely different story. Without the benefit of an actual river stretching off in front of her, it was just a matter of time before she pranged into the far side of the pool.

It was a small class with only four students and Matt, but even with just five boats in the water it quickly degenerated into a kind of slow-motion, water-borne bumper car fiasco. At least until we started getting the hang of turning, anyway. I noticed a couple of things about the Santee as compared to my Shearwater right away: it is much easier to turn, and the seat is MUCH more comfortable. The comfort factor was greatly increased by the type of PFD (life jacket) that I was wearing. I've been using a cheap Wal-Mart ski-type PFD, and it is very uncomfortable in the small confines of the Shearwater's cockpit. The PFD I was using tonight was specifically designed for use in a kayak and thus was orders of magnitude more comfortable.

The easier turning thing was a mixed blessing. The bad thing about the Shearwater is that it takes some effort to get it to turn, but the good thing about it is that it takes some effort to get it to turn. It turns out to be situationally dependent as to whether it's good or bad. When you want to apply some power strokes and stay in a straight line, its tendency to stay straight is a plus. But if you let it get away from you and get into a situation where you need to get it turned quickly, well, not so much.

After paddling around awhile, Matt had us all move to the edge of the pool. This is where he demonstrated the stability of these boats. This is exactly the part that I wanted Egg to experience because she had said that she was afraid of the boat tipping over. These recreational boats are far broader in the hips than my Shearwater is. They're more like the Oprah of kayaks, while my boat is more like a Keira Knightley model. (Use Google images if that comparison doesn't mean anything to you - you'll see what I mean). Anyway, what it all comes down to is that the only way to tip one of these boats is to really want to.

So, having proven to us that it is pretty hard to tip one of these boats over, Matt's next assignment to us was to immediately forget that lesson and tip them over anyway. Which we did. It wasn't very hard to do deliberately, but I did manage to bang my head on the bottom of the boat while I was under it, and Egg, being in a perpetual contest of oneupsmanship with me, promptly banged herself in the face with hers. The point of getting us out of the boats was, of course, for us to learn how to get back in. Let me tell you, even with a boat having the hips of a brood mare, that is one helluva hard job to do. I found it to be reasonably possible if I was in the shallow end of the pool and I could essentially just jump in, but when I went down to the deep end I found it to be much more of a challenge.

The problem was that when you turn the boat back to right side up, it's full of water. That extra weight naturally makes it sit far lower in the water, and it becomes much tippier. You have to kick with your feet to get yourself up out of the water and straddled across the boat, but when you try to get yourself actually back down into the boat, you will either tip over to the side you're climbing in from, or flip right over the far side. It was roughly 50-50 for me as to which side I would flip towards. Eventually I learned to get straddled on the boat and then move around to get back down inside of it. Even with an abundance of patience and caution, I'd dump myself right back out 80% of the time. And boy howdy, is it ever TIRING!

This difficulty in getting back into the boat finally made me realize why you want to be able to roll the boat. If I had this much trouble getting back into a boat with hips that could graciously be described as "child bearing," I would have no hope of getting back into my anorexic Shearwater. With the roll, you simply (well, probably not "simply") stay in the boat. Unfortunately, the roll is a topic for the as-yet-unscheduled advanced class. I'll be watching the Clintonville Outfitters web site for that, though, because I can't see going out in deep water without knowing how to do it, and I really want to explore some of the local lakes and reservoirs. For now, though, I'm fine with periodic trips down the Darby.

Egg seemed to have a great time, or at least is no longer afraid of the boat. I asked how much the Santee 100LT costs, but it's a bit steep at $678 or so. There's another light boat called the Featherlite 9.5 made by Heritage Kayaks that's cheaper, but reportedly at a lower level of quality. Affordability is, of course, a desirable quality in and of itself, so it becomes more a question of exactly how much lower in quality it is. Matt was using a Heritage Kayaks boat and managed to stay afloat (and dry, the bastard) for the entire class, so it can't be too bad and a price difference of roughly $225 is pretty significant. It's not like it would see the hard use of a rental or white water boat, after all.

So, great fun, albeit fun that I will pay for tomorrow with sore muscles. I'm very definitely looking forward to the advanced class, and I want to stop by the shop and see how much a better PFD is going to cost me.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Indycar Museum - The Movie!

Note: "There it is" just before "I'm going the wrong way!" refers to the departing Cessna, not the airport!

If the audio is a little wanky after you press the play button, pause for a few minutes to let a little more of the movie download before trying again.

It turns out to be quite a bit of work getting these movies out of the camcorder and into a suitable form for web posting. Part of that is due to their size: it took five hours to upload to Vimeo! It also was a challenge to get below the 500MB weekly quota. I did it by removing some of the pattern after the go-around, the cost of that being that it confuses people. "Why are you showing the landing again?" The other thing I did was to dumb down the resolution a little bit to make the file size smaller. It still looks tons better than the YouTube equivalent, though, so I can live with that.

The editing of the raw video takes awhile too, but that will get better. I was looking for something more capable than Windows Movie Maker, but there aren't many programs out there that will work directly with the flash card video my camcorder uses. Most programs expect DV tape, it seems.

I found and downloaded a demo of a program Sony puts out called Vegas, and while the learning curve appears steep for good editing, it seems to have quite a few capabilities that Movie Maker does not. I was able to edit down the raw video to what you see above, but I didn't spend any time learning how to do transitions or screen titles/text. Hopefully the movies will get better each week as I get better at using the tools. The Sony program is only a 30 day demo, so I'm going to have to decide whether to buy it before I out a whole lot of effort into learning how to use it.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Indy Car museum

There's no Weather-out-the-Window(tm) observation today. This one was so blindingly obvious that we were able to utilize the far less accurate Human-on-the-Porch(tm) forecast. A bit of a role reversal for Brave Sir Hogarth and myself.

Espresso was the order of the day for getting the BCL (Blood Caffeine Level) up to a value suitable for the task of flying to Indianapolis, with the primary goal of that trip being to take a photo tour of the Indy Car Museum at the speedway. The right amount of regular coffee would have provided the same stimulus, of course, but with the additional benefit of not tasting like the mud scraped from the hooves of Juan Valdez's mule. But as they say, there are no potties in RVs, so the additional fluid volume of the Espresso-equivalent quantity of regular coffee would be bound to cause difficulties later. Better to "man up" and get the needed caffeine dose compressed into the size of a Dixie cup now than to be dealing with the yellow "Bladder Capacity High Pressure Warning" light on the instrument panel later, I figured. Figuratively, that is.

The plan was to make an initial stop at Urbana-Grimes to get breakfast for Co-pilot Rick and myself, and a pair of full fuel tanks for Papa as long as we were there. Grimes was showing $4.60/gallon on AirNav (for advisory use only, usually, but accurate in this case) while just about everyplace else was charging well over $5.00. Easy decision, really, since Grimes was only a small deviation north of the straight line between Bolton and our destination airport, Eagle Creek Airpark. We were monitoring unicom while still a dozen miles out and it became increasingly apparent that the question of breakfast might have to be re-visited, the radio being alive with calls of other planes landing there. It's a small restaurant, and they don't handle large crowds well. And there was a schedule to be kept. Still, Papa needed fed even if we could forego ours, so we had no choice but to land and fuel up.

Grimes has those self service pumps that give me so many problems, and today was no different. I couldn't read the little LCD screen to find the button I needed to push to get the pump turned on until I remembered to remove my polarized sunglasses, and then I failed to notice that they now keep a cap on the end of the hose nozzle. The cap must be to keep things out of the nozzle because it did a horrible job at keeping fuel in. All it did when left in place at the end of the nozzle whilst I tried to pump gas was cause 100LL to spray all over everyplace, with the only thing in the immediate area that didn't suffer the ignominy of having fuel showered over it being the inside of the fuel tank itself. And how many times squeezing the pump handle and spraying fuel all over the place did it take for me to figure out what was going on? Well, more than one, and that's all you really need to know. After the second, it's really all just relative increments of dumbass isn't it?

Fuel in the tanks and breakfast having unanimously been voted as "not worth it," off we went to Indy. We climbed to 4,500' and saw about 135 knots across the ground reported to us courtesy of Garmin wizardry. That wasn't so hot, really, since I was running at 2,500 rpm, so I figured we were going the hard way against about a 15 knot wind. It was smooth and mostly cloudless, so there were no ill feelings held against the unhelpful wind. We'd get some of it back on the way home, I figured, and since I'm always in a bigger hurry to get home than I am on the outbound leg, it was all to the good. Money in the bank, as it were.

Eagle Creek Airpark is located due north of Indianapolis's big airport, and sits under a 2,100' shelf of the big airport's controlled airspace. Since we were coming from nearly due east, it seemed to me that it might be prudent to avail myself of their ATC services rather than trying to duck down to 2,000' to slip under the shelf. Not least because there are some very large radio towers that we'd have to fly over, and staying as high above their grasp as possible seemed a prudent course. I called Indy Approach as we crossed over Mt. Comfort airport on the east end of town. The controller didn't have any special plans for me, so we were left to pretty much go about our business of following the yellow line on the GPS straight to Eagle Creek.

The automatic weather observer machine (Weather-Robot-at-the-Airport(tm)) at EYE said that the winds were out of the west at 6 knots, indicating that a landing on runway 21 would be the best fit for the prevailing conditions. When we were still a few miles out, a Cessna 172 reported an impending departure on runway 21, thus validating our decision to use that runway. Still, there was now the fact that we were going to be crossing off of the departure end to make our way across to a left downwind to consider, and I didn't want a Cessna climbing into us.

To avoid that happening, I aimed for the middle of the runway, figuring that there aren't many Cessna 172s that can reach pattern altitude halfway down the runway. Still, it would be a good idea to watch the takeoff. Just the other day at Bolton, a Beechcraft Baron landed on runway 4 while I was just a few miles from flying directly across the departure path on my way to a left crosswind/downwind. I kept an eye on him in what seemed to be an abundance of caution, and good thing I did: without saying a word about it, he made a touch & go rather than a full stop. I was able to scoot out of his way, but it was still a bit of a nasty surprise.

In any event, I thought that I ought to know where that Cessna was and searched the runway for it, and was I ever surprised when I finally found it. I had expected it to be rolling down the runway from left to right, but there it was sitting on the numbers of runway 21, facing right to left! Wait, did I say "21??" Why, that's the runway I'm landing on, except.... "I'M HEADING THE WRONG WAY!" And, should anyone care, I have the video that will prove that that is exactly what I said.

For some reason, I had visualized having to cross the runway to a left downwind for runway 21, but that notion was 180 degrees wrong. Luckily, I had aimed at a midfield point to go over the runway, and that worked out just fine for an immediate conversion to a non-traditional 135 degree downwind pattern entry. Kind of an "I meant to do that" moment, although no one on board the aircraft was fooled. Tough room! The more common 45 degree entry being for renters and students, after all. Us accomplished pilots can handle more degrees with complete aplomb. Right? Patting myself on the back for such a masterful recovery having taken priority over the more uncomfortable (but probably more beneficial) question as to how I had managed to get that backwards in my head in the first place, I thought we were in fine shape for a good arrival.

Yet... there we were on short final, fighting bumps and gusts and a little bit high still, with airspeed maybe still a little too high as well, in the flare, holding, holding, and... the bottom fell out. If the 1960s-era Batman were to have a landing like this, one of those KERSPLAT! screens would surely follow.

The result was an unwanted return to the sky to the tune of six feet if it was an inch, and us being already a third of the way down the runway. Two choices, and two choices only, with no time for a prolonged internal debate: 1) try to save the landing by applying a burst of power to level out the parabolically inevitable firm arrival back on the runway, or 2) go around. Easy decision: go around! And, should anyone care, I also have some video evidence from this event that conclusively proves that the sound made by striking a Van's RV-6 onto a concrete runway sounds exactly like someone forgetting about the live mike in the camcorder and yelling "Damn!" Eerie how much it sounds like that. Truly amazing.

The ensuing second landing was graded as "nearly survivable" which, considering the first, was a stellar improvement. So, we were finally on the ground and looking for means of transport to the speedway. I was hoping for a courtesy car, but had brought along the number for Yellow Cab as a fall back. It looked to be a $20+ trip each way from Eagle Creek to the speedway via cab, though. The courtesy car was denied (planning on using it for three hours or so having been unilaterally decided to be a bit too much of a courtesy to ask, after all) but an alternative to the cab offered: a $25, four hour rental car. I didn't even know things like that were available. That was a much better approach than the cab because not only was it cheaper, it offered far more flexibility and efficient use of time. And it was much, much nicer that a courtesy car. I wish more airports would do that!

We eventually found the track after a few mis-turns on my part, those caused by the effects of the Espresso finally having worn off more than any failure on the part of the navigator. He can hardly be held responsible if I turn right in response to a directive to turn left, after all. Once found, the entrance to the museum is on the south side of the track between turns one and two. There's a tunnel that goes under the short chute on the track, a security shed populated by a guy whose entire job seems to be to wave at you as you pass, and voila, there it is. It's $3 to get in, open 364 days a year.

I got busy taking pictures, and it's a good thing that I chose some of the less populated areas first. After shooting a couple of hundred pictures down in the lower area, I moved into the upper area, which seemed to be the province of the old-guys-with-else-to-do. I was approached twice by red-jacketed museum attendees asking whether I was a professional photographer or taking pictures for myself. It seems that anyone using something other than a cell phone to take pictures these days is something of an oddity. Anyway, I took it as a compliment (in my normal self-serving way) but it would have been better if they'd asked after looking at my pictures instead of my tripod. It would have been far less of a stretch to eke a sincere compliment out of it that way but hey, I take what I can get.

I don't use a flash for indoor places like these because I get much better pictures using a tripod and ambient lighting. But something about using the tripod gets them all worked up. I've had the same thing happen at the Air Force Museum. One of the guys, after again explaining to me that I couldn't take pictures for commercial use, also told me that normally they don't allow the use of tripods, the reason being that people could trip over them. He said didn't mind me using one (for non-commercial use only, mind you) since it wasn't very crowded at the time and the tripping risk was therefore minimal. The third guy to approach me on the topic wasn't nearly as lenient as the first two, though, and asked me to stop forthwith. So that was the end of the picture taking. Eh, my eyes were getting tired anyway. So there!

We made it back to the airport with plenty of time to spare on the four hour rental, but at least I got away with not gassing it up, as I had been directed to do by the officious matron of the FBO desk. We had only put 14 miles on it, and I just wasn't keen on stopping to buy $2.25 worth of gas. By the time we were out to the plane, it was 85 degrees and the plane had absorbed every degree of it. It was one of those days in the RV where you have to be very careful about what you touch, or about what you allow to touch you. One wrong move with a seatbelt harness tab, for example, and you'll be trying to find a way to explain that hickey on your neck at home.

Taking a look at the chart, and considering that prevailing traffic was now using the runway pointed to the north east (they call it "3" there, not "21"), it looked like we could depart straight out and stay below the 2,100' shelf for a few miles. That would mean that I wouldn't have to mess around with calling clearance delivery and working with the approach controllers on the way out. I had to make sure to keep reminding myself to stay at 2,000', though. Or would I? As it turns out, we were well clear of the shelf boundaries before Papa, full of gas and lethargic in the mid-afternoon heat, was able to climb himself up that high. We slogged up to 5,500' and settled in for the hour long, slightly bumpy ride home. We had the extra 15 knots I had hoped for, so we had a good 165 knots on the GPS at 2,400 rpm.

But... it's an unwritten law that if there are going to be any clouds at all on the way home, they will be at your chosen altitude. Up to the even smoother air, and maybe a couple of more knots to boot? Or down into the hot, bumpy air under the clouds, and more than likely a longer ride? Easy choice: Angels seven-point-five it is. That was high enough to take us completely over Dayton International instead of the circumnavigation that would have been required at the lower altitude, too. And, it was high enough that I could satisfy my flying ego by starting our descent into Bolton just as we passed over Springfield Municipal, nearly fifty miles away from Columbus.

Bolton was landing 22, and it was so-so, with a right side crosswind at eight knots complicating matters to a minor yet discernible degree. Bugs to remove, canopy to clean, and a couple of cold MGDs to dispatch: the usual routine. And so, so gratifying!

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Another trip down the Big Darby

The Weather-out-the-Window(tm) morning observation indicated that the forecast for a gloomy first half of Saturday had, in fact, been accurate as can be. Low, scuddy clouds were really all I needed to see to know that flying was not in the cards. Winds and visibility don't matter when the clouds are low and angry (or at least morose) looking.

Round about 1pm, however, the clouds parted and it looked like we were in for at least a few hours of nice weather. I thought that it might be nice enough for another ride in the kayak. We've had a bid of rain, though, and the stream that runs through my neighborhood was still showing the effects of recent flooding. I figured it to be worth taking a look, so went ahead and loaded up Blue Heron One.

The river from the launch area was clearly higher than it was back on Memorial Day weekend, but the water didn't seem to be overly excited. Intrepid is my middle name (well, it's not, but I owned a Dodge Intrepid once, and that's close enough) so I decided to press on. As it turns out, it was an even better ride than last time. While I missed the compliments paid to the boat by the beer drinking canoe paddlers, solitude on the river has a quality in and of itself. I did not see another boat for the entire trip.

It's not a lonely feeling at all - it's similar to flying alone. Just you, your conveyance, and the challenges provided by the unpredictability of the medium, be it water or air. Decisions to make, control to be maintained, will to be exerted over sometimes recalcitrant conditions. Satisfaction by the bushel when mastery of the elements and vehicle conquers unexpected events. The feeling of a job having been well done, without the burden of having had a job assigned.

With the benefit of having a few hours of experience from the last trip, I found it very easy to put the boat where I wanted it, when I wanted it to be there. The water was moving faster than the last time, so the utility of the paddle was more in the realm of directional control rather than propulsion. Except, that is, in the not uncommon situations that required a few power strokes to move the boat from a current that was taking us where we did not want to go (which was, more often than not, directly into a solid object) into a more friendly (survivable) stream. It's a lot like dealing with a crosswind when flying; the nose is not necessarily pointed in the direction you're actually going. There were a number of times that I had to paddle cross current to get the boat into a flow that wasn't going to drive us into a tree or under an obstruction too low to the water to pass under comfortably.

There were no deer today, but there was a blue heron that I chased down the river. Every now and then I'd spook him out of whatever hidden lair he was resting in and he'd fly further downstream. I never saw him soon enough to get a picture, which is pretty much my experience with blue herons. They simply don't like having their pictures taken. At one point, I must have gone past him because when he took flight, it was from behind me. He flew right over my head. I saw where he landed, though, so I was ready with the camera when I caught up to him:

It's my ancient Fuji digital (I'm still not willing to risk the good camera) and its viewfinder is simply awful. I couldn't be sure if I got the picture or not, and since he hadn't flown away, I turned around and paddled back up the river to try again. Man, did that ever piss him off! He flew away, but rather than just fly quietly down stream as he had been doing, he squawked and honked and generally groused until he went around a bend far down river.

I also saw a few turtles, but just as they slipped off of the river banks and into the water. There were no exposed branches for them to sun themselves on with the water being as high as it was. There were also a lot of dragonflies, many of whom hitched a ride on the front of the boat:

The ride only took an hour and ten minutes this time, and it was way too short.

More video, different process

I had some of my weekly space quota left over on Vimeo, and I wanted to see if it was better/easier to process the video in iMovie on the Mac vs. the Windows Movie Maker I used before:

Better? I can't really tell. It's probably not a fair comparison since the camera isn't subject to the vibration that it was in the airplane.

It's easier in some ways to work on the Mac in that the software tools are better, but the Mac only has a 60GB hard drive, so I have to shuffle things through the home network to store them on the 750GB file share.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

My Big Screen Debut!

I took the new camcorder out for a spin last night (well, it could be more accurately described as a loop) to work on getting it positioned in the plane, and of course, to re-test the microphone that I had so much trouble with ("trouble" being defined as "forgot to turn power switch on) the first time I tried it.

As far as placing it in the plane, I finally ended up simply using the same tripod and hand grip mount that I use for the still camera. You'll see me moving it around to look in different directions. It worked well enough, but you will also see that it does nothing to dampen the vibrations of the plane. Hand held might actually be smoother, but I can't do that and fly too.

The microphone worked, as you'll note when you here me get my taxi clearance. Those will be, sadly, the last spoken words you will hear. While I was taxiing out, I somehow managed to pull the microphone out of the ear cup on my headset. The microphone is very small, roughly the size of a small watermelon seed. Not the hard, black seeds; the small white ones that you accidentally eat. So small that when it pulled out of the ear cup, I never felt it go. My titanic struggle with providing audio continues.

A shame, really, because there was a lot of interesting talk with the control tower concerning the three deer that were grazing at the side of the taxiway. Oh, and you missed out on my real-time critique of the landing. Probably to the good, that.

The video looks pretty good, but it's not as good as it could be. I shot it in full, glorious 17mbps HD, but had to push it through the video abattoir that is Microsoft Windows Movie Maker. That knocked it down in resolution enough to fit within Vimeo's 500MB size limit. It's still pretty good. Note that you will have to click on the video, then click on the little button that counter-intuitively says 'HD Off' to see it in full resolution.

So, without further delay, here it is:

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Camcorder update

So, those of you that have suffered through the poor resolution and doofus narration of my previous efforts will be happy, or at least mildly gratified, to know that I have taken delivery on a new camcorder. It's HD, so the resolution issue should be much better than before. And as we all remember, the narration on the old videos was merely to cover the fact that my technical incompetence precluded the recording of live audio. The new camcorder has an external microphone jack, so it should now be possible to record the actual sounds that I hear in my headsets.

The language parsers will have noted my use of "should" in the previous sentence. I would be able to make a far more definitive statement if it weren't for the fact that I'm an idiot. See, I got home from work much later than usual on the day when the new camcorder arrived, so I was kind of rushed when I went out to the hangar to test the microphone. I pulled the plane out, hooked the camera and microphone up, started the engine, and made some test comments through the intercom. It was getting dark and I was pretty tired from my extended day at work, so I also rushed through getting Papa back in the barn and heading home for a well-deserved beer.

So, what happened with the test? I forgot to turn on the power switch on the microphone.

The Weather-Out-The-Work-Window(tm) looks pretty good today, though, so barring another work debacle I should be able to try again tonight.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Redemption, at last

You may have noticed that at times, the PapaGolf Chronicles could be just as easily categorized as a "photo blog" as it is a "flying blog." This is really not surprising; for as long as I can remember, I have been interested in both flying and photography. Well, I think the flying actually came first - I have clear memories of whiling away my early academic career daydreaming about airplanes.

The photography bug was more or less dormant in me for the most part, right up until Jr. High. At the time, my brother had a friend named Brad, and Brad was the school photographer. It was all film back then, of course, so there was a bit more to it than taking the shots and loading them onto a computer. Back then, you had a choice: develop them yourself, or take them to a processor to have it done. With color, it took a significant budget to develop your own, but Black & White was far more attainable. Brad had a B&W darkroom at his house where he developed his own film and made his own prints. And it was the coolest thing I had ever seen. And, naturally, I had to learn how to do it myself. I'm like that.

And I did. I had a darkroom set up in our laundry room, and I learned how to use a manual camera. There was no auto-focus back then, and exposure was set by reading a light meter built into the camera in order to set the correct f-stop and shutter speed. When Brad left Jr. High for bigger pastures, I took over the role of school photographer. I attended the basketball games, the track meets, the cross-county races, the whole works. I took and developed hundreds of pictures to be used in the year book. I suspect most of the kids in the school recognized me as "the kid that always has the camera."

A full year of shooting pictures, developing them, and printing them led to the ultimate day: the last day of Jr. High, and the day the yearbooks came out. What should have been one of the proudest days of my young life turned out to be anything but that, though. They had sent the yearbooks to a tech school for printing, and they had somehow managed to print them in stark black & white - absolutely no shades of gray. The pictures looked awful. Just awful. I was crushed. All of that work, wasted. The money spent on paper, chemicals, equipment. Wasted. It was devastating.

I remember being hassled by a lot of kids about it, but one in particular stands out in my memory for his cruelty. He was a minister's kid, and his firmly held faith was that I should not have volunteered to be the photographer if I didn't know what I was doing. There was no convincing him that the fault was with the printing, not the photographs. He spent the entire 20 minute bus ride home from school berating me and accusing me of ruining his year book. I never spoke cordially to him again.

So where am I headed with this? Well, Friday was Co-pilot Egg's last day in Jr. High, and she brought home her yearbook. They're much nicer these days: full color, glossy pages, chock full of pictures. I was paging through it, and there they were!

In full, glorious color, were some of these pictures:

Ok, it's not Sports Illustrated, but... a part of me that I had long forgotten had been damaged was healed. Redemption, at long last.

Oh, and Mr. Tim Kirk: it was the printers that ruined your yearbook, not me, you miserable son of a....

Oh well, bygones. I hope you're enjoying your preaching job at Trinity United* where your innate compassion and empathetic nature can be put to good use...

Ok, sorry. Now bygones.

* I made that up. I have no idea where he works, or even what he does for that matter.