Sunday, December 19, 2010

Little Again

“How did this end up behind the toilet?” Aimee asked, holding a splintered piece of wood up for me to see. She did not ask what the piece of wood was, because she already knew what it was. Her only query was in regard to the catastrophic event which ended with the wood in such an unusual place. At this point, my ruse had unraveled.

I learned a lot this week. Check all your servos before attempting a flight. If it looks like a part is missing, it probably is. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I’ve had an Esky Lama V4 helicopter for quite a while, and I’m reasonably good at flying it. I also have an Esky Belt CP V2 which I am terrified of. My classification method for model helicopters is to base their class on the cost of a crash. A Lama 4 is a $20 crash helicopter. The Belt CP V2 is a $50 crash helicopter. In spite of numerous attempts at flying the Belt CP, I have never gotten it to so much as hover without a spectacular crash ensuing.

Despite my terror, the helicopter was a graduation gift from my brother and sister-in-law, and it would be an insult to them for me not to master it. Keeping that in mind, I spent hours this week learning how to maintain blade pitch, align the flybar, fine tune the gyro, and make the best use of the remote control.

As it turns out, our new house has a wonderful heli-pad and workshop. We call it “the pool table”. For the Lama, it’s perfect. For the Belt CP, it’s probably best not to use the pool table for a heli pad. During my many tuning attempts, though, I needed to spin it up to check things out, and the table worked great. Aimee crabbed pretty regularly when I did this with the larger helicopter because it’s, well, huge. It’s got a 22” span on the rotor. I assured her that she need not worry.

This morning in the shower I had an “Aha!” moment. Rather than running the motor at low speed with lots of blade pitch, maximum stability could be best achieved by running the motor at a very high speed with a very small amount of pitch. This would create a gyroscopic stabilizer effect, like a spinning bike wheel. As soon as Aimee left for the store, I put my plan into action.

I set the pitch on the remote to 0 and spooled the motor up to about 50%. That doesn’t sound like much, but the main rotor blades were moving plenty fast. The torsion was tremendous, and the helicopter tried spinning in circles. This should have warned me that something was very wrong. Instead of turning the model off to consider why it was turning so much, I decided instead to find out if I finally had the pitch right on the rotor. I grabbed the tail to stop the helicopter from spinning and turned up the speed just a hair. It started taking off in earnest, which would be a bad thing in the house, so I tried to shut it down. In my panic, though, I pushed the throttle the wrong way and instead set it to full! Within a fraction of a second my arm twisted up over my head and the helicopter self-destructed into the ceiling, demolishing a hanging light in the process.

“You’ll shoot your eye out, kid”

Aimee was right, but now wasn’t the time to dwell on that. I cleaned up the mess as best I could, just like any kid would do after destroying something while Mom is out of the house. It was only after I began taking a broken parts inventory that I noticed two things. 1) The helicopter is missing a part, and has been since the day it arrived. In fact, I had often wondered why the post coming out of the swash plate didn’t seem to attach to anything. 2) The tail servo is dead, which explains why the confounded machine was so intent on spinning in circles. Had I looked into both of these problems earlier, I probably wouldn’t have had to tell my wife how a shredded rotor blade came to rest  behind the toilet in a bathroom fifteen feet from our pool table. Yes, I learned a lot this week.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


Ray, when someone asks you if you're a god, you say "YES"!

As it turns out, this is also good advice when dealing with contractors: "Will you need more outlets in your garage?"


"Do you expect to use more than 15 amps between your kitchen and garage?"


"Do you need more than 15 amps just for your garage?"


You can stop saying yes when they stop asking questions. Otherwise, just rinse and repeat. Else you might find yourself in the un-enviable position of trying to run a mill, its stepper motors, control PC, a small space heater, garage door opener, air compressor, and kitchen all at the same time on a 15 amp circuit. You can image how well that ended!

When I opened the panel and saw the 15 amp breaker, I was once again tempted to track down the scurvy rat that built our house so I could throttle him. He's a contractor though, which means he'd probably take me. A shame.

Location:S Walnut St,Lansing,United States

Friday, October 29, 2010


Evelyn has been having trouble sleeping in her bed all night lately. Recently she brought a story home from church about how God watches over sleeping children. We read it to her in hopes that it would help her sleep better. Every night since, she's asked us to come and pray for her after we read our bedtime books.

Last night was precious. Aimee said a short prayer which ended with "and please watch over Evelyn while she sleeps", to which Evelyn added "and God, if you aren't in my room, I can go sleep on the mat in Mom and Dad's room".

Thursday, October 14, 2010

My Happy Place

We’re very nearly done with the renovations at our new place. The last two days I’ve spent some time working from home, and it’s been wonderful. At our old house, the best view available showed us an outstanding view of the, um, neighbor’s house.

While we get the downstairs finished, I’ve had my desk upstairs next to the TV. The picture below is what I have been looking at out my window. You can’t see it in the picture, but fall leaves are slowly drifting by on the river. It’s a lot easier to get in the zone from here than it is at the office, staring at a blank wall and trying to be productive between interruptions.


Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Bad Peppers

I’ve got really bad allergies. Anyone who knows me knows this. Usually my affliction means that my nose runs at inopportune moments. What’s worse than a runny nose? One that should be running but won’t. Why is this bad? Because it means you can’t breathe, and it eventually leads to a sinus infection.

There are a lot of great ways to deal with congestion. Decongestants, for example. What if those don’t help? Well, exercise helps. What if you’re really lazy, or otherwise occupied? Well…then I heartily recommend spicy food.

In my quest for natural decongestants, I’ve tried many different spicy foods. I consider myself a connoisseur of strongly opined cuisine. We were dining out the other evening when I realized that we had habanero  butter at the table. I asked the waitress if they made it in the kitchen. When she said “yes”, I asked for diced habaneros with dinner. They were good, although somewhat disappointing.

A couple of days later, Aimee brought a pair of habaneros home from the grocery store. Based on my previous experience, I diced them up and dropped them into my taco dinner. No big surprises. They were spicy, flavorful, but not overpowering. Perhaps they were a bit disappointing as wicked peppers go.

My experience this evening led me to believe that 1) our local restaurant buys their habaneros from our local grocery store and 2) our local grocery store got a batch of bad peppers.

This evening I asked, once again, for diced habaneros with dinner. This time, however, the hotness was excruciating. Although my nose is no longer stuffed up, I can also not feel the roof of my mouth. After careful examination in the mirror, I’m quite certain that I still have a tongue…even though I’m unable to move it. In complete seriousness, my eyes started running down my cheeks because the food was so incredibly hot. For the first time in our eleven year relationship, Aimee finished dinner before I did. When the waitress came to ask Aimee if she wanted more water, I choked out an emphatic “yess!”

Monday, September 6, 2010

Things That Fly

   Building a Model Rocket I have always loved things that fly. They are magical, defiant. The other day, Evelyn asked if she could fly my model airplane. Unfortunately, I don’t even know how to fly my model airplane. I assured her that we could do one better. We would build a rocket and fly that instead.

Building and flying a model rocket is the ultimate participative building activity that a parent can do with their child. I was excited to share the wonder of flying a rocket with Evelyn. After we selected our rocket, we sat down to assemble it together. Evelyn did a great job holding parts on, even though she didn’t want to get glue on her fingers.

Early this morning sheBuilding a Model Rocket was already eager to fly the rocket, but we both had plans already. It was evening before we both made it home again. Aimee called to warn me that Evelyn was set on flying her rocket and would not be deterred. We packed up the car and headed to the local soccer field.

Surprisingly, our rocket is the best one that I’ve ever seen. PerhapsBuilding a Model Rocket it’s the awesome color. Maybe it’s because Evelyn wore a matching dress. Even though she wasn’t too keen on the noise, she managed to help fly the rocket three times in a row. For the record, I don’t think I have ever had a rocket fly three times. Certainly never on the same day!Building a Model Rocket

Friday, September 3, 2010

What I.T. Does

It's really easy to focus on the nuts and bolts of what I.T. does and completely disregard its role as a way of codifying institutional knowledge. We recently had an issue at the office with a check run. There are a lot of reasons why this particular event took place, but what's daunting is the expense of fixing it. In less than ten minutes, we created a problem which will cost several thousands of dollars to fix.

We like to automate processes in our I.T. department. Part of the reason is that we don't like doing mundane things over and over. The reason is that we invariably fail. In this case, we can try to absolve ourselves of guilt by pointing out that someone else didn't follow procedure. The problem, though, is that we routinely automate things because we hate trying to follow strict procedures. We aren't good at it.

There is a disconnect here. Technology is really good at doing things fast, and precisely. It also, however, helps us codify business rules. "When do we run check cycles?" Check the job scheduler.

"How do we run check cycles?" Read the comments in the code you found in the job scheduler. The bonus is that the rule is now written down. Codified. The employee who had the responsibility for remembering to write this code is now free to do other things. The person who used to run the job is off the hook for remembering teh very specific rules for running the job. Everybody wins.

Alien Life Exists on Earth

I've got conclusive proof. They live on my block. For $14,000 in cash (while the $8000 tax credit was available. Do the math.). You can imagine the shape the house was in at that price. I knew we were in for a wild ride when they didn't bother with major renovations (I mean installing walls) before they moved in.

Part of the reason I'm sure they are aliens is that they are immune to the sounds and behaviors that any human simply cannot tolerate. First example, I can routinely hear their children yelling in a way reminiscent of horror movies. Through two sets of closed windows. And it's not because the parents are beating them; that's how they play.

Second evidence is their dog. Which barks all day and all night, indoors and out. Any red-blooded human would have disappeared this dog weeks ago. Every time we go over to complain about the dog, it mysteriously ends up inside through the back door despite a notable lack of humanoid presence at the front door. Question: How can their super-sensitive alien hearing detect that we're coming over, when they are deluged with noise non-stop?

I can't really figure them out. They seem nice enough, but I have a really difficult time reconciling their overt niceness with their incongruous, complete disregard for people living nearby. Maybe I should chalk this up to punishment for all the nights we partied loudly until the wee hours when the previous neighbors had a house full of young children.

That's probably fair.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Stuff That Just Works

When I travel between home and office now, I'm a lot more likely to take my iPad than a computer. Once I'm at the office, I generally rely on my laptop instead. It's an issue of convenience. When I'm out of the office, iPad is much lighter, and I can connect to my office pc remotely and enjoy "wire speed" access from it while it sits on the office network.

There are some things that an iPad isn't very good at, but for the most part it works pretty well. What surprises me is that despite Apple having been the first vendor to market with a viable tablet computer, there are still folks who try to berate the iPad as an overgrown smart phone. It may be, however that's part of the genius. By basing the device on the iPhone, the app store and the iTunes model came with it. The software for these devices runs much better on a custom phone OS than it would with, say, Windows 7.

Since its release, the iPad has generated over two billion dollars in revenue in a virtually uncharted market space. It's closest, most likely rival isn't due to arrive on the scene in the United States until November. By then, Notion Ink's Adam will have a very difficult time catching up.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Paradigm Shift

A lot of discussion has been given to the topic of what the iPad's role is. It is neither a phone, nor a laptop. Is it a device for which there is no place? Having owned an iPad for about two months, I'm of the opinion that the iPad is something new, unique, and paradigm changing. The interface is intuitive and fluid in a way that I have not experienced on my Android phone, nor any of my windows PCs.

HP Multi-touch all-in-one computers have promise but appear unable to deliver results. The machines come with large (22"+) multi-touch capable screens with all the computer hardware built directly into the monitor. Unfortunately, the Windows 7 OS integration is clunky and relies on the mouse driven paradigm. Take for example pinch-zooming. On either an Android device or an iPad, you can pinch to zoom in nearly any application. In most apps you can turn pages by swiping them to the side. Windows was never built for this kind of intuitive interface, so even the paint program I tried at Best Buy today failed to take advantage of the spacious multi-touch monitor on the computer.

The iPad, on the other hand, was built from the ground up with a touch interface in mind. This allows it to use gestures with consistency throughout the entire interface. Just as the mouse changed the way we think about interfaces, I'm convinced that the iPad will do something similar.

One of the complaints often voiced about the iPad is that it is a device with no apparent market space. That was true, however 3 million sales later, it appears that perhaps many of us were only begrudgingly staying in the laptop space anyway. As we prepare to head to the cottage this weekend, I wonder if there really is any reason to take my laptop to study. There is, of course. It's nostalgia.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

BP, I don’t understand

Now that BP’s most recent attempt to stop the oil in the Gulf of Mexico has failed, they have decided to revert to a revised version of their doomed “top hat” idea from several weeks ago.  They indicate that the “top hat” will be ready in four to seven days.

I don’t understand.  BP is facing tremendous cost every day that the spill continues.  They started trying the current technique four days ago, and for weeks they must have been trying to figure out which trick is really going to work.  Given that the cost of readying multiple techniques at once pales when compared to the cost of the spill, wouldn’t it have made sense for BP to start working on the “top hat” weeks ago?  For part of this project, they need to cut the riser pipe, which I’m sure will take time.  Once again, though, couldn’t they have started trimming the pipe weeks ago?

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Be all you can be

There used to be this advertisement the Armed Forces. I think it was the Army. It went something like be all you can be. I think about that a lot. To me being all that I can be is not so much about raw achievement as it was in the advertisement as much as being as human as I can be. It's about humanity.

Being good at a lot of things is pretty easy. For example riding a bike or walking or even running are all pretty easy skills to learn. Even more complicated skills are relatively easy to learn. Things like mathematics or accounting. Sure, it's a lot of work but they're still easy to learn.

I'm not sure why I struggle with humanity.Perhaps learning humanity is a struggle because it's a personally challenging endeavor. In learning most skills we build ourselves up. In learning humanity we have to understand that we aren't great at what we do. We must stop and reflect on the fact that we might be bad people in some regards. Each of us has probably done a bad thing from time to time. It's personally challenging to believe that we don't need to be competitive. It's okay not to be the best at something. It's okay if somebody else has great ideas and does great things.

Conventional wisdom is similar to the Army commercial that I mentioned earlier. We believe that in order to be all we can be we must push ourselves to accomplish as much as we possibly can. Being good people is a challenge because in some regards it requires unlearning so many of those things that we spend so much time learning throughout our entire lives. Sometimes being a good person means letting someone else come in first place.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

For Sale…

I came across this on a trip to the grocery store the other day.


Does the author realize that if Sarge’s testicles were removed instead of his ovaries, he might stop peeing in the house the other 20% of the time?

A champion’s offspring with no papers?  Really!  What on earth did the papers get used for, “medicinal purposes”?  Is he part Min-Pin, part Maui Wowy?  Perhaps they only had enough newspaper to potty train him for 11 months and they were forced to use his pedigree when they ran out?

Friday, February 26, 2010

If you give a moose a muffin…

By the time we got to Lansing this evening, Aimee was barely able to contain herself.  Finally, she blurted out “If they offer you a Citi card, are you gonna take that too?” 

Citi is one of my least favorite companies.  Let me tell you, I can hold a grudge against a company for a long, long time.  For the past fourteen years I have gone out of my way to avoid Quality Dairy.  In fact, I bet that I have only visited a Quality Dairy store an average of once per year for the past fourteen years.

Anyway, the source of my wife’s mirth began a couple months ago when I was smitten with Bluetooth.  First it was Bluetooth headphones, then mice, then an adapter for our home stereo system, and of course I eventually bought a used Bluetooth keyboard on E-bay.  $25 shipped.  It’s really slick, but once I tried it, I wanted to push the envelope.

Couchtop computing.  Sure, it’s much hyped (ever heard of a media center PC?) but is anyone really into it?  I tried it out, but I couldn’t see my monitor well enough to actually do anything.  That got my wheels turning.  I needed a larger monitor.  Something large enough that I could sit on the couch and compose Word documents in comfort.

While I was simmering on this idea, the Olympic games began.  I’m not into the Olympics, but I am into hockey.  The game last Sunday was not to be missed: The USA versus Canada.  The two super powers of hockey duking it out.  In my ignorance I thought I could probably pay someone on the Internet to let me watch the game on my computer.

I was wrong.  NBC kept redirecting me to Comcast.  Finally, I realized that if I wanted to ever see hockey on TV again, I’d have to bite the bullet and upgrade our analog cable.  It was such a frustrating realization that I nearly threw my computer.  Instead, I called Comcast and sullenly ordered the entry level digital package.

If you give a moose a muffin, he’ll want some jam to go with it.

My logic went like this.  If I ordered the cable upgrade quickly, I could still watch the final game on TV without getting smoked out at a bar.  If I was going to swallow my pride and buy cable TV, I might as well watch the game on a reasonably good TV.  If I was going to buy a reasonably good TV, it better be one that I could compose Word documents on while lying down on my couch.

Citi is one of my least favorite companies.  It’s right up there with Dodge.  And, ironically, Comcast.  By the way, I don’t care for television (hockey games excepted) either.  But there we were, driving a borrowed Dodge to purchase a super-size me television in time for a Comcast installation.

In case you’re wondering, they did not offer a discount if I put the purchase on a Citi credit card.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Pick-up sticks

Cleaning up a tangled mess is probably not uncommon.  Partially collapsed buildings must be carefully deconstructed in order to avoid damage to their neighbors.  Failing companies are routinely broken down and sold in as profitable a fashion as possible.

Maintaining the status quo in terms of performance while making corporate changes can be difficult.  It’s easy to overlook the value of unwritten knowledge.  Even if processes are properly documented it can be difficult to understand the relationships between processes without having experienced them first hand.

Many service workers are unable to fully document what they do because much of they do is dictated by intuition.  While recently reviewing a process which was performed by another employee in the past, I puzzled over why her results were so different from my own.  Why did customers seem so responsive in the past, yet so lackluster today? 

The answer is simple, straightforward.  Her experience indicated that unless she prodded customers, customer response would be low.  Her process included an unwritten step during which she would contact customers who did not respond in a timely fashion and offer to help them along in the process.

Another situation recently occurred which came from a similar cause: a missing, non-intuitive piece of information which made the difference between a successful project and a disastrous one.  What is the role of this intuited knowledge in an evolving company?  How can companies avoid faltering amidst the redevelopment of internal processes?

When employees will not or cannot become parties to process improvement, they may become liabilities; their mere presence will increase the cost of doing business.  Replacing them will also certainly cause a temporary increase in the cost of doing business, and will create a short term lack of corporate improvement as corporate knowledge is reacquired through accelerated experience.

Improvement is cumulative.  Without a solid foundation, future improvement is jeopardized.  Broken processes were almost certainly created in shortsighted haste, and avoiding the same mistake in the future can only take place by refusing to take the easy way out.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

2010 in Photos

Yesterday I came across an article on LifeHacker that suggested creating a project for 2010. One of the suggestions was "365 Days of Photos". Normally I might think "Argh. Too much work!"

Is it really too much work? No, I'm just lazy. After a bit of thought, I realized that since my new phone can take reasonably good pictures AND it can upload directly to Flickr, there isn't a good excuse not to give this project a shot. The only missing piece of the puzzle was that I really dislike the idea of "double entry". Thanks to Flickr's embedded album and Blogger's feed reader plugin, the entire operation is completely seamless.

Each day I need only snap a photo on my phone, write a caption, and you can find it right here from my blog page! Just take a look at the right side of the screen for a slideshow, or click on the links under the slideshow.