Happy New Year 2021

Happy New year!

Well, it’s finally here. A new year. Given the absolute terribleness of 2020, I don’t really think much worse can happen, short of maybe Kim Jong Un pulling the trigger on a nuclear barrage.

And what a crappy year it was. My brother Tim died, the COVID-19 pandemic started and continues to rage, I found out I have type-2 diabetes, I’m about to go in for cataract surgery, and we’ve been assailed the past 4 years by history’s absolutely worst president (who just recently got handed his SECOND impeachment). Pretty bad overall. And so…good riddance!

There have been some positives tho, and I am always looking for the positives. I have a wonderful family and awesome friends. I have my health…well, pretty much…it sucks getting older. I am still working for an awesome company (Apple), a vaccine for the COVID virus has started to be distributed, and Sheila and I started building an airplane as our “pandemic project” (yes, a real one. see our RV7 blog), as well as buying a really cool travel trailer.

So, mixed bag, really, but definitely awful overall. This next year HAS to be better.

What do I see is in store for 2021? Well, I’ve been working at home since May, which hasn’t been that bad at all. We will probably head back to the office some time this year. Not a bad thing. In some ways it will definitely be a return to normal, although I do hope that if anything, this past 9 months have shown that working from home is viable. I only hope that because I still have an almost 2 hour commute to and from work, and it’d be nice to maybe work from home occasionally going foward.

As far as my “resolutions” for 2021, I am still carrying forward a few from the past New Years. I want to focus more on my health, which is becoming more evident as I get older. Being a programmer/computer worker means a lot of sitting on my ass, and I need to balance that out with activities that will keep my healthy. We’ve already spent a good deal of money on our home gym…I just need to kick myself into using it.

I’ve been some volunteer work, but with the exception of the Civil Air Patrol, they benefit me primarily. I’d like to extend myself and find more causes that help others. I don’t know what that will look like, outside of donating money, but I’ve always wanted to do something along the lines of Houses for Humanity, where I can go get my hands dirty, with the benefit being completely external.

Another thing on the list is getting back into the cockpit. I haven’t flown in years, and I really do enjoy it (and I’m part of an organization with “Air Patrol” in it’s name!). I DID manage to take 2 flights in the previous month, in my squadron’s beautiful new Cessna 172, which has an all-glass cockpit. It was my first flying in ages, and part of preparing to become certified as a CAP pilot. Seeing that we’re building an airplane of our own, I figured it might be a good idea to get proficient again.

I’d also like to tack on my instrument flying rating as well. I suspect I’ve become a bit more sensitive to risk as I’ve gotten older, and part of mitigating the flying risk is becoming a better pilot. Few things boost that more than advancing your aeronautical ratings.

There will be more trips to Cleveland. This wasn’t only a resolution, but now a necessity. Mom is now by herself, save for a few of our family members with beautiful hearts who check in on her. I’ve been keeping in contact with her as much as possible, and she’s having a hard time adapting, but I want to do everything I can to carry on Tim’s legacy of taking care of her. He was amazing at that. Much more than I think he’d give himself credit for.

Other than that, I really look forward to spending quality time with my wife, especially continuing on with the RV trips we were doing before the pandemic. We both really enjoy getting out and about, camping out in nature and exploring our gorgeous country.

I’m upbeat about 2021. I think things will get better, and this time next year I hope to have to read this post to recall the terrible year that was 2020.

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Thinking about Tim

Today I listened to a few voicemails from Tim, back through the years. I thought it’d be hard, but actually it was comforting to hear him. I saved some as voice memos so they wouldn’t disappear. So much of our relationship had been phone calls back and forth, so listening to them made it feel like Tim was still here. It made me smile, and reinforced to myself that Tim is still with me, in my heart, and I can listen to his voice whenever I want to and not be sad.

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Balloon Bedazzled!

Wait…that thing is 10miles up and barely moving?!

There’s a balloon floating around in the Central Valley! Not your typical balloon…it’s a Project Loon communications balloon, flying at 56,000′ over Merced. Project Loon is a remote communications project that uses high-altitude balloons to carry cellular service up to the stratosphere in order to provide communications to areas that don’t have service, or during emergencies where terrestrial comms are down.

I noticed it this morning on ForeFlight (pilot app for iPad) as an “aircraft” that was not moving but at 10 miles up in the air. Thought it was a bug until I looked up it’s callsign (it has ADS-B onboard so the public can track it too). Pretty frickin’ awesome!

You can find more information about Project Loon and it’s mission and balloons here.

A Project Loon balloon that stayed aloft for 7 months.
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Rest with God, Tim

Me and Tim flying together in the early 2000s

On Monday, July 13th, my brother Tim passed away. He died suddenly, and without warning.

I had just spoken to him a week before. He was happy, excited about the future, and looking forward to spending July 4th with our mom, watching fireworks together. It was my mom who discovered he was dead, in his bed, early Monday morning.

Even though we lived far away (I’m in California, and Tim and my mom lived together in Ohio), Tim and I were close. He and I had recently spent a lot of time lambasting current politics, talking about work and life in general. He was a smart guy, but more than that, he had a heart of gold.

Tim owned and operated a landscaping business that he started almost 30 years ago. He worked his ass off for that company. Sometimes that meant we had to take a back seat. But that was his life.

My wife and I flew back the next day and helped my mom lay Tim to rest. I’m still in shock over it. Tim and I were supposed to grow old together. He would always say that once he retired (always “next year”), and once mom had passed, he would come to California to start a new chapter. We were supposed to grow old together.

Tim, I miss you, Bro. I miss your keen sense of humor and your smile and laugh. I’ll miss talking politics and sharing our lives with one another. You gave up a lot to take care of mom, putting your life on hold to make sure she was safe and cared for. I can never thank you enough for all you’ve done. I will miss you terribly until I see you again in heaven.

At Tim’s wake, all of the people who worked for Tim, and their families, all said the same about Tim: he was unselfish, caring, supportive…and he had a heart of gold.

Godspeed, my little brother…to the arms of Jesus.

I miss you.

Tim’s memorial site is here.

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Warthog Simpit!

Oh boy! Another cool project to tackle!

So I saw this one day while breezing through Youtube. There are a couple brave (insane?) souls out there who have taken it upon themselves to build a sim cockpit where each and every control actually works. Awesome! I absolutely must give this a try!

I bought the set of plans for the above simpit. It can be cut out from several 4×8′ panels and assembled to produce the full physical cockpit. But, that’s only the beginning! The A-10C has at least 23 panels: radios, control assemblies, computers, gear handle, to name a few.

Most of the construction calls for milling the panels from acrylic. Three layers of acrylic, to be exact, in order to allow for backlighting. Also, a variety of knobs are used…and not like any you can buy at Home Depot! They need to either be actual A-10 knobs, or a realistic facsimile.

Since I have both a laser cutter for acrylic, and a 3D printer, I’m halfway home!

The other part is wiring switches and LEDs up to controllers which will be recognized by the flight simulator (DCS, in this case) so that twisting the actual knob is detected and actioned on by the sim.

So, I’ve started reading and reviewing videos, because, I’m going to do this! Looks like a long journey, but I can do it 1 panel at a time. ­čÖé I’ve found laser-ready plans for each panel, and am reading the Eagle Dynamics forums for ideas. I’ve even printed a couple test knobs and they’ve come out excellently:

So, I’ve decided to try the landing gear panel first. It’s challenging because I have to fabricate the actual switch, which consists of a slightly-bent 12mm aluminum tube which needs a definite THUNK action to it. One guy used a shock from an RC car, and it looks and sounds great, so I think I’ll mimic that.

Anyhow, this is a big project. More to come.

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Astronomy…the next Frontier!

I’ve always been interested in astronomy, and have even owned a cheap Dobsonian telescope while living in Oakland (which isn’t the best Dark Sky site around, by any means). Lately I’ve gotten the bug again, and went looking for a decent ‘scope to start up with again (I have no idea what happened to the Oakland Dob).

I came across a 5″ Newtonian reflector for $199, which had great reviews. What I really liked about the product was that half of the cost was donated to education in third world countries. That made up my mind pretty much. So I bought it:

It’s not a bad little scope. It comes on an equatorial mount and uses a dovetail mount, which is kinda modern. I think the degree of coolness that sold me, technologically speaking, was that it was ultra compact, “collapsing” down to 14″, which makes it ideal to throw in the back of the car and head out.

After about 2 weeks I decided I needed an upgrade, so I bought a German equatorial mount: the Celestron AVX, which also sports a dovetail connector! This was a “sidewise” upgrade (not to the ‘scope directly) that opens the door to purchasing a larger OTA (optical tube assembly…a telescope that doesn’t include a mount). I’m already weighing the differences between an 8″, a 9.25″ and a gargantuan 11″ OTA from Celestron. Some of the imagery these massive reflectors can produce is breathtaking.

Besides casual observation, I’m also very interested in extending my photography hobby into astrophotography. To that end, I also bought a CMOS telescope camera:

This attaches where the eyepiece goes and plugs into a computer via USB. Then you capture video frames and stack them together to produce a nice, sharp image of what you’re after. There isn’t much in the way of stacking software for the Mac, but I’m going to keep on looking. More to come.

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3D printer to the rescue!

I bought a Prusa i3 Mk2s 3D printer last year, mostly just for personal fun and utility. I’ve printed a bunch of “junk” from thingiverse so far: small figurines, “jewelry”, game items, etc. But I’ve also printed a number of utility items that helped me accomplish something I would have not been able to do otherwise.

The latest utility part was a knob for the small tripod for my stenography machine. I had called the company and asked if they had any replacements, and they said the only option was to buy a whole new tripod, which is pretty expensive. So last night I decided to design and print my own knob.

After taking measurements and designing what I though was a fairly straight forward knob, I made it in 123D Design (which is no longer being maintained by Autodesk), sliced it for the Prusa, and printed a knurled knob for the tripod. I wasn’t sure it’d even work, but after the 20 minute print job finished, I popped it off the printer plate and tried pushing it onto the “stump” that was left from the previous knob.

 

I chose gold filament, just because. I made the dimensions of the slot the same as the dimensions of the post because I wanted a good, tight fit. I was pleasantly surprised that it went on without breaking, and was definitely nice and snug!

Problem solved!

I may see if I can get any work for things like this. It’d be a fun way to get some $$ back towards the price of the printer.

The finished tripod:

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Goodbye, sweet Splanky

Last night we said goodbye to our little Splanky. He’s our little warrior…our little goofball…our little furry folker. He was born in July 2009. One of my coworkers had some kittens he was trying to find a home for, and we went over and picked him from the remaining 2…the runt of the litter. We wanted a companion for Sophie, our other cat. They never really did develop a brotherly bond, but Sophie tolerated him…for us, I’m sure. The two of them mean worlds to us.

He succumbed to cancer at 10pm, as we tried to rush him to the emergency vet. We both knew this was coming. We both knew it’d be hard, but like many things in life, you can’t gauge the pain until you feel it. Fucking cancer…I hate you. This is our second pet that has crossed the Rainbow Bridge within the last year. Sophie (short for Sophacles because I thought he was a she at first, and the name just stuck) left us last July. That’s all I want to say about that. I miss them both tremendously.

Fly swiftly, sweet Splanky, to the arms of the Lord. Sophie is waiting for you, and we’ll see you both again after this world of pain has passed.

Super Elastic cat

Practicing his art of being adorable

His first day at his new home

This had to be his most adorable moment

Splanky was obsessed with shoes

Splanky loves his brother

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Facebook and ad accountability

This week I decided to take the bait and “boost” one of our company’s posts on Facebook. The interface is quite intuitive, and I was allowed to budget how much money I spend for having Facebook market my post. I chose $5, and was given a range of 497-1300┬álocal┬ápeople, which is great for us. So, I went ahead and started the process. The ad was to run for three days.

However, I didn’t really notice that much activity. We ended up “reaching” only 97 people, which was pitiful when you look at the purported numbers given.

So, I rated their “boost” at 1 star out of five, and left them some feedback:

You gave me a range for the money I spent on promoting my ad. The results were WELL below this estimate. You’re not really giving me much incentive to use your ad service. There has to be some sort of accountability on Facebook’s behalf. You need to either refund me the percentage of my cost based on the actual performance of your marketing (so, refund me $4), or you need to keep the ad running at least until it meets the minimum estimate. Otherwise, what’s to say you couldn’t promise a reach of 10,000, and then just saying “tough luck” upon reaching say, only 100. I get that it’s an estimate, but with no accountability for missing it, it’s a terrible deal for me as a seller.

I thought it was a reasonable argument. What do you think? I’m curious if I’ll hear back from them.

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Why doesn’t Numbers support pasting CSV?

This is really aggravating. I’d love to divorce myself from all Microsoft products if possible, but Apple is making it really difficult.

As you probably know, you can paste CSV data from the clipboard directly into an Excel doc and it gives you the option to parse it into separate cells based on the delimiter you choose (most often a comma or tab). This is REALLY very handy, as I usually have CSV data on a webpage that I copy and want to paste into a spreadsheet.

Numbers doesn’t support this almost expected type of behavior. I’m not sure what the authors were thinking, missing this core functionality altogether. Terrible decision on the product team’s behalf.

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