Monday, December 21, 2009

Dream logic

Last nights dream was one of those I can't seem to get out of, even by waking up. I kept drifting out of the this dream to wakefulness, and then, yawn, I was back in it.

I was at a Navy airbase, allegedly to get refresher training in an airplane that the Coast Guard (whom I work for, but am not IN) never flew, and even the Navy has retired (an A-7 Corsair II if you want to know, nickname "SLUF" ("Short Little Ugly Fucker")). It was all a big mistake, and then it was "resolved": I was to "transition" to this airplane. Fine, but as I pointed out, I'm a Private Pilot, with NO jet experience, not even any "complex" experience (retractable gear, etc). I was mildly terrified of having to carrier qualify an airplane with no conceivable use in my service. A REAL Coast Guard Officer shows up; I explain my problem, and we take a physics test with a bunch of Navy guys, and smoke their asses; we were done with perfect scores before the Squids had their pencils sharpened. I tell the Coast Guard Officer I want to go over to his side of the base and quit wasting the government's time, "I'll just wash airplanes or something."

I woke up for the final time, and went to work. In my tuxedo - it was the office Christmas party today, and I am the Master of Ceremonies For Life for the Gift Exchange/Back Stabbing, in my James Bond/Jack Sparrow/Dorothy Parker hybrid personality. The party was held in the Terrace Room of a resident hotel for gay and lesbian senior citizens - I am NOT kidding you (the food was excellent, BTW). I got out of there with a 2 foot long christmas themed penguin pen, which I consider a minor indignity compared to some of the gifs - certain scented candles and a nasty plastic snack set have been "re-gifted" 5-6 years in a row. At least a ball point pen the size and shape of a blue dildo will be easy to find on the mess my desk has become.

It only seems like I live in a Pynchon novel.

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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Experimental Cooking and CSAs and Chocolate

One of the things about belonging to a CSA that I find challenging is figuring out what the do with vegetables you'd never buy if you were making the choices yourself.

In some ways this is, for a cook who LIKES to cook (and I count myself in that number), this is a creative challenge. On a weekend...

But for a single dad with a finicky kid and a girlfriend who lives in the next town, and who eats out more than he'd really care to, sometimes it's just a drag. And I end up composting a lot of expensive vegetables. And now I'm the pickup point, which means that although I get my every other week box for free, I also have the "share" box to clean out, since it NEVER happens that everything in the "share" box ( a way of exchanging stuff you don't want for stuff you do) disappears by the time the last box gets picked up. I was raised by Children Of The Great Depression, and wasting food just Isn't Done.

This is a long-winded introduction to what I did with about a half dozen beautiful organic Poblano chilies last sunday.

I have, for the sake of my newly tender stomach (work stress and turning 50), stopped eating really spicy stuff, and I'd already made about a quart of hot sauce with the Habeneros and Jalepenos I got in the LAST box. So, I searched online. Most recipes for Poblanos used the DRIED version, which is a staple in Mexican cooking. But I found a recipe for Poblano corn chowder. No corn in the house. Time to improvise - chowder is the theme. But let's use up the vegetables we got. Potatoes, sure. Leeks - absolutely! Beets - hmm, I hate 'em, but they should add a little sweetness, not a bad thing to offset all those peppers.

Roasted and peeled the peppers, a mild PITA, but hey, it's Sunday afternoon, and I can research home networks and the Ethernet 10BaseT versus WiFi question while they roast.

Dice, saute, add the chiles, veggie stock, simmer until the rootsies are done.

Man is this shit HOT!!!! And not in a good way - no complexity, just like taking a mouthful of cayenne. Now, I know, but you may not, that if you make a batch of Chile whatever that's too hot there are two approaches - dilute the flavor with more of whatever neutral ingredients you have, or put a bunch of chocolate in it.

Yes, Chocolate. There are a couple reasons this works. FIrst, the bitterness and complexity of GOOD chocolate balances and rounds out the peppery note you're trying to tame. The other thing is the STRENGTH of chocolate as a flavor - it literally overpowers other flavors.

So, two handfuls of chocolate chips. A half bag of frozen vegetable medley in the freezer since the Bush administration - the Neutrality approach. About 2 cups of lightly steamed cabbage.

Now we are two bitter - the only chocolate chips in the house are dark chocolate. A handful of sugar. And, since we're almost approaching Mole anyway, about a half cup of chunky peanut butter.

I actually kind of like it. It's now mild enough, barely, for me to eat small quantities of it without it upsetting my stomach. It is really, deeply strange, but it works, after a fashion. It still needs something neutral, rice, couscous, some baguette to moderate it, but I pronounce it EDIBLE.



Thursday, January 01, 2009

A Gentleman's Hack

I've been commuting by bicycle ever since I was allowed to ride my Sears Spyder (Sting Ray knock-off) to school in the 3rd grade. This is my current working ride, adapted to my needs and preferences.

This started out as a Bianchi Avenue hybrid bike I bought via Craigs List for about $150. The Planet Bike fenders were the first addition, as the rack was part of the original deal. The Topeak front basket has been a mixed experience. It secures to the handlebars with a cable that's a little non-trivial to figure out, and I've broken 3 of them so far. Topeak customer services has been good about sending me new ones. I DO like the convenience of a front basket, and the ability to use it as a shopping basket. But next time, maybe a Wald paperboy's basket.

I like generator lights as readers of this blog are well aware. I'm partial to the Lumotec stuff Peter White out of Massachusetts peddles, but I felt like going cheap this time, and had Bay Area Bikes put on a cheap Asian import set, with a rear generator mount. I added a ground wire - don't leave home without it.

When I bought the bike it had typical flat-ish MTB bars on it, and a cheap and cushy vinyl MTB saddle. I came to realize I really wanted a more upright position, that my hands were not in the right place, and the saddle finally fell apart. So, I had Bay Area Bikes remodel it.

The bars are Nitto "Priest" (Albatross) Bars in aluminum, the saddle is a Brooks B67. Note the stem extender. I also dropped the gearing substantially, as I never got out of the low ring on the old gears, by fitting a new crankset. The BB was shot, so it got replaced, and the new bars require new shifters. I like the shifters more than I expected to; they are MUCH more ergonomic and easier on my middle aged wrists than the twist grips that were on the bike before.

The new crankset didn't come with a chain guard to keep my work pants out of the teeth, so I made a new one out of scrap plexiglass. I initially slathered hot melt on to hold it in place; the orange bits are cardboard shims to space the plexi away from the chain links. When I knocked it off, drilled holes in the plexi and threaded some tiny ty-raps, the bailing wire of our times.

The auxiliary saddle is for the days when I have to take my 11 year old with me to/from the BART station when he's with his mom on the the other end of the journey - we're a "remodeled" family. It's only about 4 blocks, and he wears his helmet when he's en pillion.

I didn't like the way the saddle was spreading, and becoming sort of sway-backed. So, since this picture was taken, I punched a series of hole just below the Brooks logo, and laced some scrap shoe lace, tying it to the opposite rails, and pulled the saddle back into it's original shape. While aesthetically it's an improvement, it's LESS comfortable now than before. I may change out this saddle for a nylon shell/padded saddle.

The panniers are "Oyster Buckets", my favorite utilitarian panniers. Almost totally recycled materials, sturdy, waterproof. The panniers come off when the kid rides 2-up.

The brass air hose coupler arouses a great deal of interest. It's the hitch for a trailer I found abandoned in front of a rental house on my street. I stole the idea from an Instructable, but found later that it's used on Bike Fridays.


Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Mal's Law

Mal Raff is a flight instructor with California Airways in Hayward, California. I've flown out of this FBO for about 5 years, never flown before Saturday with Mal. I've flown with some pretty good pilots, some good instructors, but Mal gave me one of the best lessons I've had in a small plane.

I've learned that instructors have teaching styles, and they may differ markedly from the student's learning style. The secret is to getting the most out of a given experience is to adapt - your learning style needs to yield, in the moment. After the flight, evaluate, and change if change is needed, but in the air, deal. Plus, it's always a crap shoot with a new flight instructor, as the cockpit is the world's worst classroom to begin with - noisy, high stress - and pilots tend to have egos, and instructors, since they know ever so much more than you do - you get the picture. Plus I'm nearly 50, and Mal has a good 15 year lead on me. We rassled a little at first, on pre-flight procedures, but I agreed to listen to his points, and I made mine.

My intention - and I had one for this lesson - was to dial in my flare at landings, which as Mal reminded me, is the END of a chain of events that started, in this training scenario, when I advanced the throttle for the first takeoff.

MAL'S LAW: You cannot (consistently) make good landings from bad approaches

First Corollary: You can certainly make a bad landing from a good approach.

Before we turned on the Master, Mal made this little sketch. Let me walk you through it. Upwind is up, final is on the bottom. The assumptions are a Cessna 15X/17X, and the winds are light.

We've lifted off at about 55, and either released what LITTLE back pressure we might have been holding, or pushed the nose down a little, for as the plane accelerates, it tends to pitch up, and we want to climb out at about 75 kts. The turn from upwind to crosswind is made at least 200 ft AGL, and is SHALLOW, less than or equal to 20 degrees. Steep turns suck lift out of climb, and we'd prefer to gain altitude at this point rather than keep a super tight pattern.

Turn to Downwind may be a little steeper, as we are soon at Pattern Altitude, but less than 30 degreees. When we reach pattern altitude, we reduce power, to 2100-2200 RPM. Mal uses the G-M-C mnemonic, Gas (reach down and check the gas selector, should be BOTH for a Cessna), Mixture (full rich, push the center of the knob for a Cessna), and Carb heat (pull). You should be level, about 90 kts.

Abeam the numbers, time to reduce power again, to 1700-1800 RPM, and let the speed bleed off a little before lowering the flaps, AND putting the nose about 3 degrees below the horizon. 75 - 80 kts and descending should be the result. Approaching 45 degrees from the end of the runway, look out the left window and chose a spot on the horizon (or at least far enough away to reduce parallax to a minimum) 90 degrees from the downwind leg.

Turn to base should be spot on 30 degrees. You want to get it done, but not generate an accelerated stall. 30 degrees, watch your speed. Your "spot" will appear in the windscreen, roll out. On base, drop more flaps, to 20 degrees. Watch your speed. Start a shallow, less than or at most, equal to 20 degree bank to bring you to final. Once on the centerline, drop more flaps, WITHOUT CHANGING PITCH, and you should slow right down to 65 kts. Assess your glide path, and reduce the throttle to suit, closing it completely when you have the runway made. KEEP YOUR HAND ON THE THROTTLE: shit happens.

Ideally, the roundoff and flare should be a continuous function, starting sometime before reaching the runway threshold. In practice, it's more of a step function; increase back pressure, wait and see, pull a little more, wait, pull a little more, until you kiss the runway with the yoke all the way back, and a few little chirps of the tires. KEEP THE BACK PRESSURE ON until the nose wheel drops of it's own accord. DO NOT try and look over the nose, watch the edges of the runway with your peripheral vision.

I hadn't flown in 5 months, and have flown less than 20 hours in the last 3 years. After an hour on the Hobbs, following this mantra, and with a little coaching, I was earning the praise of a man from whom praise meant something.

None of this should be new to anyone who has read Stick and Rudder, still the best book on the actual motor skills and conceptual processing of flying. "Spotting" the base turn was an Ah Ha moment for me, and reminded me of learning to pirouette in ballet class about 25 years ago.


Monday, October 20, 2008

It Ain't Over Yet


1. The polls may be wrong. This is an unprecedented election. No one knows how racism may affect what voters tell pollsters—or what they do in the voting booth. And the polls are narrowing anyway. In the last few days, John McCain has gained ground in most national polls, as his campaign has gone even more negative.

2. Dirty tricks. Republicans are already illegally purging voters from the rolls in some states. They're whipping up hysteria over ACORN to justify more challenges to new voters. Misleading flyers about the voting process have started appearing in black neighborhoods. And of course, many counties still use unsecure voting machines.

3. October surprise. In politics, 15 days is a long time. The next McCain smear could dominate the news for a week. There could be a crisis with Iran, or Bin Laden could release another tape, or worse.

4. Those who forget history... In 2000, Al Gore won the popular vote after trailing by seven points in the final days of the race. In 1980, Reagan was eight points down in the polls in late October and came back to win. Races can shift—fast!

5. Landslide. Even with Barack Obama in the White House, passing universal health care and a new clean-energy policy is going to be hard. Insurance, drug and oil companies will fight us every step of the way. We need the kind of landslide that will give Barack a huge mandate.

If you agree that we shouldn't rest easy, please sign up to volunteer at your local Obama office by clicking here:


Saturday, October 18, 2008

Fuel Systems, AN fittings, NPT fittings, and their discontents

Follow this link, and scroll down a bit within it to read about a Zenair 601 with Corvair Power and it's fuel system at

I've purchased, read & digested William Wynne's books, both the Corvair conversion manual, and the relatively new ZenVair installation manual. He's made a pretty convincing case for the things he does by laying it down WHY he does things, and if you follow his site you can see the OTHER things he's tried.

Please examine the adjacent image, from the same web pace linked above. This is one of the cleanest fuel systems I've ever seen on an experimental, and I'd like to emulate it if I can on my airplane.

Let's follow this scheme from the firewall out. The AN bulkhead elbow (light blue anodized, AN833-6) is attached to a hand made "outie belly button" piece that spaces the deal far enough away from the firewall to hang the gascolator nice, and link up with the inlet to the primary Facet fuel pump. Later versions use a welded "firwall pass through", and you can buy this part from

A female-to-female straight union attaches the Andair gascolator which has male AN-6 connections built in. A 90 deg union connects the first Facet pump FP-40108, which also has in-built male AN-6 connectors. Another straight union, another pump, and on to the carb via a fuel pressure sensor.

Now, I've got two pumps, but they are the much more common Facet FP-40105. Can I devise something that works as well with the parts I have in hand, and can pick up from my local, well stocked hardware store?

The short answer is "NO".

The LONG answer starts with these facts:

1) The fittings I'd really like don't exist in NPT (National Pipe Thread). This means using more fitting/joints, which means more potential for leaks, especially since:
2) NPT RELIES on sealant, as it is NOT inherently leak free by design. No matter how tight you graunch down on it, there is always a spiral leak path around the threads.
3) NPT fittings SUCK from a fatigue standpoint, for several reasons. The mechanical function of tightening the joint, and the sealing function (such as it is, see answer 2) above) are not separated, and so if the joint fails mechanically in ANY way, it also leaks, not good with fuel. But the threads are also for shit, with sharp roots. True AN fittings have a special thread form and tighter tolerances than the nearly identical JIC 37 degree flare fittings, which are already way better than the NPT threads on hardware store fittings.
4) Even in the smaller 1/8 inch nominal diameter, the brass hardware store fittings are heavy compared to the aluminum AN-6 fittings - I haven't checked yet, but they may actually be heavier.

Nevertheless, I'm going to carry on with this plan, at least conceptually, for the following reasons:
1) A VW sucks less fuel than a Corvair. AN-6 is overkill at 4 GPM max.
2) I suspect I'll have to do a lot of experimentation to get my fuel system to fit, see the adjacent view of my firewall. I don't have a lot of real estate, and I may have to run the fuel pumps along the engine mount beds.
It will sure be a lot easier to mod the system if I can pedal my bike to the hardware store instead of going online to ASC or Wicks to get parts to play with.
3) The disadvantages of NPT fittings can be mitigated by NOT relying on them to support the gascolator, and by using Loctite Pipe Sealant.

So, my system, assume the same geometric layout, will require a 1/4" NPT bulkhead fitting, used in boat fuel systems, a 90 deg male-to-male elbow, a 1/4" female-to-female union, a 1/4" hex nipple, a Great Plain gascolator (the gascolator will be supported by a bracket, and NOT the NPT threads), another male-to-male elbow, another union, a reducing bushing, a 1/8" hex nipple, the first fuel pump, a 1/8" hex nipple, union, nipple, fuel pump, then off to the carb.

This fuel pump to carb transition bears examination. William Wynne uses an Earls AN-6 fitting with a 120 degree bend, connecting to HOSE, to deal with the vibration between engine and firewall. Nothing like this exists for 1/8" NPT, so I think I'll have to form something up using a NPT to 45 degree flare fitting, a suitable length ALUMINUM tubing with hose slipped over the ends of this and double clamped. Before you sneer, the HIGH pressure (70+ psi) fuel lines on our Volvo 164 used hose over straight pipe without a barb or a bead.

What I see as the VITAL points of William Wynne's system for a low wing aircraft, what I'm trying to retain: redundant fuel pumps, and no pressurized fuel in the cockpit.

UPDATE: The proceeding discussion can be viewed as an example of my thought process, or perhaps of the sort of mental masturbation first time builders with too much time on their hands, but not enough energy to go out to the shop, and, you know, BUILD anything, go through. The comment posters have convinced me AN fittings are the Way and the Light; the scales have fallen from my eye, and I BELIEVE. Amen.

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Saturday, May 03, 2008

Carb Cleaner is not for long term storage

About two weeks ago, I pulled my Tillotson cores out of the tub of toxic methyl chloride carb cleaner. They'd been sitting in there since, oh, last May.

Lots of parts were ruined. Both floats at the very least.

The pot metal pieces looked OK, but the brass parts seemed to have dissociated.

So, yes, let the stuff do it's work, but a month is probably as long as you should let carb parts sit in this witches brew.

UPDATE, October

I closely examined the pot metal upper and lower main castings, and decided they are junk. They look like they've been sandblasted. And the Carburator Refactory didn't have any Tillotsons for Model A's, only Bendix boat anchors.

So I'm giving up on the Tillotson X project. I don't want to fart around with them anymore, unless someone GIVES ME a NOS or completely rebuilt one before I can buy a Zenith 1821 from Great Plains.

IF you do find a nice core and want to try this carb, DO get the Master Rebuild kit, AND the book, and DON'T soak the pieces for longer than a couple of days before fishing them out, drilling out the plugs, reaming the passages, and finishing the rebuild using new gaskets.

ANOTHER UPDATE, later in October

I was cruising E-Bay and found a rebuilt, test run Tillotson X for $150 shipped. Bought it. Half the price of the new Zenith. And I have rebuild kits and a Grose Jet to spare!

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