Model Airplanes ,  Real Airplanes

Computers ,  Photography , Aquariums

Aviation Links ,  Programming Links


Model Airplanes.

I have been interested in airplanes since I can remember.  I started building plastic static models when I was 6.  I started flying control-line planes when I was 11.  I started flying radio-controlled planes when I was 15.  Through it all, I have met a lot of people that were willing to help me.

Cox PT19 TrainerControl-line airplanes were a hoot when I was 11.  I could make any Cox .049 engine run!  Started out with a Cox PT19 plastic trainer, splattered it twice before I made a complete flight.  Thank goodness it was held together by rubber-bands and was easy to put back together after crashing. I was hooked! I wore out the Babe Bee engine, graduated to a Golden Bee with a larger stunt tank. Flew myself dizzy many times with that one. I built a lot of the Sterling and Goldberg 049 kits, including the Lil Jumpin Bean, Lil Satan, Little Toot, etc.  I graduated to a Ringmaster Jr, with a Fox .15. Gosh, that engine was hard to start until I broke it in!! Wore it out on that airplane. Flew MUCH better than the 049 planes.

Goldberg Falcon 56I found out there was a RC club with a field close to where I lived.  I started bumming rides to the field every chance I got, just to watch.  One day one of the members let me fly his Falcon 56 and I was hooked.  Saved up my summer work money so I could buy one.  My first was a Goldberg Skylane 62, with an OS .35 and a Kraft 5ch Sport Series.  That plane flew well, while it lasted.  On the 6th flight it was demolished in a mid-air collision, the first in the club's history. One of the club members felt a little sorry for me so he loaned me an Andrews H-Ray, which is really the plane I learned to fly with.  With an OS .15, it was under-powered by today's standards, but it taught me to fly on the wing, not the prop.  It was a tail-dragger with just a tail skid, so I learned very well how to handle the rudder on a tail dragger.  Ground-looped it many a time until I got the hang of it.  To this day, I love the challenge of tail-draggers.

I've built and flown many planes since then. Flown a lot of planes for other people as well.  I flew helicopters before there were special heli radios or gyros.  I started with a Graupner Bell 47G, with an HP 25 engine.  Fixed pitch. Wore the engine out in that one. I stepped up to a DuBro Shark with an O&R engine, which did not run well at all.  Replace the engine with a .60 conversion kit and an OS .60 FSR.  I converted that engine to be liquid cooled, which worked really well.  It was fixed-pitch as well.  Crashed that one trying to do a loop. <sigh> Nowadays, helicopters have collective pitch, gyro stabilization, special computer radios with special tailrotor mixing, etc.  Today's pilots don't know how much easier it is to fly today's helicopters.

I became interested in competition back in the late '70s, flying in "Fun-Fly" meets.  This was in the early days of Fun-Fly competition, when most people were flying regular sport planes. I designed a plane called "Miss Martha" for that competition and won a few trophies in NC and SC.  The design became popular, and was available in kit form for several years. I still have people asking me for plans.

Several years later I got into "Pattern" (precision aerobatics) competition.  I started out flying a Great Planes CAP21 in the Advanced class in 1991, and the Masters class in 1992.  I won the NSRCA district points championship for the Masters class in 1992 with that plane, which everyone agrees was a real accomplishment. (Compared to a pattern plane, the CAP21 flies like a pig).  I acquired a Hanson Runaround in the winter of 1993 and eventually won a national championship in 1993.  For two years I was a district VP of the NSRCA, and wrote a monthly column for their publication, the "K-Factor".  Back to top


Real Planes.

I started taking flying lessons when I was 16, flying out of a grass airstrip in Chatham, VA.  I received my pilot's license when I was 18, flying an old Cherokee 140. I loved that plane! After that, I flew my dad's Cessna 182, logging about 200 hours. I have flown once in a glider over Boulder, CO., flown a Robinson helicopter long enough to learn to hover, and have also had some stick time in a Ford Trimotor!  I have not flown any in several years, but I hope to build a real plane sometime, and am most interested in the products from Skystar after having flown in a Kitfox.  My dream plane would be an open-cockpit biplane, most preferably a Stearman.  Back to top


Computers.

I was exposed to computers briefly in college.  Fortran and the WATFIV compiler, and programs on punch cards.  (Can you guess how old I am??)  I have been playing around with personal computers since about 1981, starting with a TRS80 Model III.  I started out with a whopping 16k of memory, and saved/loaded programs on audio cassette tapes.  A word processing program (Scripsit) took three minutes to load.  My first useful program was written in Z80 assembly language, and let me take the Scripsit program from a 500 baud tape and re-record it at 1500 baud.  It only took 1 minute to load when I got through with it!! <grin>  I still have the old TRS80, sitting in the upstairs of my garage.  It has a green phosphor screen (remember those?) , four internal disk drives with a whopping 2.1 meg of storage, music synthesizer, and speech synthesizer.  (All this and an 8bit CPU running at 2 MHz).   I have written small utility type programs in Z80 and 8086 assembly language (including TSRs on PCs), Basic, Quick Basic, Turbo C, C on a Unix 4.2 BSD system (print filters), and Visual Basic.  I also spent two years writing software for laboratory robots (Zymark).  I don't' have much experience with database programming (so many people are doing it).  I prefer lab automation type stuff, GPIB and serial communications.  I presently have several computers networked in the house.  A DSL connection is nice!

At my present job I have written various programs to automate some of the RF immunity tests that we run in the lab.  It started out as something quick-and-dirty to run a conducted immunity test, and I now have a suite of programs to run radiated and conducted immunity tests to various standards including IEC and automotive test standards.  Originally they were all written with an old copy of Borland's Turbo C, running under Dos.  (Hey, it is what I had!!)  They all talk to the instruments via a GPIB interface, except for a field probe which is a serial interface.

The bad thing about taking a quick-and-dirty approach to programming is that the software can end up being difficult to support/modify later.  I learned this the hard way.  I started dividing up the code logically and by function into various source files.  I also started using a version control program to manage my projects and allow me to easily share code between multiple projects, which allows improvements to show up across all projects.  The biggest help was a book called "Code Complete", by Steve McConnell, Microsoft Press.  This book is about software construction, and how planning ahead makes the job simpler and easier to manage in the long term.  It also shows how to make code self documenting, something that is usually talked about only briefly in other books.  I highly recommend it.

I was asked to convert my programs over the a Windows environment.  At first my boss wanted it in Labview, which I don't particularly care for.  (My opinion).  He changed his mind, and now I am working in Visual Basic, which I love!  I realize, though, that there are a lot of programs out there with terrible user interfaces that just happen to be written in Visual Basic, so I bought another book that I highly recommend, "GUI Design Handbook" by Susan Fowler, McGraw-Hill.  This book covers do-and-don'ts to user interfaces.  I also bought several more books on Visual Basic, some better than others.  Still, the Visual Basic Programmers Guide is one of the ones I refer to the most, not only for technique, but good coding practices as well.  So many books talk about how to write lines of code, very few talk about creating applications!

At the present time I am using Visual Basic 6.0 Enterprise Edition.  I don't have any plans to upgrade to VB.NET since there aren't many improvements that would help lab automation (except for the improved error handling).  I am using RoboHelp to create the help files.  I had figured out how to generate the help files using Word and the WinHelp compiler, but I ended up buying a copy of RoboHelp which makes it a LOT easier.  One of the really nice features about RoboHelp is that I can create printed documentation from the help files I create.  I am using a freeware icon edit program from Microsoft for the icon creations (not very many).   Back to top


Photography

I became involved with photography back in 1975, when I started taking pictures for my school's yearbook.  I used a Nikon F (which I still have) and used Kodak Tri-X and Pan-X b&w film.  We used bulk film, and did our own darkroom developing using Polycontrast RC paper.  Lots of fun!!  I purchased my own darkroom equipment after leaving school, and continued shooting occasionally for a couple of years.  I still have the old Nikon F, which includes a Nikon 50mm f1.4 lens as well as a Tamron 80-210mm zoom lens.

I bought a camcorder before Matt was born, although I don't use it as much as I should.  Run of the mill Sony 8mm, which takes (in my opinion) excellent video.  I have an ATI All-in-Wonder video card in my PC which I can use to digitize the video.

At work, we use a couple of different digital still-cameras.  An Olympus 360 is what we use mostly, but we also have an Olympus 460, both of which have done a great job documenting test setups for reports.  

I wanted to get a digital camera for personal use, so I started shopping around.  I really like SLR cameras due to my old Nikon F days, and also wanted to have manual control of exposure level, aperture, shutter, and focus.  The SLR digital cameras with the features I liked were expensive, as well as being large and bulky.  On the other hand, I liked the idea of a pocket camera, since I figure I would be more likely to carry it with me and use it more often.  What I ended up with was somewhat of a compromise:  the Olympus C3000z.  Great little camera for the price.  Although the lens is not removable, there are aftermarket lenses that attach over the lens, aka: teleconvertors.  It can also use an external flash.  So far, it has done a great job of taking pictures, but I am still in a learning curve with all of the features.

The Oly 3000 has both a USB and a serial port for downloading pictures.  The USB port is many times faster than the serial port.  I have a 64 meg smartmedia card, and several 16 meg cards as well.  I found it was much easier and versatile to have a USB film reader to download the cards to my computer or laptop.  The one I bought is a Lexar that can handle both Smartmedia and CompactFlash.  I also picked up an Iomega Click drive for cameras, for only about $40 from Egghead.  It fits in a pocket, runs on self contained batteries and can transfer pictures from Smartmedia or CompactFlash memory cards to a small 40 meg Clik disk.  (It only works with 16 meg SM cards or smaller, however).  At home, the drive sits in a charging cradle connected to a computer and can download the images from the Clik disk.

For a printer, I started out with an HP 694.  Not bad, but the resolution was not that great.  I later bought an HP Office Pro 1170, bought from Egghead.Com online auction, that I use for scanning and printing pictures.  The scanner is not bad, although it could be higher resolution (not usually a problem).  It does a great job as a printer and a copier, and was cheap enough.  I had the best luck printing photos with the HP Photo-Quality Inkjet paper.  My latest purchase was an HP1220c printer that does an EXCELLENT job printing pictures, and can also handle 13x19 inch paper.  The 1220 uses basically the same technology as the HP952 printer which sells for less than $200 and one I highly recommend to anyone wanting to print photos.  The only problem with the 1220 and the 952 is the time it takes to print.  For an 8x10 photo, it might take 15 minutes to print one page.  I think most of this time is spent by the PhotoRet printer driver (as much as 10 minutes) just analyzing the picture.

Although the 1170 scanner was not bad, I later bought an HP Photosmart S20 for scanning photos and negatives.  It does a great job scanning old negatives.  I also have an HP Scanjet 3300 which costs much less and does a better job than the 1170 scanning pictures.  Back to top


Aquariums

I became interested in aquariums a few years ago.  I presently have a 15 and a 29 gallon tanks. I have mostly South American fish, Red-eye Tetras, Neon Tetras, Black Neons, Rummy Nosed Tetras, a Corydoras, and a couple of Zebra Danios (India).  The water at my house is well-water and is very hard, which would be good for African Cichlids, but not good for Tetras.  I haul water from where I work, at least for the time being.  I'm looking into getting a reverse-osmosis filter for the house.

I had a hard time getting the first tank healthy. The tank just would not go through a nitrogen cycle, even after three months. I finally got a live bacteria culture from a very helpful aquarium store (Aquarium Outfitters) and almost instantly the tank cycled. After that, I went through several stages of different algae problems, beard algae, brown algae, and finally green algae. I introduced some live plants to try to compete with the green algae. There were some snails riding along with the plants, however. After a while, though, everything reached an equilibrium and all I have to do is a 20% water change every month.  The snails keep the algae in check and keep the glass clean -- I hardly have to scrape the glass anymore.

I ended up replacing the cheap heaters with Tronic heaters.  The cheap bimetallic thermostat heaters would not do a good job regulating the temperature, and are prone to having the contacts weld shut which will kill fish.  It is well worth the money to buy fully submersible heaters with electronic thermostats.   Back to top