Time’s passing rubs itself in one’s face in all sorts of ways. This morning it was the brats’ show of “appreciation” after I built a little foam/mat house for them in the basement. They moved in right away and dumped a bucketful of toys.

Since this house was larger than usual, I was able to squish in and see what was going on. I told them them about the times long ago when I and my brothers played with cardboard forts on an apartment balcony, shooting waterguns in the summer. But not for long.

Go away please.
Because you’re too old.
This is for kids only. Two kids. Zero adults.
(moping, withdraws)

Posted Tue Feb 2 07:29:00 2010 Tags:

Stuart, aged 3.1, noted today that he has a “funny looking” body part, right there below his nose. We looked at it really close, and determined that yes, he has a funny philtrum.

Posted Sun Feb 7 20:56:00 2010 Tags:

This is making me want to watch TV again, just a little bit.

Posted Mon Feb 8 18:55:00 2010 Tags:

Today was unusual. Due to no fault of my own, I was a hero five separate times.

1) taking a hangar mate for spontaneous evening flight in GXRP

2) winning a raffle at elementary school’s movie night to have a comfy couch, so my family could sit there instead of on comfy mats on the gym floor

3) winning another raffle at same event, closely guessing the number of chocolate kisses inside bottle

4) sharing said chocolate kisses with every kid in the movie night event – 30ish young ‘uns

5) giving audio-visual technical advice to the school staff to bypass crappy wires and allow the movie to proceed with sound

Such run of public luck is unlikely to reappear, but I promise I will advertise only better ones in the future.

Posted Fri Feb 12 20:59:00 2010 Tags:

Yesterday, a brief flight from Buffalo, NY, to Toronto had an excess of drama. Even music from the intercom — sesame street silly songs — was not funny.

It was to be a very short flight – less than half an hour, but bumpy due to gusty winds and cumulus clouds. The American and Canadian weather forecasts overlapped the area, and both indicated the possibility of icing, though none of the terminal (airport-specific) messages mentioned it. With GXRP’s deicing, I was not concerned.

Right after takeoff and climb to our 4000ft cruising altitude, Buffalo’s controllers started telling me about icing in my area. Thanks, it’s pretty light so far, we’re OK for now. They told us about another airplane just a little above us that was clear of the clouds & ice, and that we could climb up there. Thanks, we’re still OK. They told us where the cloud tops were, just in case. Thanks.

Well, after ten minutes, the icing became officially moderate, in the sense that GXRP’s deicing systems were fully needed to keep up with the rate of collection. It was time to get out, so I asked ATC for a climb. They immediately approved, and I immediately pitched up to get there. Despite the extra drag from little bits of sticky ice that the deice boots left behind, and the reduced thrust from alternate-air-fed engines, GXRP obediently but reluctantly began climbing.

About twenty seconds later, my calm demeanor was shaken when the airspeed gauge indicated that we were slowing down. Whoa, dude, am I pulling on the yoke too hard? Something up with the engines? Too much ice on the wings? I pushed the nose over right away, being rather attached to airspeed (and being cognizant of the lessons of Colgan 3407). We leveled off; engines sounded fine, all felt OK, all looked OK, except for …. still falling airspeed. A nice, steady, decreasing airspeed.

No, not nice at all. About fifteen seconds later, the indicated airspeed fell below the point at which, if “indicated” equaled “actual” airspeed, we’d stop flying. Then it went to zero. But flying we were. So it was an indication problem.

My voice must have briefly gone up about an octave, telling ATC that our pitot system appears to have iced up, and that we’d need to descend instead of climbing to leave the ice. They accommodated with an immediate re-clearance to 3000ft, just about the bottom of the clouds. I let GXRP down with a great deal of focus on all the instrumentation, including GPS-measured altitudes, not relying on the altimeter (which normally is also connected to the pitot tube).

The airplane continued to fly fine. At least it was as fine as bumpy winds and cold wet clouds would let it. We kept on ridding the wings of ice and maintaining control; after a reminder from ATC, we switched to a proper instrument approach into CYTZ; we kept talking with ATC to tell them what we knew of the problem. The situation did not escalate.

Our landing at the Toronto Island was almost routine. The airspeed gauge vaguely nudged a bit up and down, so I ignored it and judged our speed by power and ground speed. The altimeter stayed working (even without the emergency “alternate static source” being activated), and we cross-checked with the GPS throughout. We landed without flaps (worried about possible tail ice), but due to the strong ground winds, it worked out like a routine – even short – landing.

After shutting down, we walked around the plane. There was about an inch of mixed ice here and there, mostly on the unprotected surfaces (where they are tolerable in such quantities). And the pitot tube? Sure enough, it sported a cute little ice tutu. Apparently our pitot tube heater failed.

Had I accepted the Buffalo controllers’ advice at the beginning, and climbed above the clouds, there would have been less ice on the plane. On the other hand, a bunch more would have been collected later on, during descent on the approach into Toronto, when the airspeed indicator failure might have been even more distracting. I will take moderate icing more seriously in the future, and will make pitot heater checking part of the pre-flight walkaround. It would even make sense to check in-flight serviceability, except that one can’t see or feel the pitot tube in flight. So one’s stuck with indirect means such as toggling the switch while looking for the 100 Watt difference in power consumption on the electrical gauges.

UPDATE: upon further reflection, the ‘original sin’ in this chain of events is excessive confidence in the degree of robustness / redundancy of this aircraft. At great expense, is doubly redundant in certain essentials: the engines and their accessories. But it is not redundant in many other aspects (e.g., deicing systems) that can also become necessary in adverse conditions. Therefore, voluntarily flying in adverse conditions that depend on these non-redundant systems is tantamount to accepting higher-than-necessary risk.

Ah, the joys of little airplanes. Still beats the alternatives.

Posted Mon Feb 15 19:11:00 2010 Tags:

I am a recent customer of Flashpass, a little software package to partially automate the US Customs data reporting necessary to fly to/from the USA in private aircraft. Flashpass is basically an XML editor that assembles all the personal information required by the USA government: passport numbers, full names, birthdates, home and away addresses, trip dates.

Now comes from the same outfit an online version of the tool, where a web browser is the client. The application and the all above data is presumably stored elsewhere. On the lobo-labs computers. In Mexico.

What could possibly go wrong?

Posted Wed Feb 17 17:11:00 2010 Tags:

Consider a prized camera, being borrowed by a 3 year-old for some unsupervised roving photography all around the house. (Like his brother, he’s been self-sufficient on computers and cameras since about age 2.5, so this is not unusual here.) Listen for the shutter clicks all around as the brat roams. Relax and get back to work. An hour later, notice the camera, its job now finished, sitting someplace. Note with horror how its lens cap has gone missing.

What would you do?

1) Interrogate offspring for the whereabouts of the little plastic thingie.
2) Look for it yourself.
3) Review the saved photos on the camera.

The winning option was #3 in the case of this morning. During his expedition, Stuart recorded the following picture, showing a black circle lying near some rags. The rags were distinctive enough for me to walk straight there and find the lens cap.

Posted Tue Feb 23 20:35:00 2010 Tags:

The family went on a brief swimming outing this afternoon to shake our fist at winter. One of the boys and I took a moment to look at the renovation in progress at the recreation centre. Two dozen steel columns have been erected and bolted to the concrete foundations for the new hockey arena. The sight of the mighty machines lifting those parts always swells the heart of a technical person.

As we were watching, two middle-aged ladies came out of the open part of the building. One took a big puff of her cigarette, and said aloud: “Wow, look at all those long columns, standing up so straight. It makes me so excited just looking at them.”

I said only “There’s a joke there, but I’m not saying a single word.” with as straight a face as possible, and headed into the building.

Behind me, the lady cracked up. She was still laughing out loud when we got out of aural range.

Posted Fri Feb 26 18:38:00 2010 Tags:

30 minutes of Reagan from 1964. No teleprompter. Multiply his numbers by 5-10, and he’d be right on today.

Posted Sat Feb 27 11:25:00 2010 Tags:

A broken piece of the household forced us to entertain a visiting salesperson. It went avoidably badly.

While naming names would be unkind, I’ll leave it with a list of to-do and not-to-do’s for the consideration of future sales folks we encounter. Not that they’d read this ahead of time, but let’s
just imagine.

  1. If your company is currently too busy to take on new business, under no circumstances ignore a new client’s interest. Make contact, apologize, and perhaps next time it will work out.
  2. Do be sensitive to a prospective client not wanting to sit through a thirty-minute multimedia presentation on how great the company thinks it is.
  3. If offering an instant price quote, offer more than three days of thinking time to shop around.
  4. If offering a price quote, offer to print it so that there is a legal offer on the table, rather than on a fleeting computer screen.
  5. If refusing to print estimate dollars/terms, don’t “explain” that this is because the quote generation software is proprietary, and the “IT Department” does not let it leave the custody of the sales folks. As if that were requested.
  6. If a customer says that they will need a little while to gather extra information to evaluate a quote/project, do not harass them by repeatedly interrogating them about where exactly they intend to get that information.
  7. If there is a possibility of perception of conflict of interest, such as if presenting oneself as a fair sole reviewer of the entire market, acknowledge the conflict outright, do not pretend it does not exist.
  1. Do not say goodbyes with “I hope to hear from you soon. But I’m pretty sure I won’t.” That is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Just thinkin’. Duh.

Posted Sun Feb 28 22:16:00 2010 Tags: