The Hoopty DTV Antenna

If someone ever wanted to know what lengths I would go to in order to get high def TV programming, this is it.  With a large helping of PVC pipe, fittings, caps, a half mile of coax, an indoor FM antenna, a UHF/VHF combiner, some bolts, wing nuts, washers and a bonafide real antenna (DB2) I have produced this monster eyesore on my patio deck.


It points toward Sutro Tower where most of the Bay Area’s HDTV transmission antennas are located and it doesn’t do half bad, considering I’m more than 50 miles away.  It’s reasonably weatherproof and it doesn’t cost a fortune (at least not yet).  It picks up almost all the stations I care about and feeds them to my DirecTV HR20 and Windows Vista Media Center PC.  It is even reasonably wind-proof, as evidenced by recent 40+ MPH winds. 

In short, it seems to work pretty well even if it is sad to look at.

Grape bar goodness

Since I always seem to be writing about flying, I thought that I’d deliberately throw in one post that has nothing to do with that.  I have determined that my life is not complete without a Dreyer’s natural grape fruit bar.  Sure, I’ve written about it before, but I now now that I really badly need to have a box of these goodies in the freezer at all times.

It is made of grapes, so it has to be healthy, right?

More Power is Always Good

I’ve recently flown a version of the Citabria with nearly 180 horsepower.  The standard version I fly is down around 115.  The extra bump doesn’t seem like much on paper, but man, it really gets the plane moving in a hurry.  I can climb far faster than I’m used to, stay at altitude, and cruise at max speed no matter what.  And before you ask, no it doesn’t burn much more avgas than the standard version.

The downsides of this new plane are: it’s more expensive to rent and I am now “behind the airplane” a lot more than I used to be.  More things for me to learn and aware of on the flights around the area, I suppose.

The Earthquake

I can now say that I’ve fully lived through an earthquake.  This week a 5.6 magnitude trembler rolled, quite literally, through the house at around 8pm.  Furniture moved, things swayed, and dishes clanked.  And it was all over in about 30 seconds.  I’ve certainly been through earthquakes before, but strangely never at home and not one this big.

Nothing was ruined and only a few items fell out of place.  Best of all there wasn’t a sense of real panic or desperation, just a feeling that something was going bonkers and that I should probably find a spot where things won’t fall on my head to ride it out.  I certainly want to acquire some safety gear and supplies now, though.

AT&T / Cingular: The Final Insult

Today, as if things weren’t just swell enough (said with tongue firmly in cheek) AT&T ships me a bill for cellular service that took place in September. Funny how they conveniently forgot that I canceled that service on September 3rd.  Funnier still, seeing as because their deliberate degrading of the wireless network knocked me completely offline for the entire month of August and most of July.

The sad part is that they wanted another $40 just to part company with them, even though I had already done all the paperwork at the store back on September 3rd. After a lot of negotiation they grudgingly “decided” to offer me a refund.  They wanted to know if there was anything else they could do for me at the end of the call…. and I sat wondering “where’s my working phone service and credit for many years of being a loyal customer?”

Customer  service, indeed.

Out of sight, flying night, and rolling right

That’s my sad slug for flying under simulated instrument conditions, night time flying, and doing recoveries from unusual attitudes.  When combined, these three activities equal some serious fright (yes, it’s a sad pun, but deal with it).

Simulated instrument flying is flying around with a “hood” or view limiting device on your head so that you can only see the instruments in the cockpit.  That leaves me with no idea where I am and following the directions barked out by the CFI behind me.  It is a bit disorienting to fly this way as I feel lost and a bit off kilter the entire time, but it is to remind me not to ever fly into clouds or other instrument-like conditions.

Next up is night flying.  This is a bit similar to the instrument flying, but you can kind of see lights and the outlines of stuff on the ground.  The challenge is, at least in the Bay Area, that there are these pesky mountains that get in the way of your airplane.  So it is very easy to fly into one (or a cloud) at night.  And landing is a bit of a trip, also, since it involves heading for a dark spot in a town with only a few lights around the edges of the runway with no real depth perception.

Finally we have recoveries from unusual attitudes.  It is exactly what it sounds like:  the plane gets into some state where it is climbing, banking, stalling, or falling in a way that it shouldn’t, and then I have to do the right things to get it out of this condition.  But the way you get into this sad state is the kicker:  I am asked to close my eyes, take my hands and feet off the controls, and put my head down towards the floor.  The instructor puts the plane through some violent maneuvers  and then says “look up” and I have to fix it.  All the while, my brain and inner ears are telling me that things aren’t what they appear to be and I have to learn to trust the instruments in front of me and not just what I’m feeling.

This training, along with the cross country trips, supposedly moves me closer to the final testing and sign off for a private pilots license.  Let’s just see if I can make it through the next few recoveries without losing my lunch.

Enough Already! Calm Down Apple Fanboys

I realized today, for about the hundredth time, that there is just way too much hype, marketing, and slickness and not enough reality around Apple and its products (and storied product launches).  I mean for crying out loud, this is a computer company that is at 5% world wide market share.  5%!   To put that into perspective, how much do you care about Via’s CPU’s (about 1% share), SiS’s GPU’s (about 3% share), or Polaroid’s HDTV’s (about 4% share).  These are all examples of others who play third fiddle in their respective markets, just like Apple does in the PC market.

Since the launch of the iPod and now the iPhone, people suddenly have this unrealistic expectation that the 5% really doesn’t matter, and that whenever any new product arrives (Apple TV or Mac Mini, anyone?) it is the greatest thing ever created.  Today is no exception, with a line refresh of the iPod products being heralded as practically the second coming of the technology universe.  I just don’t get it, and perhaps I never will.

Some people will call me an Apple hater, and to an extent, that’s fair.  But when your sole mass-market contribution to modern society is a portable music player and bloated music software client, can I help but be anything other than cynical?  I can applaud Steve Jobs for his tight, consumer focused marketing and unbelievable press “reality distortion field”, but at the same time I feel sorry for those innovators who work around him, who are invariably cast aside, ideas crushed, as he marches ahead with his deity-like world view.

PT Cruiser; Verdict: it sucks

I really should just end a review on the title, as that says it all. I was rented one of the little PT Cruiser’s today and I honestly don’t know who would want to own one. Window controls on the center console? Terrible ergonomics where you have to lean into the passenger seat to change the stereo? A completely unusable adjustment for the seat height and steering wheel positions? And don’t even get me started on the sadness that is the engine (I call it the little engine that can’t, but wishes it could).

Granted, all of this is just from the drive over from DIA to the hotel in downtown Denver, CO. Maybe I missed something earth shattering that would have made me love this vehicle. But if you never get a second chance at a first impression, I’m calling this first experience with the PT Cruiser completely busted. It is, to paraphrase a friend and co-worker “utter rubbish.” Now I understand why Europeans (especially the Brit’s) laugh at American made cars. So sad.

AT&T Sucks (and so I'm done with them)

I finally found the final straw, the thing that sent me over the edge and made me get rid of AT&T after so many years of suffering. AT&T (the wireless provider) decided that…

1. my phone no longer will work on their network

2. that my calling plan is not what they want to provide any longer

3. that the new plan they wish to offer should cost much more

4. that I should pay for both a new phone AND a two year contract for the privilege of keeping their company

This, then, would be the final chapter in the long and torrid tale that has been my business arrangement with AT&T (or Cingular, or AT&T Wireless, or Cellular One, take your pick). Rather than attempt to work with me on a better plan, the ability to remain month-to-month (as I have been for years), or to allow me to reduce to a lower plan without the two year commitment they flatly told me that it was their way or no way.

I took no way, and now for the first time in many, many years I am cell phone-less. While I press on with my search for a better phone and a more tolerant provider, I give you the latest incarnation of the AT&T logo to ponder over.

The Bourne Shakey Cam Express

I just finished going to the theater (what!?!) to see The Bourne Ultimatum with Steve, April, and Steve’s dad, and man does my head hurt afterwards.  Evidently the new “in thing” for movies is to shoot them hand held guerrilla style and make the moviegoer dizzy or sick.  Another great example of this technique shown this summer was Transformers, a Michael Bay epic that was full of robot vs robot fighting (yay!) that would have looked great, if only the camera would have been still for more than 3 seconds.

While this is the 3rd and last in the series of movies, it seems to be the best at keeping action front and center.  I don’t think anyone could accuse the movie of not “moving along” swiftly, but in the rush to answer questions and keep the action going a lot of people exited the theater looking for some aspirin.  I feel bad for the actors in this flick, as they probably did a great job of their craft if only we could have seen it.