June 2011


Erin and I built a guitar amp last night.  She was really excited.

I can’t remember when she first expressed the interest but long ago she found a copy of my Make magazine with an article about how to make a guitar amp and put it inside a Ritz cracker box just to make it a little funky.  Lately she reminded me that she wanted to do that and that it should be now.

Well parts are cheap so we made a list and went to Radio Shack to stock up.  Neither of us had ever used a proto board before but it seemed easy enough so we jumped in.  Unfortunately, Evan’s room (that is, my laboratory) is devoid of furniture so we had to just do all work on the floor.  Things get pretty scattered this way but it does work.  I don’t look forward to vacuuming though what with all the little spicules of wire and solder in the carpet.

Anyway, we had to spread the work over two evenings and had some problems but they were the sorts of things that always happen when building stuff.  After a few minutes of frustrating diagnostics it came to life.  She really wanted something to plug her iPod into but I went forward with the guitar amp plan thinking that we could adapt it after we got it working and this was indeed the case.  We soon got it working with an iPod and it was surprisingly loud.  Because it’s a guitar amp, it has a control for how much distortion gets introduced so this has to be turned down for iPod use.

Now all we have to do is put it in a box.  She was too excited not to go immediately to WalMart to search for the perfect cracker box.  It was about my bedtime but we went anyway.  Walmart is not the best place to search for such things – I’m thinking Whole Foods might have a more interesting selection of packages that could be repurposed into a guitar amp but she found one that would do.

I wouldn’t be surprised if she goes ahead without me and finishes it up which would be fine of course.  I think the pots are wired backwards so that to increase the volume you turn the knob backwards but she will not care about this.

It’s fun to build stuff and it’s even more fun to build stuff with like-minded people.  I’m glad I got a chance to do this with her before she heads off to college because we’ll probably never have another chance like this.  My time with her feels like it’s running out.  I’m sure that there’s more value to this shared experience than simply creating a cheap guitar amp but who knows what that will be?  I only know we both had fun.

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After spending a week in North Carolina, Melissa decided we needed another vacation.  Actually, she just wanted to do something fun with Erin.  Erin is getting ready to leave the nest in August and Mel wants to make sure her last few weeks with us are not boring.

So we went to Oklahoma City.  That was the quickest thing she could come up with on two days notice when we realized that Erin had Saturday off work but her plans to go to the lake with friends fizzled.

The whole goal was to get away and lay out at a motel pool but we did some other stuff.  On Friday night, we saw the late show of Cars 2 at the theater down in bricktown which was pretty fun.  Bricktown is a nice effort at downtown revitalization but has rather a lot of bars and such for my taste.  I am especially put off by the presence of Hooters and “Coyote Ugly”.  I just want to go ask those girls dancing up on the bar “so what do you tell your grandmother that you do for a living?”  Not classy at all. On the positive side, there are not a lot of panhandlers wandering around like there are in many cities. One thing we did not have time for is the Banjo Museum.

On Saturday morning we went back to Bricktown to ride the boats up and down the canal and have lunch.  It has turned off extremely hot for the past week and so it was pretty brutal but it’s always cool in the restaurants.  We headed back to the hotel for spent a large segment of time swimming.  That is to say that I was swimming while Mel and Erin laid out in the sun. I have never enjoyed laying out in the sun and so I’m usually in the water.  I don’t like being hot either so again, the water is my friend. 

We then went to see “Oliver!” at the big music hall downtown which was fun.  Erin noticed a name in the cast list and with a reading of the playbill and a confirmation via text message we discovered that it was the big sister of Erin’s friend from high school.  That’s always cool.  We toyed with the idea of looking her up afterwards but the crowd at the stage door was pretty big.  We headed on back to the hotel. 

Erin had to go to work at 12:30 Sunday so we headed home pretty early.  It was a quick whirlwind weekend but hopefully Erin found it pleasant.  I long ago decided that I did not want a pool at my house because I have heard a great deal from friends and coworkers about how much trouble they are to maintain.  Mel is starting to second-guess that decision since Erin often goes to friends homes to do stuff in and around their pools; Mel would like to be that house where the kids come to hang out.  But Erin does not dislike our house so we’re probably just feeling a bit of the empty nest syndrome. 

I suspect there will be other fun things as the summer progresses and Erin’s departure for college gets closer.

This is probably a good place to record the fact that my orrery project made the home page of TheWoodWhisperer.com lately.  It was in the section called “viewer project”.  There was a link to the articles here and my page count went from a dozen or so per day to about 800 per day for two days.

That’s pretty gratifying.

It’s not there any more; they get rotated out about every four days but it can still be found by digging into the archives.

Cool.

At my work, we operate three airplanes of the ‘business jet’ size.  They probably fly at about the same speed as an airliner although they fly a bit higher.  We frequently go to the west coast and to get there takes about 2.5 hours (based on the last flight).  I’ve flown on our planes several times but usually fly commercially. 

Let’s compare that with how long it takes to go that far on an airliner.  The last time I had to go to LAX, I had to show up at the local airport at the crack of dawn (to get through security in time) and by the time we got our baggage at LA, it was after lunch.  What with the time zone corrections, it effectively took me six hours.  But we weren’t actually going to LA; we were meeting up with our own aircraft someplace else which took another two hours to drive to so while our plane made the trip in a little less than three hours, it took me about eight hours on commercial airliners and cars.  Our plane flew from Tulsa directly to its final destination in central California.  I flew from Tulsa to Dallas/Fort Worth to Los Angeles and drove from there.

And that is why I don’t consider air travel if I can drive it in a day.

I have enough frequent flyer miles to get Melissa and me a round trip to anywhere in the lower 48 but these have restrictions.  The best I could come up with was a trip that will involve three legs (two plane changes) and traveling at the ass-crack of dawn both times. 

During my last visit to an aerospace museum they had a display of airline travel from the early ‘60s which featured young attractive stewardesses, actual glassware, actual metal eating utensils, good food, plenty of leg room, and well dressed passengers.  During my last flight I had none of the aforementioned things plus I had to endure a naked scanner (optional testicle-grope for those who don’t like scanners).  I never saw the cockpit because the pilots were locked into it behind a reinforced door.  They’ve gotten rid of in-flight snacks, blankets, and pillows. That’s when it hit me:

Air travel has become exactly like traveling on a prison bus.

So I guess I’ll still fly if I have to go to DC or New York where having a car would be a real pain; otherwise, I will drive. Flying your own plane would sure be nice.  They go directly to wherever they want whenever they want and the fuel stations treat you like a king.  (I must admit that the reason they treat us like kings is that we are buying tens of thousands of dollars worth of fuel.  If you were flying a little puddle jumper you’d probably be treated like you are at any old gas station.) Plus, if there are any inspections by government officials such as if you cross over into Canada, they are always really nice and it’s much less hassle than when there is a line of hundreds of people. 

If you can afford it, I highly recommend buying or chartering your own plane.  Unfortunately, I cannot do that.

Just got back from Moby’s funeral.  I guess it was well done as funerals go.  It was at the unitarian church so it wasn’t the usual emotional manipulation; the pastor tried to keep it real and inject some humor.  Then as we all filed out a celtic folk band struck up “I’ll fly away” with the encouragement for everybody to sing.  That was a good way to finish up.

I wasn’t sure what to expect at the unitarian church since there is by definition no published doctrine but it seemed totally normal to me. 

I’ll see you later Moby.  Save me a seat and say Hi to my Mom and Dad for me.

I got my first father’s day gift this weekend that was not something that Melissa prompted the kids to do.  Erin obviously struggled with it for awhile before just asking me what I wanted.  She would have just chosen something from my amazon wishlist but I tend to use that as a general catch-all of books that I’d like to check out from the library at some point.  So she begged off – some of them were pretty technical and expensive. But to her credit, she went into the Brookstone store and found a small RC helicopter that she thought would suffice.  Which it did!  Who doesn’t like an RC helicopter?

Evan was in a similar quandary although I’m not sure to what extent they communicated about this.  It would be like any guy to overlook father’s day and only be reminded of it by some female in the family.  I do know that his weekend plans were overshadowed by his trip to see his GF over in Branson.  With that in place, all I got was a phone call on his way home and the promise of a card… sometime.  I understand though.  He paid for it in the sense that her entire family was doing father’s day stuff and he got swept up into that and didn’t have all that much time to hang out with her.  Next time perhaps he’ll look at the calendar before making any weekend plans.

For years, Melissa would take them to a local place where they could paint a small plaster figurine and I still have all these saved away.  They fill a large storage box.  Then I received cards for a long while.  Now apparently, they are self-sufficiently thinking of gifts although I suspect they only think of it whenever they see an ad on TV.  That’s how I always was.

I’m touched though.  I enjoy all these sorts of things.  This weekend I guess Mel and I were just of a mind to recover from the past two months of frantic activity: graduation, prom, vacation, etc.  Erin was off to an OSU fun-thing to get her pumped up for college and we did nothing. NOTHING!  I woke up on Saturday morning and started watching movies (watching all the Harry Potter movies in anticipation of the last movie coming out) and did not stop until bedtime.  I only left the house for about 20 minutes to run to WalMart and buy ice cream and another movie.  As derelict as that is, we did the same thing on Sunday although we did actually leave the house to watch the latest Pirates of the Caribbean movie in a theater and have lunch at a restaurant.  Erin got home late in the afternoon and we went out to dinner but other than that, it was all TV, all the time.

Erin had also borrowed the first season of Big Bang Theory from a friend and I tried to watch the entire thing before she had to return it.  I definitely relate to all the nerdy guys. 

So it was a good weekend.  But I can’t do that again.  I’ve got to get up and accomplish something.

Most of the time when you travel it works just like it should.  You get on the plane and you get off it at your destination and much time is saved.  But every so often, you get taken for a day-long hell ride. 

But we made it home so there’s that.

I originally booked travel that had us leaving RDU at 7:30 am and stopping in Washington DC for six hours.  I thought this was a silly arrangement and was on the verge of calling the airline about it but Melissa stopped me by saying that we could take a cab over to one of the Smithsonian museums and spend the time that way.  That seemed to me an excellent idea so I left the itinerary alone.  We dutifully got up at around 5:00am to allow ourselves enough time to pack and get to the airport in time.

As we were driving up to the airport, I got a text message from the airline: “your flight has been cancelled”.  This was followed very quickly by another one saying “you’ve been rebooked – everything’s OK.”  Unfortunately, the new flight was five hours in the future.  Well, Tom and Darla had stuff to do and we didn’t want to just go back to their house so we stayed at the airport.  Mel and I found a quiet corner to sit down in and have a nap and read books.  It wasn’t bad at all.  I read using the Kindle app for my phone and even found a convenient power outlet to top off my battery.

During that time, we noticed some Marines and quickly found out that they were an honor guard who were escorting the casket of one of their fallen comrades.  This was a very sobering experience. They were allowed outside to the aircraft and we watched in silence and respect as they moved the remains from the baggage cart to the aircraft with the precision and salutes that only Marines can accomplish.  Everyone in the departure lounge stood in silence for the entire thing.

We went to our departure gate and began to notice that the departure time was changing and getting further and further into the future.  It changed repeatedly until we barely had time to make it to Washington in order to catch our flight to Chicago and from there to Tulsa.  When it finally arrived, the pilot told us the story:  they had originally loaded too much fuel and were not allowed to take off while that heavy.  There was no truck at that airport that could pump the fuel out so they sat on the tarmac for hours idling the engines until enough was burned.

Imagine the irony when we took off for Chicago only to be put in a holding pattern because of delays in Chicago.  We went in circles so long that we had to divert to Fort Wayne, Indiana in order to refuel.  We were never told except in haste by a gate agent later but apparently there had been some bad weather earlier in the day at Chicago and the airport had been closed for a few hours.  This had also happened a day or so previously so the schedule was in a shambles.  We took off but didn’t land until much later and missed our connecting flight.

We discovered in Chicago that the whole place was crammed with thousands of stranded passengers milling about.  The pilot had told us that we should see the gate agent when we arrived and everything would be taken care of.  NEVER BELIEVE ANYBODY WHO SAYS THIS! There were hundreds of people in the American Eagle noisy, bus-station-like terminal, and only a very few harried agents.  We got the attention of one of them and proceeded to beg for help.  In retrospect the thing to do would have been to get on the cell phone and call the airline for help.  Anyway, he could not offer us any flights to DFW, Tulsa, or Oklahoma City and offered the opinion that all hotels were similarly booked.  I can’t believe that a city the size of Chicago would not have any hotel rooms for rent but I can imagine a long cab ride to some of them.  At any rate, we asked to be sent to Fayetteville, AR and apparently nobody had thought of that before.  Nobody was going there so we chose to go.  Melissa handled this while I got on the phone to call a rental car company.  I was by this time down to a meager few electricity molecules in my battery since the iPhone is legendary for having stupidly short batter life.  I went in search of an outlet. 

Power outlets are in short supply during such times.  The entire airport was crammed with milling people much like a stadium during a major football game or an arena after a concert.  Except these people are all exhausted and pissed and looking for power outlets.  I found one power outlet behind a newsstand kiosk.  I wasn’t supposed to be there and in fact the cashier seemed alarmed by my expedition but I gave her a look that said I meant business about charging my phone and as soon as she realized that I wasn’t going to unplug her cash register she left me alone.  Wedged myself between the wall and the back of the kiosk, rigged my earbuds, and called to rent us a car although I had to call five agencies before I found one that could help me.  Thanks Dollar/Thrifty! I was perhaps a bit too tired to realize that the $89 figure that I was given was not for the entire rental – it was just the one-way drop off fee.  The total came to closer to $200.  Ouch!  But it didn’t matter; I was desperate not to sleep on the airport floors.

I will say that in every crowd of annoyed, surly people there will always be a few who are in a good mood in spite of it all.  While waiting, I stood next to a family from India with two little girls who were having the time of their lives.  The parents looked tired but the kids were in fine form.  It gave me hope.

There was again a long delay but we finally got aboard.  It was 10:00 pm or so and we had been up since around 4:00 (correcting for time zones).  We were not in the best of moods and a lesser couple would have begun to comment upon each other’s parentage but we managed to remain fairly civil.  As soon as we were seated, Mel fell asleep and although I never did, I did get some rest.  We landed in Fayetteville without incident leaving all those thousands of people stretched out on the floor in O’Hare to their fates.

Our luggage was unfortunately left in Chicago.  Too much was going on to bother with two suitcases bound for Tulsa. 

We located our rental car and headed out on our two-hour drive home.  The airport is actually way away from Fayetteville and is on the way to Tulsa so our drive was reduced to about 1.5 hours which was fortunate.  I have been told that it is quite nice but it just looks like an outlet mall to me.  I found nothing special about it but perhaps it was my extreme fatigue that soured my opinion. We made it back to the Tulsa airport at around 2:30 am and it had long been closed.  The only human I could see was a guy waxing the floors by the front doors. I left the keys in the drop box without filling the tank – I just didn’t have it in me to spend any more time traveling.  We found our car and staggered (literally) back into the house at 3:00 am, 23 hours after we had woken up.

It was a poor way to end a vacation since I tend to fixate on these sorts of things but I’m trying to remember what a good time we had all the previous week.  This was just one day.  I suppose the airline could not control the weather in Chicago (although I question the wisdom of putting an airline hub there where the flying weather is so often bad) but I do question the wisdom of overfilling a fuel tank and then not being able to un-fill it.  I also question the reason for our initial cancellation.  I suspect that the flight was not full enough and in the interest of profits, they just cancelled the whole thing and inconvenienced us but I have no evidence of that.  Still, we’re home. 

Our luggage was located during the night and they promised to bring it by the house sometime in the afternoon and so everything is back to the way it was. 

When I returned to work I asked one of our pilots about all this.  He confirmed that there were a series of thunderstorms around Illinois and that had played hell with flight times all over the country.  One of our pilots used to fly for a commuter airline and was very sympathetic.  The fuel thing is interesting:  apparently one is not allowed to pump fuel from a truck and then pump it back out unless you can guarantee that that same fuel will be put back into that same aircraft.  It goes back to traceability of things in the event of an accident. At the larger airports, they can devote fuel storage that way but at a small ‘spoke’ airport they may only have one or two fuel trucks and you can’t risk getting a possible contaminant from one airplane into another.  But I still claim that the cancellation was due to economic reasons.

Anyway.  We’re home and I shall now start work on the photographs.

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