This is the (I imagine) last website of Bob Portnell (that's me!). Please find my latest journal notices and useful files from my past and present using the tabs (or menu, if your mobile browser gives it to you that way).
Bob is a technical writer living in Sparks, Nevada. Bob is also a father, husband, disciple, and some other things. His internet presence beyond this website is not large. He promises to not talk about himself in third person overmuch.
Mail? Bob's nvdaydreamer address in Google's mail service where he asks you to send mail. If you send mail. You probably don't.
Meta? Yes, but not much. Find me under my proper first and last namem at either Facebook or Messenger. Invite me to be your friend, and if I know you I'll probably reciprocate. Fill my feed with FB game spam or rude politics, and I'll mute the source and unfollow (or maybe even unfriend) you.
Spacemodeling is what the rest of the world calls model rocketry, and I've been doing it since 1975 off-and-on. My building skills are basic but sound. I have eccentric launch equipment and fantasies about building more. My models are mostly small and light, with low-power motors, and I build with the fewest and simplest (and often cheapest) techniques. But it's still rocket science. I've had lots of fun with the math and theory side of rockets, too, which is good when flying opportunities are rare. I have been a member of the National Association of Rocketry for a few years.
Model Rocket Safety Code
The bottom line on how to build and fly rockets safely and within the law. The official version is fine, but the inconsistencies in measuring units bother my professional technical writer sensibilities. Here's my edit with commentary track.
As a kid who was in elementary school during the prime of the Apollo missions, anything to do with space is prominent in my makeup. And yes, just "stargazing." Maybe someday I'll put more investment into it, but for now I'm content learning and discovering via naked eye or binoculars. I've had two telescopes that didn't get used, so probably no point trying that again.
After spending years as an over-prepared non-viewing nerd, I have stripped my practice down to the bare wood and built it up again. Minimum prep, quality resources, and more sky time, I hope.
The Stars: A new way to see them and Find the Constellations, classic books by H.A. Rey. These are pretty much all one needs, really, if you're ready to make allowances for their mid-20th-century-ness.
Star Wheel or Planisphere: I use this instead of the charts in the Rey books. It's more fun! Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and Sky & Telescope (S&T) magazine both publish DIY wheels. I use a really big one, although I've noticed one tragic mistake on it (not related to the star map).
For sun, moon, and planets, I use the S&T annual Skygazer's Almanac in poster size. Convenient that I live very close to 40 degrees North.
I have some other books and guides as well, but I figure those are the ones I need most.
I subscribe to S&T's monthly Sky Tour podcast and This Week's Sky at a Glance newspost for sky guiding. It's a blast taking the Sky Tour on the Star Wheel.
I've been crazy about dice since I was a toddler watching my grandmother play Yahtzee with her pals. I've designed and bought "ideal" sets. I've written many dice-rolling programs (see below). At this point in my life, I'm resolved that less is better. I currently have just over 210 dice total in the house (counting mine and the ones that stay with their games, but not my daughter's). For most people, that still sounds like a lot. For most gamers, that sounds like far too few.
Bob's Dice Fake Book
A booklet that shows how to do any common dice roll with true mathematical fidelity using only a d6 and a d20. There are two versions: one to print with booklet settings or one to view on portrait screens.
Dicepick Dice Rollers
Speaking of dice rollers, here are these two again. DicepickXR has positive dice on the right; DicepickXL has positive dice on the left.
Dicepick Manifesto, Brief Version: I like dice rollers, but I think most of them take us too far away from the physical and mental activities that make rolling real dice a meaningful and fun part of gaming. The Dicepick programs seek to preserve some of the "real dice" experience, while still providing useful info quickly.
The classic space war game by Marc Miller, most recently published by Steve Jackson Games (and out of print again). I've written an article on the Basics of Space Flight which I hope is useful for the novice interplanetary traveler.
Steve Jackson Games' card game of the fantasy gaming experience without the pesky roleplaying. I made a (legal-size) playmat! And a long time ago I made the one-page Flowchart. It's dated, but might still help you through the first few games.
This is a part demonstration Fudge build, part game-engine heartbreaker that I've been tinkering with for a while. It has now graduated to its own page in my website, as it represents current work. Plus, having its own URL will make it easier to find.
It has been suggested here and there from time to time that EZFudge should be given a fantasy setting. I've worked on that for a while and haven't yet made a magic system that retained an EZFudge vibe. I recommend Fantasy Fudge, the not-very-heavy fantasy rules included in the free Fudge SRD.
The first RPG I loved, and I'm over the moon to see it back in print and well-supported. Recent personal projects include making level-by-level maps of Tollenkar's Lair and the generic labyrinth poster.
TFT: Bob's Option Helper (0.0 MB PDF) — A quick reference making it easier to see the relationships between options and movement in TFT Legacy Edition. Designed to be folded into a two-sided half-page card. (Don't tell anyone, but what I like to do is pick the movement on the initiative step, and then pick a valid action. Sssh!)
TFT: Superhero (0.5 MB PDF) — House rules and design notes for how we played superheroes in the '80s using TFT Classic. Contrary to the article contents, I probably won't revise this for TFT Legacy Edition … but y'all can figure things out if you need to.
I love Risus so much, I stole ideas from it for EZFudge (below). And I'm (thrice) a member of the International Order of Risus, so I can completely testify to its utter grooviness. I've written a few rules tweaks and designed some variant character sheets. They're in the Risusiverse somewhere, along with many other, much cooler, things. Truckee Games is a publisher of amazing, sometimes disturbing, settings for Risus.
I spent many, many years immersed in GURPS, and I even managed to get published a time or two. I've been slowly rebuilding my library with just the GURPS books I liked best. I started with Second Edition, was pretty happy with Third Edition, and didn't object to Third Edition, Revised, but when the Compendium volumes came along I started feeling overwhelmed. Fourth Edition is a better game, but it still feels overwhelming to me.
GURPS Lite (3e) is a 0.4 MB PDF, "… the boiled-down 'essence' of GURPS: all the fundamental rules, but not the options and embellishments that often confuse new players." GURPS Lite (3e) is probably all the rules I want for playing GURPS, with the right balance between detail and inspiration, and kind of in-between Second Edition and Third Edition, Revised. It's free, at Warehouse 23 or from my library.
Of my writing for GURPS, the work I'm happiest with is Final Frontier (0.4 MB PDF), roleplaying rules for the Star Trek universe, rather minimalist by GURPS standards. Final Frontier requires GURPS Lite (3e) (see above). (I have no plans to update Final Frontier to GURPS Lite (4e).) Layout by Adam Jury!
Steffan O'Sullivan's roleplay game to be played outdoors. Here's my house rule to make Sherpa higher-is-better: For unopposed tasks, add the trait to the random number (and modifiers). The total must meet or beat 11. And here's my Character, Reference, and GM scene cards (0.1 MB PDF).
From 1998 to 2007 or so, I had the pleasure of working with the good folks of Microtactix, and I still think the PlainLabel Game System is a wonder and a joy: a unified set of rules and concepts that works for roleplaying, arena combat, and mass combat. (The print-and-play figures and scenery were pretty good, too. I liked using cards for weapons and equipment so much, I made it part of earlier versions of EZFudge.) Alas, the company was simultaneously ahead of its time in ways, behind the times in ways, and in all ways hopelessly underresourced. I was honored to serve as line editor or copy editor on the games. I also made a bunch of house rules and hosted other peoples' house rules at my site. Those files appear to be lost.
I love writing short, blog-like posts. Five hundred to a thousand words is a fun length, and I can get some good things said, or maybe interesting things, or maybe just drivel. I'm only human.
But 'blogging,' the activity of creating a weblog, building an audience and a brand, and trying to be important? Doesn't interest me at all. That's one reason I'm hand-coding this instead of resorting to pro-grade blogging tools.
In this journal will be: news about my life; brief reviews of things I want to review; revivals of old posts from prior blogs; and whatever else I feel like.
What won't be in this journal: politics and social issues. I have views on these, and they're the kinds of views that will attract heavy fire from both extremes (of whatever spectrum you name). I'd rather not. I may write a little about religion, but only in how I interact with it day-to-day. I am neither proselytizer nor crusader. I have far much to do as it is just trying to live right.
Comments can always be submitted to my Gmail account, but history tells me there's little I do here that people find deserving of comment.
Sat 30 Apr 2022 — Spinnerets
In which Bob reshapes his web cocoon …
There has been more website reorganization which no one but me would notice or care about. Basically I got tired and frustrated with my old flat file structure and gave it some more heirarchies so I'd know where to look for things and not bump into other things in the process.
As now mentioned in the library, I've been amusing myself by making level-by-level maps of the major TFT labyrinths. The "whole dungeon on one page" map is remarkably efficient for printing, but it's just a tangle in my head. Also, I have to think folks with color-blindness would find those maps challenging. I don't think my versions of the maps will get shared, SJGames being rather particular about re-use of their art. But it's been fun.
In the wake of the Elon Musk takeover, I was among the thousands and thousands who left Twitter. I'm still trying to work out how social media is of use to me. For instance, it's been nice to get the weather alert messages from the local weather service office. On the other hand, the launch news from SpaceX was just monotonous and not the same as watching a launch live, so I won't miss that. I'm staying on Meta Facebook and Meta Messenger (so far) and I've added Mastodon 'cause I like the cut of their jib. I'm even backing them on Patreon.
Back to RPGs. Clean-ups and tweaks to EZFudge are continuing. For no sane reason, I've revived my account at Rolz.org. For whatever reason, Rolz is the only online TTRPG venue that I don't find soul-crushing. The dice rooms are nifty and the personal and room wikis are handy. The table features are new and I'm still trying to get a grip on them. And I'm backing it on Patreon as well. Maybe I'll set up a real game with other humans some day.
Rocketry activities have been stalled for assorted reasons, some good, many not. I think I want to commit to myself to clear the build pile before the end of the year, which really means before the end of painting season in October. Yikes. After that? Might go even smaller. I taught FIDO about the MicroMaxx II motors, and d the tubes that use them. But if I go there, I really need to get a lighted magnifier and some "helping hands" for the shop desk.
Sun 17 Apr 2022 — Easter Sunday
Chocolate bilbies everywhere …
Lots of website news. I've moved all the files from the former cloud storage to the local site storage. So the site behaves a little more like a site would expect to, plus I think I'll get some search-engine benefits out of it, not that that really matters.
I've finally shook off the doldrums on EZFudge. It now has its own page, with designer notes, and I'm working on a new release. The new release doesn't change the rules in any big ways, but it puts back some little things I'd pruned out to get to page count on the 2018-2021 version. It does change format, as I'm sick of making booklets.
New PC entirely since last I posted. It's cute and does the job, but I don't have as much RAM as I used to, so emulators and silly CLI tricks are now out. Lots more desk space, though.
Sun 20 Mar 2022 — Forget about it, Jake
It's a command-line interface …
Last weekend, I bravely attempted to make my ancient (2011) PC dual boot with Windows 10 and Linux Mint. The Linux distro worked fine. When I switched to Windows, it said (in a Seth MacFarlane voice), "Oh, you got a problem with the disk over there, I'll fix it." And it pooched the bootloader. After much entertainment with partitions and recovery disks, I'm back to Windows 10. But I've got Ubuntu running as a Windows app instead. So that's something.
So instead of using WinSCP to push updates into this site, I'll be using the Neocities-provided Ruby CLI utility. It doesn't take a lot to amuse me.
Tue 15 Mar 2022 — Beware What?
Oh, is that today? Pass me the knife, then …
Nothing really to report, except some tweaks to the site CSS that make me happy, and some minor edits hither and yon.
What's new for you?
Sun 27 Feb 2022 — Site News
In which Bob tidies …
I spent this morning revising the Library page some. It's mostly rewrites to reflect my current methods or attitudes. And I did the same on the Safety Code article.
I've retired the NAVSTARS program link. The program was fine, but it's not how I'm doing things any more. I might rewrite it in Python (again) using existing Python libraries for the grunty math work.
That's all for now.
Mon 21 Feb 2022 — Going Analog
Not quite 1/7 of a year later …
The experiment with Microsoft OneNote as a sort of "central control" for my hobbies has concluded. I have, or will be, exporting that information to paper journals. Why? I don't want to have to go to my computer to do my hobbies. I do enough with the computer or phone or tablet as it is. I do still have a deep document library stored in the computer, and my computational tools are still important now and then. The OneNote experiment did teach me how I want my notebooks organized, so there were benefits to it. But my life and my brain crave time away from screens and streams.
I'm also moving the "don't break the chain" process into a paper journal, from the format I have now. I still think it will work for me, I just need it to be in my face (or at-hand) all the time. Writing to family? These friends are my family, and writing to them or for their amusement has always been how I showed my love. Plus I mean to write actual letters, long-hand, to distant friends, as I did up until my twenties. And all this has meant generous investments in papers, pads, notebooks, pencils, and pens &emdash; as usual, not fancy or pricey, just comfortable and functional. Like me.
One more item from my past has finally broken through. Again, I can't resist a good sale, so when Round2 put its Polar Lights 1:1000 snap-it pre-finished Klingon Battle Cruiser out for about 1/3 price … doomed. And now I have a list of 1:1000 snap-it Star Trek models to acquire and build. I think I'll be holding off on those until the entire rocket fleet is built out and finished. Why 1:1000? Well, I've built plenty of 1:650 starships … they're kinda big. The 1:2500 are kinda small. So, 1:1000 it is, and it's a pretty good time to be a modeller. Many good, interesting commercial offerings and lots of small-maker aftermarket doo-dads. Oh, no, the list isn't that big. As with the rest of my Trek life, material acquisitions are only those related to The Original Series. Two starships, two battle cruisers, one warbird, one sublight cargo ship, maybe a few webspinners. Possibly a Grumman Goose, if I can find one, and maybe some NASA-related vehicles.
I think this does mean I will be writing here less. Which is no big deal, as I have no signs of anyone reading here anyway. But I don't mean to close the show down. Not yet, not for a while. See you later.
Sat 01 Jan 2022 — The Marley Plan
"I wear the chain I forged in life …"
Another year, another taking stock, another plan. Actually, no, this is the same plan that appeared last year, I'm just ready to engage it fully. I must seize the opportunity that, oddly, the pandemic has given me.
The difference between knowing and doing has always invisible in my head. I know it, therefore I have done it. Nope. Fake News. So I have created motivational devices to help me perceive the doing of what I know I need to do. I won't say more, having written about the details in January 2021. But here, in the middle of Day One: so far, so good. Beginning the long process of unmaking chains that obstruct me and making chains that serve me and others much better.
I've decided I want to put ejection baffles into the big rockets. The added mass won't affect them overmuch, and they become simpler and more reliable to fly. Plus it's a nice skill exercise. If I can't get a baffle kit for a model, I'll use a wee fire blanket for it instead.
I'm also reviewing parachute folding instructions down the history of the hobby and seeing what my practice should be. I'm not looking for high efficiency any more, but for high reliability instead. Folding and loading the chutes the night before a launch should help with that. And since I'm indoors in quiet air, I should be able to be nicely finicky with the folding.
Mon 27 Dec 2021 — In The Mail Room
"Warning! Discard any unit showing any dimensional change!" …
Eldest daughter bought me a model rocket kit for Christmas. (I'll be honest, I was surprised.) It is an Estes kit, requiring Intermediate skill to assemble, and it is large. What do I call large? Well, the Handbook 4e says they use D, E, or F motors and have tube diameters of 25 to 50 mm. That definition works for me. And now I have one.
Actually, I have three. I bought one from the end-of-year clearance at Estes, and the other is en route from a discount vendor. I can't resist a good discount. They all have 24 mm motor mounts and expect to use 24x70 or 24x95 motors. FIDO says they will fly with some of the 18mm composite motors. But I had already taught FIDO about 24x70 motors, at least up through D power. There was one more 24x70, Quest's new E26. So I put that in FIDO.
It mattered not, though, because while I can waffle on what motors I say I will or won't buy, I cannot waffle on the geometry of my main launch site. An E26 motor will fly too high. I could reduce the impact with an electronic chute release device, but I'm trying to keep this simple.
So the flight envelope motor rule looks like it goes away entirely. I thought I might do it based on price, since motors that are useful to me are all less than $10 each per flight. But let's just be practical. Half my fleet or a little more is built to accept 13 mm motors. Three are the big ones. The rest have 18 mm motor mounts but many can fly on 13 mm motors. So the big ones are as big as I'll get, and that's a 24 x 95 motor mount. But the remaining envelope rules and the actual fleet construction will direct that I'm almost always flying smaller.
Almost. The presence of the big rockets revives the chance of maybe heading out to the dry lake to fly bigger motors. We'll see.
Mon 20 Dec 2021 — Solar New Year's Eve
In which Bob does some solstice-searching …
(and never apologizes for wordplay)
Let's revisit the Model Rocket Flight Envelope! This is the set of policies I've imposed on myself in order to keep my rocketry hobby sustainable and affordable. As of December, I'm setting altitude caps at 240 m or 120 m, depending. I've whined about that here a lot, so I shan't repeat.
But I am going back to my "18x70 motor" rule and allowing adapters to fit them in bigger rockets. I ordered a big Honest John kit (it was on clearance!), and I'll need launch rods to suit, and they won't fit in the range box. I'll need to make a new carrier for them.
An internet acquaintance an hour south of me is liquidating a massive collection of kits. While I'm not going to be buying any of those, it has inspired me to reflect on past builds and downscale my favorites to use mini motors. That will probably mark my transition to someone who mainly builds from scratch, after I get clear of the current build pile of kits. Also my transition to someone who doesn't use much balsa, 'cause that stuff is going to be scarce for a long time time to come.
It turns out that I don't actually qualify yet for the blue (Craftsman) thrust bars on my Estes Aerospace Club shirt. I've built plenty of "Skill Level 3" kits, but they did not fly or (in one case) did not recover. So I only have 1 on my scorecard, and I need 3. I have several builds on hand that will let me finish that off.
It's a nicely foggy morning. I love how fog makes the world sound different.
Sat 18 Dec 2021 — For Future Reference
Probably some graduate student …
As I write this, the CoViD-19 pandemic is about two years old. Starting in the People's Republic of China, then spreading rapidly to Europe and North America, and then the rest of the planet, the disease has claimed over 800,000 lives in the U.S. That's the largest count for any nation, though Brazil and India are not far behind. Per capita, the U.S. leads the "first world" countries in fatalities. Remind me again how the U.S. health care system is the best in the world?
It's not the health care system's fault, of course. It's the fault of the good ol' population, a major fraction of which declines to do things which benefit the whole. Somehow they aren't part of the whole, I guess. That's not the America of lore, where we strived together through the Great Depression, and marched away to save democracy in two global wars while at home the war effort was sustained by the population accepting rationing and other inconveniences. It really feels to me like this country has forgotten how to be a country. (This assumes it ever knew, of course, and a deeper dig might contend it never did.)
We had a chance. If the lockdowns from March of 2020 could have extended just another few weeks, we probably could have saved several hundred thousand lives. At least the presence of vaccines means fewer are now dying, most of them the unvaccinated. As Larry Niven wrote, "think of it as evolution in action." Evolution, I am reminded by Hank Green, does not mean progress or improvement. Losing these people does not make us a better population. It just makes us a population less likely to die from CoViD-19.
But the lockdowns had to go, because one of the wealthiest nations in human history could not agree that taking care of its people was more important than taking care of its businesses. That's how thoroughly capitalism and the military-industrial complex that Eisenhower warned of have rewritten the culture. We have broken into political parties which Washington warned of and engineered our elections such that they are either foregone conclusions or coin-tosses, and then we whine when we lose instead of figuring out the real reasons we lost and correcting them.
Oh, and there's also the disaster of global warming in progress.
Summed up, I see us in one of those once-in-a-century world-changing shifts, not unlike the 1917-1920 global influenza pandemic which was accompanied by the post-World-War-I population shock of the deaths of so many young men. The people who just want the world to go back to "normal" make me tired. That world is lost to us forever. And I have no confidence that the world to come will be any improvement.
So for this last fortnight of the year, I intend to reflect on my personal well-being, my family's needs, and my resources, and make plans for the year to come. The apocalypse is not coming, nor is a revolution (the would-be revolutionaries being actually too stupid to succeed), but the times, they are a'changing, and the best I can do is stay alert, stay healthy, see to my familiy, and strive to be flexible in a shifting environment.
Fri 17 Dec 2021 — Rounding the Corner
In which Bob abuses assorted tools …
I've been actually looking ahead a bit without doing too many circles of futility. I feel content with what I see coming, if not highly optimistic or enthusiastic.
I spent a lovely sleep the other night dreaming up how I would remaster the classic Eames Office short film "Powers of Ten." CG effects, of course. But it would also need a second narrator to cover the extended powers outbound. That narrator would need to alternate lines with the existing recording of Professor Morrison. On some of the outbound sequences I would also switch away from optical images to microwave ("We see in microwaves in every direction a background glow, the echo of the Big Bang." or "In X-rays, the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way glows brightly.") Not sure if I want to push the inbound run too much. Quarks are pesky to visualize, let alone strings ... and string theory may not survive, so. Not a lot of real point in this exercise, as SO many have riffed on the film already. But, as I said, it made for very pleasant dreaming.
I've come to realize that my electric drill driver is inadequate to my needs. (It's only 35 years old.) But that led me down a rabbit hole of looking-far-ahead to ensure whatever I buy now would be compatible with anything I wanted to buy in future. Not to worry, though, that didn't take long. At least I've learned what to shop for on the drill. And I've also recovered from a brief fit of "let's trick out the Dremel (which I don't use either)". Haven't had one of those in years.
I'm on half-time at work for the rest of the year, as many of my colleagues are out full-time, and the workload will be very light (but some of it still time-sensitive). I'm looking forward to using the other half-days tidying about the homestead.
Tue 23 Nov 2021 — iBob
Nerdery Run Amok …
As mentioned, I am now the owner of a 2019 iPad Air. This is the most contemporary computing device I've owned, full stop. It can definitely handle the mobile computing tasks that my Nook Tablet doesn't do as well. So I'm shifting apps out of the Nook and getting them on the iPad. The Nook will now have a quiet life at home as a media player and reading device, probably bedside.
An iPad. The apps already exist for my mundane chores. What shall I do about the less mundane? Already got FIDO to use. I think I will try to use it to make videos of my rocket launches. And other ideas. All too silly.
Edited 24 Nov: Later that day, I broke the Nook Tablet screen thoroughly. A replacement screen costs only $30 or so, and I do have the tools (manual and mental) to do that job. But why? I'm always in favor of fewer things to deal with, so the iPad picks up the mobile reading and streaming chores. And maybe games.
Sun 21 Nov 2021 — Three In A Row
Is Bob building a routine of posting? Probably not …
Just a few stray notions to share.
My solution to the iPad/FIDO problem is part of a pattern with me. I frequently use the operating system itself as a kind of user interface. For instance, at work there are Perl scripts I work with regularly. No big deal for me, I'm an all-purpose nerd, but my teammates who might have to use them need an easier way. So I reroute everything to the Explorer: Get your input file, put it in this folder, in the same folder double-click the batch command, there's your output file now, tidy up after yourself. It's not elegant, but it is kind of fun and more importantly it works.
But in other FIDO news, I took out the hard-coded altitude "cap" and made it user-selectable. It still defaults to my preference, but now can accommodate others'. I still run befuddled on the relationsip between expected altitude and range size. The NAR section guide says there currently is none, only total impulse directs range size, ignoring the correlation between total impulse and altitude. The NFPA allows range size to be 1/2 expected altitude ... which points to bigger (safer?) ranges than NAR. The High-Power code sets a combined limit based on 1/2 expected altitude for the site or 1500 feet (use the bigger one), but it also sets additional stand-off requirements for people and property. I expect I just stay the course on my envelope and see what happens.
I am now a proper fan of the proper circle constant tau. Tau is finding its way into programming languages, and I think it won't be long before it invades the textbooks, and none too soon. I hope teachers share it widely before then. Read all about it at Tau Day.
I made the mistake of going grocery shopping yesterday, along with half the population of the valley. I also tried out a different grocery store. I was happy to see a much higher proportion of mask-wearing at this store, compared to the usuals I visit. It will be a nice place to shop once the holiday craziness abates. I still have to learn the map, though. And I have to shop much earlier in the day, possibly before sun-up.
The power company gave us a "smart" power strip. It's meant for home theater/entertainment center use. Only one or two outlets are always on. It turns on the others when it notices an infrared remote in use, and turns them off again after an interval of no remote activity. It's not going to generate big savings here, but I'm glad for the opportunity to regularly power-cycle the Roku player. That will be better for its health.
Off to have a proper lazy Sunday. See y'all around!
Sat 20 Nov 2021 — Near Miss
In which Bob avoids education …
When last we left Our Hero, he was happily contemplating a "simple" rewrite of the GUI to make FIDO run on the iPad. But the more he looked at the references, the unhappier he got. It became apparent he was going to need to call multiple OS-native controls, at which point he might as well do OS-native code ... a rewrite of FIDO to a new language. *sigh* He downloaded XCode. He skimmed guide materials on Swift. He became more unhappy.
And then an alternative emerged: if a rewrite, why not to HTML/JS/CSS? Those he already knew decently well. Problem: iPad browsers do not allow local files like that. Which would mean an HTML editor app in the iPad to run FIDOweb from.
And then he remembered: He already had a version that would run on the iPad, inside his chosen Python development program: Basic FIDO without the GUI. That would be good enough. No new language to learn, only a little code to change without rewriting it entirely. Ten bucks for the IDE, and ten-fifteen minutes of stripping the code back and it's good.
Fri 19 Nov 2021 — iMadness
In which Bob lives in all worlds …
An iPad Air 3 became available in the household. I've decided today it will become my "field computer" for model rocketry and maybe health and wellness. If I were tabletop gaming, I'd probably use it there, too. The Nook tablet is still around, useful for streaming video and reading things, just as I always meant for it.
As with any new computer, I've spend an hour or more doing setup, downloading apps, killing out unwanted apps, and so on. This is my first iOS device, and my first Apple device since retiring the old Mac Pro laptop a couple years ago. A search for stargazing apps hasn't shown me anything that excites me, and the same is true for model rocketry. But ...
There are a couple of Python environments. And I've bought one. So now "all" I need to do is rewrite the GUI section of FIDO, and presto: iFIDO! I expect to lose sleep with that this weekend. I've already checked my other plain ol' Python scripts, and they run fine. I'm angsting over moving the Office apps to the iPad. Maybe. Might as well.
So, yes, Windows 10 desktop (which is ineligible for upgrade to Win11), Android phone and tablet, and Apple tablet. I am the All-Purpose Nerd! who still misses PalmOS/webOS.
Sun 14 Nov 2021 — Some 1PRs!
Reasonably spoiler-free …
Star Wars: Visions (streaming on Disney+): Very good! Animation quality that we expect from the best Japanese studios, of course. Enjoyable seeing the Campbellian tropes connected back to Japanese lore (and also entirely consistent with George Lucas's filmic influences). Even had a couple that didn't finish or didn't finish on happy endings, which is So Not American. Recommended even without the bunny-girl.
Marvel Studios Presents: What If…? (streaming on Disney+): Good! I must admit most of the fun for me was hearing the film actors voice their characters, and so many of them. Clark Gregg (Coulson) got some great stuff, but so did almost everyone. And I'm dead certain that Benedict Cumberbatch's Strange is actually Cumberbatch doing Hugh Laurie's House. These alternative-universe/timeline stories went out of style in the comic books of the late 1980s, but it was fun to watch them against the context of the MCU movies. My only downer, and it was a strong one, was the two-part epic'r-than-epic finale. (It was fine, be it said, but it was also as Green Arrow said in Justice League Unlimited — "Double Date": "This is so unnecessary.") Happy to recommend episodes 1-7, though.
Marvel: Assembled (streaming on Disney+): Great if you find the making-of often more entertaining than the product. These behind-the-scenes materials are the sort of thing you find as extras on home videos, but here they are streaming, after a judicious delay following the project's debut on "regular" D+. Recommended for nerds like me.
The new bible arrived and makes me happy. Which is good, 'cause the rest of me feels like doing a purge of electronic books, but that never ends 'cause I always end up re-downloading them locally (if not buying them repeatedly), lather, rinse, repeat. I'm resisting, for the nonce. Which reminds me.
Cepheus Engine (CE) and Cepheus Deluxe (CD) (Stellagama Publishing): For those who have been under rocks for the last few years, these are open-gaming versions derived from the Mongoose Traveller first edition SRD, but re-tuned. CE reads like Classic Traveller. CD reads like a Traveller from an alternate universe where MegaTraveller and all the others didn't happen and it evolved modern features while keeping its "here's what you need, you make the rest" ethos. As you might expect, I do recommend both or either. Or neither, I'm not the boss of you.
Thu 11 Nov 2021 — Cooking the Books
A Little News, A Little Snark, A Little Schmalz …
Breaking news on the bible front. I found a better home than the local library booksale. More accurately, I've made contact with operatives who will find these good books good homes. I did reconsider a bit and keep the NRSV study bible I've enjoyed, except … *sigh* I've ordered a more recent edition. I think it's likely that publisher won't be taking aboard the NRSVue soon. So that's officially a complete turnover of my shelf of bibles-in-print. Bibles-in-digital are still there, and likely to get an addition before the end of the month.
Speaking of books. I've had the most recent edition of the Handbook of Model Rocketry by Stine & Stine for a while. Once upon a time I ran across Doug Pratt's Basics of Model Rocketry and picked that up. I've avoided most of the other contemporary books, since they tend to promote for high-power rocketry, about which I care not.
Living as I do with model rocketry as it was in the late 1970s, I've decided to collect up two more books from that era. The first is the New Model Rocketry Manual by Stine. It reads like a stripped version of the HMR and I love that. It's very much the book I keep starting to write. I really don't need to do that now. The other is the fourth edition of the HMR. That sets me up with the books I should have had back in the day. And anything newer than "back in the day"? Gets clipped and thrown into my electronic notebook.
Otherwise, life goes as it has. After a very wet October, it's being a very warm and sunny November.
Sun 16 Oct 2021 — DREI
Distracted Reassessment of Ecumenical Interests …
Upon further review:
The solution I thought I had for retuning that eBook bible does not work at all in the actual eReaders I use. So I've un-retired the Olive Tree app, which has settings to suppress verse labels and note links -- I dig that. And available reading plans solve the "direction" problem. While I don't dig proprietary file formats, there's not a sensible or efficient way around that for the translations I'm keeping.
And so I return to the decision of a primary translation. I'm driving myself crazy with this, which means I'm looking at the question wrong. I have two different translations of study bibles in pretty print books. They're so big I don't want to move them. One has not been widely accepted by churches or publishers (though that is improving). One is very highly respected but harder to read. My gut is telling me I don't want to use any of them.
So, thought one: Simplify. Again, what do I want to leave to my heirs and what shall it say about me? Thought two: The New Testament is far more important to me than the Old. Thought three: if I need a study bible, it should be where I study (that is, the bible study app space).
What goes on the shelf, then? Two volumes only. The Jewish Bible, in the recent JPS translation, and the New Testament, in the New Revised Standard Version. To my peculiar thinking on this, this is appropriate. The scriptures as Jesus would have known them, and the new scriptures in the translation most widely accepted among modern churches. (With the pending "Updated Edition" of the NRSV, it will have three modifiers for status, "new,", "revised," and "updated." That's silly. They need a new name. Maybe "The Council Bible," after the copyright owner.)
And what do I read in my app? I still hate clutter, but since that vendor does not let me delete anything I've bought (or anything they gave me for free), I am awash in options. And there's still that advice stream out there of "don't have just one!" One advisor says "have one readable, one accurate, and one elegant." Another says "have one literal, one thought-for-thought, and one paraphrase." But everyone says, "The best one is the one you will read regularly." GAH!
I think I'm shaping this as a decision when in fact I don't need to make one. Why not have all the elctronic versions ready to hand? I'm only looking at one (maybe two) at a time and it's easy to switch. Let's try that and see if it actually feels like clutter. Which one will I favor? Probably the NRSV.
Wed 13 Oct 2021 — UNO
Unexpected Nerd Occurrence …
I've been overthinking about bibles again lately. Here's what I've overthunk.
Bible reading and knowledge is important to me, and essential to the character of Protestantism as I understand it. As usual, many have taken it too far and insist on bible study. (Yes, the apostle Paul insisted. Paul did not die for my sins.) This is by no means new. Take chapter and verse numbers. The scriptural authors didn't create those. Those were added in the 13th and 16th centuries, respectively, as aids to scholarly study. Scholarly because holy scripture was not for the hands or eyes of the masses, even if they could read. But then the Reformation, and translations to vernacular, and all that, and chapter and verse numbering stuck and stuck hard. (I was very enthusiastic about "bible drills" as a kid.)
Lately, "reader's editions" have come into style, bibles without verse numbering and with text layout like conventional prose. After all, a book is meant to be read, and these days I, like others, find myself distracted from the reading by verse numbers, footnote numbers, cross-references, arrgh.
So I did a thing. I downloaded an ePUB version of my preferred bible translation, unwrapped the package, and peeked at the raw data. Sure enough, verse labels had a tag … but that tag wasn't being used in formatting. WELL, then. I went into the CSS file for the book and made formatting for that tag. I made it text size zero. Save file, rewrap the package, rename the package, and voila! An eBook reader's edition that makes me happy to look at. And since text size is adjustable in the reader, I don't have to pay the "large print" premium, either.
In related news, I've been a customer of Olive Tree Bible Software since the early 2000s. Good stuff, nice library selection. But I have wearied of the proprietary book format they use, and I have never been good at using their built-in bible study tools. So I'll be retiring my shopping there, which was mostly just electronic versions of the translations we own in print. I still need to solve a problem of direction. I want my bible reading to feel directed, not just browse-y.
But how many bible translations do you need? One scholar recommended having three, and I have (mumbles, counting on fingers) ten? Maybe more? At one point I was collecting the translations approved by a major mainstream denomination. I'm tired of that, and even three is too many if they're not used. So I've picked my favorite. Keeping the electronic version, of course, and its print counterpart. This translation doesn't yet have the Apocrypha in print … I can cover that from a different translation, until. Maybe keep one more. Back to three again, and the rest can go to the library book sale. Mind you, that doesn't include my wife's copies. Also, I wanted to get a prayer book and a hymnal …
The overthinking never ends.
Sat 25 Sep 2021 — How Many Skies?
'cause there's only really one …
Continuing the streamlining for my stargazing pursuits.
One problem, which I spoke about last week, is getting my stargazing stuff out where it's ready to use. The second is having only the stuff I want to use, the stuff that makes me happy and encourages my continued participation. While I don't have a huge amount of stuff, the proportions feel off for what I have vs. what I will/want-to use.
For instance, software. Stellarium on Windows is fine, and I've flirted with it off and on over the years, and I learn something new about it each time. Stellarium is pro-grade software, though, and my needs just don't rise that high. I'll keep it around to play with, but I know most of my learning will be elsewhere.
No apps for the phone. The tablet's going to have my notebook, but I don't think I'll put apps there either. The point is to be looking up, not down, and up at the sky, not at the screen trying to tell me what I'm looking at.
Given my fascination with analog calculators, a planisphere is a must for me (however redundant it may be). I have a good one, but I mean to give it up. I will instead invest in a bigger, sturdier one.
Books? The H.A. Rey books I just bought make me very happy; they stay. I have a guide by Sir Patrick Moore; he's a legend, he stays. There are two more books on my wish list; both sound very promising. Sky Publishing's Pocket Sky Atlas is a beautiful little book. Is there the slightest chance I'll grow into it? Nggh. It stays for now. I have the feeling I'll be using it to practice star-hopping.
And I think that's enough. For certain, though, I must reorganize my bookcase to put this material in-reach.
This means doing away with buying SkyWatch every year, and doing away with my complete run of Night Sky magazine. I've been carrying around Michael Shepard's Star Deck forever. Out. All the stuff I bought from David Chandler the last two year: out (donating to local club).
Meanwhile, on the calculator front, I thought I could do Dicepick as a Casio Basic program. The math innards work well. The input (one-touch on the keypad per die) is doable. The output is impossible. I could make something work, but it would be really inconvenient to use and a distraction from the playing. That's not allowed!
Sun 05 Sep 2021 — Not-Much-Labor Day
In which Bob lounges more than he ought …
I did not make a lot of plans for this weekend. There are certain chores that have to get done, like fueling the car or shopping for groceries. Beyond that? Maybe some of this or some of that.
"This" turned out to be monkeying with FIDO. A plan I had laid showed itself to be unworkable, so FIDO got reworked. The other rocketry predictor I'm working on got a clean-up, too, but I don't quite know how it's going to work or even if. Oh, it runs fine in the Windows shell. But will it run in the Python shell of the Casio fx-9750GIII calculator that's on its way?
Sat 18 Sep 2021 — A Stargazing Post
Not a postgazing star …
I'm here! Did you miss me? I thought not.
Rocket program news. I monkeyed with FIDO again for a while, basically cleaning things up and making the code better. I also polished up the MicroPython version, called PyPAC. PyPAC emulates the Estes Predicted Altitude Computer slide widget from the early 1970s, but it does more. It supports non-Estes tubes and motors. It supports clustered motors (of all the same type). And it provides the predicted coast time, so the user can pick the best delay. I know PyPAC runs on the Python-enabled Casio graphic calculators, and it should work on the TI and NumWorks devices as well.
Stargazing program news. NAVSTARS got ported to Python, and in the process picked up a few updates of its own. Most significantly, I switched the azimuth output to 0 = north and increasing clockwise from there. This improves compatibility with the many programs that use 0 = north. The updated version is over in the Library. I re-installed Stellarium, disabling most of the plug-ins but enabling the Navigation Stars plug-in -- now that's convenient to me! Stellarium on the tablet just didn't suit me, so the phone has got Heavens-Above now and the tablet has Star Walk, which I paid for long ago. I tried looking for Inspiration4 last night, but the app data was wrong -- hadn't been updated for yesterday's pre-return orbit lowering.
"Three programs, Bob?" Sure, it sounds like overkill. But Stellarium has configurable "star lore," which means I can see constellation lines as other cultures have, or in several different ways adopted by Western culture. Star Walk is more like a family sky companion, whereas Heavens Above is a bare bones "you know what you want, here it is" app. I appreciate the differences, though I'll grant setting up all three was a chore.
Speaking of stargazing, it's time to get back at it now that the smoke is clearing. I'll be doing some moon studying tonight, and basically I want to put a couple hours in every weekend. It's also time to unpack the "always ready" stargazing bag and get its contents out where I can enjoy them. I'll probably not renew my subscription to the Abrams Planetarium sky calendar, though it was fun and totally worth the money. That's part of letting go of my "paper only" fetish and using the tools I've got, electronic or otherwise.
Thu 19 Aug 2019 — An Awakening
In which Bob commits self-awareness …
Two constants in my life: I love learning new things. I love sharing the things I learn. The first is, I think, an essential good. Learning is important. Learning of facts, but also learning about self (what I'm doing here).
Sharing what I learn … more correctly, showing off … is actually less essential. I plainly am indulging it right here, right now, as you are reading. This whole site is a mixture of me sharing other stuff and me sharing a relatively few things I've actually created.
But the projects like my rocketry book? Not needed at all in the world, and a massive expenditure on my part. And the NARTREK rocketry projects are in the same field. I think the Gold design-and-test project I will finish, having mostly done so. I thought, with my joy in the new launcher design, that I might go ahead with that NARTREK advanced project, but ... why? Yet again, there's nothing here that's new. It's juat a fun and unique way of doing it. Fun to me. Ergo, keep it to myself.
Fri 13 Aug 2021 — Closing Some Loops
Hey! Firm plans instead of angsty thinking …
Some echoes from the past month.
About parachutes. I live over 1300 m above sea level, and I fly from just over 1400 m ASL. Air becomes less dense as elevation increases. I had already taken advantage of this in some prior flights, since rockets fly higher. The thinner air also means that parachutes are less effective than they would be. The FIDO program has been telling me this over and over, but it didn't sink in until this week. Between my tendency to glue and paint "heavy" and the thinner air, my models really need to use a bigger chute. This is yet another challenge to getting everything into small models.
More parachutes: On reflection, I think my biggest fault on flight day was failing to dust the chutes again during packing. "A good workman doesn't blame his tools," they say. I'd had no issues with the chutes in the past; millions of people fly with them every year without fuss. So it must be on me, and I know I didn't dust those chutes this time around. So! New (larger) chutes have been procured and will go into circulation. And I should probably send away the smaller chutes I bought. Those are bad choices for my flying.
About the launch controller. The new launch button arrived. Boy howdy it is rugged. But more importantly I solved the rest of my design problems. It only took the realization: why do I need to hold it in my hand? "And the scales fell away from eyes," as the saying goes. I have this lovely fake ammo can I'm using to carry everything. The right thing to do is make that can the controller. This requires the least wiring and the least hole-making. Oh, and I had another minor epiphany about the launch pad that simplifies my future as well. So, onward!
The project list gets no shorter. At some point soon, I need to write them all down and then order them by priority. Then I need another list, of the things I need to buy. And that will set me up for the Estes Labor Day sale. It's not much. I need a payload bay block, and the tube cutters. More chutes of another size. And then, elsewhere, an altimeter.
Sat 07 Aug 2021 — Recycling the Count
In which Bob overthinks as usual …
Mucho brain cycles have been devoted to reflection on this week's flight day. And while there were many things that were fine, the things that were not fine vex me. It is necessary to divine a path forward to make these better. And I have.
Let's start with the models. Actually no problems here! I'm happy with the assembly, and with the decoration, and the ones that flew this week flew as expected. I have a little more sanding to do here, and a little acrylic spraying to do there. Otherwise no issues. My next model might be a printed cardstock rocket, just for practice before I start on some more complicated kits (some of which include extensive cardstock components). But above all else I mean to take my time with them. They might not get done before spray-paint-season ends, and that will be fine.
Speaking of models, I assembled an Odd'l Rockets Cutaway Engine model and used it to introduce our new flyer to motor tech. It went well! I have an enhancement to make to it, leveraging body wraps from the out-of-print FlisKits cutaway model, and then I am going to make another, adapted to represent a cutaway booster motor. And then I have to work on scaled-up starter models to match, based on the FlisKits plans. I might make some scaled-up cutaway rocket models to go with … or maybe some scaled-up composite motors and starters …
I'm happy with the launch site, as I mentioned. On a weekday, it's nice and quiet, it's conveniently near to home, and the scenery is good. It'll be even better when summer is not quite so high.
The launch pad worked fine, although I still want to rebuild the "head" to simplify it and I need to add a standoff mast for the launch leads so the weight of wires does not pull starters out of motors.
Many of the problems of the launch controller were of my own doing, or rather failure to do. I said I was going to add nail varnish to my starters to give them a little more punch. I had not done. More importantly, I said I was going to build my own launch controller which would be more capable. That was not done, though in some ways it was for the best. The launch button I bought was not rated for the expected current, so it would have been doomed. And trying to fire two Estes starters from a 9V battery was optimistic at best. What then to do?
Well, it has to be 12 volt, of course. And this means I return to my intention to use two lantern batteries in series. Many rocketeers would look at me askance. The most common advice is to use a 12 v motorcycle battery. Good oomph, portable, rechargeable. But rechargeable implies a recharge-er to go with. At that price point, I could also buy a multi-function jumpstarter. But I've had one of those, and it didn't end happily. In fact, after its corpse hung around here for years, it finally got to the recyclers this past spring. So I'm keeping the power supply retro -- which will still do me for dozens if not hundreds of flights.
A new launch button and a better housing for the circuit-check light are on order. The rest of the pieces are here, and it's just a matter of drilling, gluing, and crimping. I hope. I may still have to rethink the controller box — the new components may not fit.
But after ruining two parachutes over three dodgy flights, I have serious concerns to address about how I load the recovery systems. I might be using too much wadding or packing it too tight, but I don't think that's it. I think the problem is that I'm firing mini-motor ejections into airframes intended for standard motors, and I'm just not getting enough push to really pop the nose off and drag out the chute. So that's a thing to consider: I should test this with a purchase of standard-size A motors and see what happens.
I need to work on my chute storage and packing technique, too. I only had one clean deploy — unfortunately it was on the pad because the model bound up on the launch rod. And even then, there were wadding issues and the chute was scorched and melted.
Are there alternatives to wadding? Yup! There are baffles, and chute protectors, and even piston-like plugs that the competition-minded use. But they're always heavier than the paper wadding; baffles need to be placed as part of construction, not after; they don't make chute protectors for my 13 mm or 18 mm tubes; and plugs need perfectly smooth tubes to slide in, not like mine which have shock cord mounts in them. So the mission here is to try to do the wadding better. I should get a chute protector for Chin UP!, though.
I could also change away from the much-maligned Estes or Quest chutes. Nylon is stronger and less prone to casual melting, but heavier. Aluminized thin plastic is lighter and packs more compactly, but can be more at risk from heat. It's too soon for this decision, though. I want to try to master the standard chute, which had not given me problems before this week. Something else related: I finally realized that I should be up-sizing my chutes a little. The same thinner air that lets me get better altitude declines to resist a chute as well as the directions say. FIDO's been trying to tell me this for weeks, but only now have I figured it out why.
And last, the plan to have a daughter use an optical tracking device has not panned out. She could learn how, maybe, but school is starting soon and she won't be available. It's going to be more practical to just stretch the test model a couple inches and add a payload bay and altimeter. I'll order the parts for that in a week or two.
There was a moment, in my frustration, when I considered chucking it all again. The moment passed, especially after the spouse mocked me for considering it. So I'm taking the experience for what it is: some successes, some setbacks, plenty of opportunities still to grow and improve.
Fri 06 Aug 2021 — Hoo dat?
An owl has moved into the neighborhood …
The rescheduled launch day has come and gone. Count as successes: the impromptu launch site, while not level, was quite bare and soft enough underfoot that no rockets suffered injury of impact. Which is good, 'cause I had so many non-optimal recoveries (mostly chute/wadding issues -- the stuff without chutes did just fine). Count as failures: Not tidying up the workshop, 'cause otherwise I'd have seen that I forgot to pack the streamer needed for the model I wanted to fly most. Also: The altitude measuring plan I had is not going to work. I do need to buy an altimeter. So I need to design a new rocket for that.
The Cloud Hopper clone had sim'd badly, so 1 revamped it to a two-motor cluster. Which would not launch from my current launch system and starters. Yet another redesign for my new personal launcher, and more parts ordered, and more past parts ordered now lying fallow because they aren't up to the new specs. I need to finish this project before it drives me mad. And I still haven't decided about the battery.
I continue to have issues using the NCR Kuhn Tube Cutter. I've retrieved the instructions for the original from Competition Model Rockets … and again I think I see how to improve my user skill. But I had an Estes Tube Cutting Guide on hand, and tried it out … it was a snap and takes up less space. I expect I'm going to re-buy the entire set.
Smoky as heck around here today, so a lazy Friday evening is planned, tidying up the workshop. I more or less have parts on hand for the new science project rocket, except a transition. Hmm.
Sat 17 Jul 2021 — Down to the Wire
As usual …
Two more models built this week: my Stylis, and an Estes Cloud Hopper that's going to have a different look. Next stop is priming and painting. Stylis is to have two colors. I don't think I have time to mask anything, so it will just be body and nose. The Cloud Hopper is one color, so that's easier. Launch day is fast approaching.
I'm back in launch controller angst again. The controller I have designed, the one I've bought all the parts for, the one I know will be perfectly safe to use, will not be legal to use. So … do I redesign to allow for legal operation? I'm tempted to redesign to something insanely simple and low-tech with exposed components. Or just relax and keep on keepin' on with the Quest Futuristic Controller that's too small for my hand? Definitely that one for the upcoming launch day.
Sun 11 Jul 2021 — Bob's Tool Time
Where the motto is "Less power!" …
I delivered a goodly many posts here about the tools I wanted or needed for model rocketry. Having built three models in the last three days, I can now make some reports.
North Coast Rocketry makes and sells the "Kuhn Tube Cutter" kit. I opted for this over the Estes tube cutting guides because it will accept any diameter tube. I made one small error during assembly, which doesn't seem to be hurting it so far. It works! I needed to use it to rebuild my NARTREK Gold airframe after some rushed and ill-advised assembly. It wasn't quite the ideal experience, but later I realized I'd failed to put a coupler under the cut — that was probably why I wasn't getting the right results. So! Happy with this one.
North Coast also makes and sells "Airfoil Assistant", a set of three shaped sanding blocks which facilitate rounding the leading edges and tapering the trailing edges of fins. These work fine! I used the wrong one, 'cause I didn't review the instructions, but they're fine. I wish I could have bought just the two I wanted, instead of having to get the set of three. But! Also happy here.
(As I write this post, SpaceShipTwo Unity has just completed its first full-crew test flight. Whoo-hoo! I DO love me a space plane.)
Qualman Rocketry does precision fin guides for assorted Estes and Quest tube sizes and fin thicknesses. I didn't use them for guides this time around, but I did use them for tube marking. They were swell! They don't slide around and they're easy to handle. I love love love the tube-marking guides that come with.
I didn't use the Qualman fin guides because I used a 3-D printed Kuhn fin jig. I'm very happy with it as well, though my design is slightly inept. It won't do well on tubes smaller than 20 mm with four fins. That'll be fairly common for me, but I'm okay. Use my Kuhn jig to set the first fin, use the Qualman to set the rest. Given the vulnerability, though, I shan't be posting these on Thingiverse.
I shifted to Titebond yellow glue based on recommendations of long standing in the hobby. It's different. Seems to run more readily. In thin layer, it grabs quick! I have to be really assertive about my motions and marks. The drying time is fine, maybe a little quicker than Aleene's. And it seems to be less interested in beading up in fillets than white glue.
The Estes stands and cradles have been a big help, especially this morning as I'm (on one cradle) laying fin fillets on the NARTREK Gold project and (on another cradle) attaching fins to the Odd'l Breakaway. Filleting later today. I'm thinking I won't paint the Breakaway -- I'll just hand color each segment with markers. Alas, I must paint the NARTREK Gold project, to help it be visible to the range crew.
One more to build, probably starting tonight: The Estes Cloud Hopper clone/re-skin. It will need paint, but that should be easy. I'm thinking I might also go ahead and build the Estes Gryphon glider. (reviews instructions) Maybe. I've got time, but this also demands care.
The tool organizers have worked out nicely. I know where to find things and where to put things away.
So, summed up: Things are on track for the big flight day on the playa two weeks hence.
Fri 25 Jun 2021 — Ownership
In which Bob tidies up, to his expense …
I thought about creating a Google Site, and redirecting my web domain to point there. In the process I discovered an old Blogger site that I hadn't closed properly. And then when I was working on the settings for my domain, I intentionally turned off the website that they had (I thought) given me in 2018. Now my website domain points to a shady-looking site. I don't like that.
In the interest of simplicity and minimalism, I've properly closed those two Google sites as well. Eggs, meet Neocities basket. And I'm working on getting my domain name pointed here correctly. EDIT LATER IN THE DAY: It works!
In related news, I did some site reorganization and clean-ups. Three tabs only now. A few links that didn't really fit me were taken out of the library. Oh, the Risus master link got updated to the new owner's site.
Mon 14 Jun 2021 — Under the Missile Toe
Don’t blame me, that pun was old long since …
I have received my Silver-level accomplishment in the NARTREK self-study program. Only 11 years after Bronze and 13 years since starting.
The Gold level requires I build and flight-test a model of my own design. This past weekend I made some tweaks to the design I’ve been fiddling on all year, and I’m now really happy with it. The parts are all here. All I need to do is assemble and finish it and fly it. I want to be done with that before Labor Day.
There are more models to be made, of course. And I have my launch pad to rebuild and a launch controller to build. I had a breakthrough on the design for the head of the launch pad, and I’m now totally looking forward to it. I could file these (the pad and controller) with NARTREK for an Advanced Achievement. Could. Dunno if I will.
I ordered an alternate set of launch rods, this one from Quest. This feels like the one I’ll use – a bit longer than the Estes, and easier to get assembled and taken down. No waste, though: one of the Estes segments will get repurposed into an umbilical mast. I’m thinking of making under-lid storage for the launch rod in the range box.
On a whim, I went into my rocketry e-book file. I rearranged the table of contents a bit, extended the outline, renamed it. Then I started looking at the text and comparing it to some age-appropriate science textbooks. Oy. So many faults in my work, from typography to logic to being just plain dull. I still think there might be a place for the kind of book I have in mind, but it's now plain to me that I am not the one to write it.
Sun 30 May 2021 — Holiday Road
To Nowhere …
The Spouse encouraged me to make a four-day weekend of it.
Friday I did three errands and rewrote FIDO some more. I now have two versions, the GUI version and the script version. Eventually I want to see if I can make the script version run on a graphing calculator. I also opened the deployment envelope up again, allowing a deploy up to 3 seconds after apogee. It doesn't actually change much. The biggest change was moving the data into its own external files, where it will be much easier to check and maintain. I should have done it like this from the beginning, really, but one thing at a time.
Saturday I did even less, although I did re-install Python and a TeX distribution and got the PyNomo package working. So on the computing side I'm ready to go. I still have a bunch of Linear Algebra to meander through to get to where I can use PyNomo properly. Maybe by then I'll know what I want to use it for.
Sunday was the usual shopping runs, plus some bonus bathroom cleaning. I have finished re-watching The Mechanical Universe from CalTech. It still holds up nearly four decades later. My Linear Algebra course is coming from YouTube also, plus I'm using an open-source textbook that I'm actually enjoying so far. Being able to run PyNomo means I can pretty well run the Sage open-source math analysis package, too. Again, if I knew what I wanted it for.
I intend to spend most of Monday puttering about the garage, tidying, organizing, and so on. Maybe some yard work too. Or building rockets. That build pile is not getting any smaller. Estes Rockets has pretty well got my number — they have run a sale over this weekend, "buy $25 of stuff, get a free ($6) pack of the new StarTech igniters." Yeah. So I ordered another cute small kit, and some cute spare parachutes.
Sat 22 May 2021 — Changing Vision
Imagine a near-sighted beholder... …
New glasses! As of a couple weeks ago. They seem to work fine, but they don't seem to work well when I'm at the computer desk. So, foo. That's a lot of the time!
New game. I've changed my "favorite D&D" from The Hero's Journey (1st ed.) to Old School Essentials Advanced Fantasy. This is a clone of Basic & Expert D&D from 1981, but so much better organized, with add-ons to evoke some features of AD&D 1st ed. without inducing epic-level complexity. It's still all moot, as I don't expect to be playing or running anything soon. But I'm making some house rules notes and speculating on the best way to add 5E sidekicks to the mix.
(Why? As Jeff Grubb noted in a blog post last year, there are multiple games within a fantasy game. There's the game for the players, but also the game for the referee (world-building, running encounters), and maybe even the game for the designer. That's where I am right now, playing in the "how would I want to play?" space. Character creation and character play might even be considered two separate games.)
After all the thrashing about with the flight envelope last post, it turns out I'll have the capability to fly models with 24 mm motor mounts after all. There still aren't any models I want (maybe the QuadGoblin? Maybe?), but I'll teach the extra regime to FIDO anyway. I've done a lot of fine-tuning on FIDO's reports and it's very thorough now about telling me everything in a way I find useful.
Oh, and since the last post the weather 'as turned 'orrible. It snowed two days this week.
Wed 12 May 2021 — Hey, Let's Talk Rockets
No raccoon-like aliens need apply …
Edited Sat 15 May 2021
First, the book. The book that no one needs or wants, no matter how cleverly structured or phrased. Yeah, the book is back-burnered indefinitely again. It needs to go out of my awareness to let me be aware of other, more practical things. I'll probably remember it again in a few years and we'll see if it sparks again.
Next, the fin jigs. My 3-D models were sent to a friend with printing ability. I wait to hear how they turned out. I may have designed the tolerances too close, in which case some careful sanding may be in order.
FIDO news! I was running some preliminary numbers on my current build, and I got unexpected answers. I did have FIDO restricting its outputs based on several criteria, but now I think I've overdone it. So I updated FIDO and now it talks a little more and I can decide what I want to keep and what I want to ignore.
Starter news! The Estes Startech starters are out. Hurray! But it turns out all I need to do is dip the business ends of my current lot in dollar-store nail varnish. So that's a plan, and I'll get my Startechs as they turn up with my motor purchases.
Launch site news! I finally sat down with the words of the typical seasonal fire restriction order. It turns out there's no way those can be interpreted to mean model rockets are banned. So woo! My flying season just went year-round, subject to having a nice clear patch of dirt to launch from. Not that it really mattered, as my prime launch site has miles of clear patch. But my alternate launch site now seems more viable. I need to go look at it and see what it's like.
Next, the rules. If you've been reading below, you know I have focused on smaller models and motors because they're easier to handle, less expensive, and allow for a smaller flight range. Well, I've been thinking about the range. I'm only going out there two, maybe three times a year. The place can accommodate any size of model or motor I care to fly. So that's not necessarily a limit.
But look, Bob! New 24x70 mm composite motors enter the market. Yes, they have. After playing with the numbers, though, opening the envelope to 24 x 70 motors doesn't buy me anything. I'm not getting any better or cheaper flying with a 24 mm Estes C11 or Estes D12 or Quest D22 than I am with the 18 mm Quest C and D motors.
It's also necessary to think about what I want to build. And it turns out I don't want to build a bigger Honest John or a Goblin. (Actually did both those long ago.) Plus I don't want to carry the 3/16" launch rod that the bigger models want. I do want to build a couple of mini-motor boost gliders, and I want to fly an egg-lofter on a cluster of mini-motors. And then I want to make downscales of some classic models like the Scout, Der Red Max, and (yes) the Goblin. 'Cause that's what I think would be fun.
So, reviewing the State of the Envelope, not much has changed:
Maximum Altitude: 200 m / 650 feet. This represents a small increase, just to get to easy-to-remember round numbers. I still want to be able to see the model through the flight. My new glasses are good, but I'm taking no chances. If I'm in B motors or less, this means a 200-foot range (NAR rule); C-s or D-s need a 325-foot minimum (NFPA rule).
Maximum Motor Mount Size: 18 mm x 70 mm. This is a change downward. With it, the explicit maximum motor size rule goes away, and I think I can get my launch day range supplies all into an old-fashioned cardboard range box.
Maximum Model Liftoff Weight: 450 g. This is a new rule and reflects the state of the Safety Code when I started flying in 1975. In practice it's a spurious rule, like "I will respect the law of gravity at all times." I don't have much interest in models heavier than 150 g.
Painting season is on. I think I want to do a mad dash on finishing my current build and get it flown.
Sat 17 Apr 2021 — Re-Spring
A very bouncy time …
Yesterday I received my second dose of COVID vaccine. Today I am dead. Just kidding, I feel fine. Even the usual soreness from an intramuscular injection seems less than the first time. I might be a little tired, but that might also be from a very busy and stressful day yesterday. In two weeks, my body will be fully armed to fend off the pesky coronavirus invaders. The spouse and eldest daugher have their second shots next week; the youngest daughter, sickeningly healthy as she is, her first.
Also yesterday, NASA awarded the new moon lander contract to SpaceX. I'm pleased that work is happening, but I don't find the Starship architecture very exciting. It's also a long way from even being stable. SpaceX is in its "rapid iteration" phase right now, building 'em and watching 'em fail as fast as feasible. But, onwards, I guess.
Speaking of "onward," it looks like painting season is here. Time to get off my hands and get some rockets prettied up.
Mon 12 Apr 2021 — Yuri's Night + LX
Also STS-1 + XL …
Birthday weekend was spent mostly going with the flow, instead of doing what needs doing. As usual. I continued my Python education, converting an old C++ program I found. I have ideas for a few more "improvements to it, but so far I'm very happy with it. And then I hit Tinkercad and redrew the fin jigs a third time. I think they're right this time. Time to find someone to print one up.
We did have root beer floats after dinner, so as birthdays go it was not completely un-festive. My gifts to myself were soundtrack CDs for The Muppet Movie (1979) and Star Trek (2009). The former is a film that's always with me. The latter is a film that annoys the heck out of me if I think about it too much, and most of the music is "typical-action-movie," but I find some of the music is deeply interesting and affecting. I must credit any warm feelings I have about the film to Zachary Quinto's and Karl Urban's performances and to Michael Giacchino's "End Credits."
Oh! I almost forgot. I did look in on FnordCon 3, a virtual convention event run by Steve Jackson Games. It was nice to visit, albeit briefly, with old friends from the Pyramid MOO days. This was my first experience with Discord, and I have to say I won't be starting a Discord server any time soon. It seems very nice and easy to use, but I have nothing I want to use it for at this time.
My next gift to myself has to be getting some of this surplus weight gone, and I mean on my body, not in the garage (though, that too). First experiment: I have a fasting blood draw coming up in 10 days, and it's in the afternoon guh. So I might as well use the next ten days to get used to fasting. I'll be eating only between 10:00 AM and 8:00 PM, doing my best to reduce needless snacking, and making sure I get all my meds properly on time.
Sun 04 Apr 2021 — I Do'd It!
In which Bob shows his green streak …
Yup. Once I started scribbling, it wouldn't let me go. Now existing in the Library, the Melee Plus extension to the Essential Edition of EZFudge. Roughly four hours of work, roughly four pages of content, most of the time used to deal with new flowcharting tools, the rest is creative recycling of 9-year-old material.
That was a bit fun! For certain weird values of fun I observe. Last but not least, one more correction to the EZFudge main book to correct a couple of terms. That will be tomorrow-ish. And I feel very comfortable that EZFudge Ultimate Edition is done for me. The only thing left to maybe do for the current edition is a booklet of printable references and character sheets. Not feeling a big rush, of course. The bug for that will bite when it bites.
Sun 04 Apr 2021 — Happy Easter
I wonder if Jesus in the tomb was awoken by a cat demanding food …
EZFudge Essentials has had its latest round of updates. I expect them to be the last. Because I can't imagine anything else being broken. But now the combat feels too simplistic. I'm scribbling at an "advanced fight scene" supplement, basically bringing back the roll vs. roll melee model from EZFudge Ultimate. Which means new diagram software. And I do have other things to do. Like …
Last night I downloaded the FreeCAD design software and looked at a couple tutorials. Then I deleted it, and went to Tinkercad instead. I found Tinkerbox to be mildly frustrating, but much less frustrating than FreeCAD was going to be. And I accomplished my mission! Which was to design three jigs to secure fins while glue dries. I have some fine-tuning to do this morning (a little reinforcement, a little cosmetic) before I consider turning them over to a friend for print-production.
Spring has been here. One of the first things I noticed about weather in Northern Nevada was there there are only ever three perfect days in Spring — cool morning, sunny day, calms winds. We had four-and-a-half days like that this year. The winds came up yesterday and that was that. Now we're in Pre-Summer Turbulence season, and probably a drought, too. (Snowpack was only 60% of normal this year, which has water managers concerned.)
Yesterday I also put some fine polish (or at least covered over the lumps) in the Python version of FIDO. I think I'm done with it now, as well. Must get to work on assemblies and be ready when painting weather emerges in a few weeks.
Sun 28 Mar 2021 — Words and Music
A long post below …
Good morning! I'm just here, sitting about waiting for my laundry to come dry before I go an-erranding. What's your Sunday morning like?
What with COVID relief money and tax return money arriving, this are fiscally nice around here this month. And my birthday is coming up, so I've indulged in a few minor purchases.
Any time I look in the Estes Rockets catalog and I see yellow plastic tools, I cringe. The Fin Alignment thing never worked for me. The Tube Marking Guide and Ultimate Tube guides were nice, but didn't really fit my shop philosophy. But this week I splurged on four, yes, four Rocket Building Cradles, and reader, I am entirely delighted. Two will be available for building, so I can work on two models at once. The other two? Well, if you don't put the cradle cap on the posts, you have a perfectly fine two-model stand for models with 18 mm motors. My Alpha and daughter's Athena are upright and in a place where I can see and appreciate them.
This is the thing about these pieces of yellow plastic: I could see in the catalog that they would work for me. I could also see the piece designs are SO efficient for production. That's probably how these manage to be cheaper than most any other stands on the market. (The massive economy of scale Estes can leverage helps, too, I'm sure.) The 18mm single stands are currently out-of-stock, but the cradles use the same piece for the post! And as I look at the build pile, I've got at least 1 more 18 mm model on hand. I should order up a bunch of the 13 mm stands, though.
My rocketry tool set is nearly complete. I have one other thing on my mind: a set of Kuhn-style fin alignment jigs. Yes, I know, I've complained about fin alignment before and I have spent a couple hundred dollars on assorted makes and models. These will be cheaper because I'm going to design them myself and have them 3-D-printed. If these don't work, I have only myself to blame.
I'm also trying to reconcile myself to the need to fill and sand wood parts. I bought some supply jars to keep a mix of filler compound, I've got a good formula for mixing that up, and a bunch of glue brushes for applying same. Why this change? I found a rocketeer who did the work comparing different methods of making fins flat, and papering fins makes the fins heavier than filling and sanding. This is not a good thing when I'm in the very light model/very small motor world — I can't afford to be pulling the center of gravity any more aft than necessary.
The other purchase I've made for my birthday is the Deluxe Edition of the soundtrack CD for Star Trek (2009). Now, I don't have a lot of good words for this film. The acting was good, the effects were nice, and the music was brilliant. Michael Giacchino is probably my favorite film composer currently working, and the Trek score feels like a love letter to the past composers who've worked in that world. Just listening to the odd track here and there on YouTube with my crumby Koss headphones, I hear textures and layers that really make me happy. (Also, I should probably buy better headphones.)
News from the gaming front. I've gotten feedback on EZFudge Essentials. Aaand … I've made so many mistakes. There were functions in the game design that I completely failed to reckon with when I shifted to an "only the player rolls" model, particularly on melee action in fight scenes. I've rewritten those pages once, got more questions, and I have to rewrite those pages some more. I might get that done tonight.
News from the house front. The hammer has not yet fallen. But I have had my first dose of COVID vaccine. Second dose in three weeks. Wife and elder daughter get their first shots on Wednesday. Younger daughter will start her quest for shots after 5 April, when the governor has decreed anyone who wants can try to get.
Well, clothes are almost dry. Time to finish the grocery list and head out. See you around!
Sat 13 Mar 2021 — Indoor Dog
It's safer that way …
After all my wailing and gnashing yesterday, nothing of the critical stuff has gotten done. Oh, the chinchilla's been to the vet and she'll be fine. Tax paperwork has been filed. But there are still huge things that need doing. Am I doing them?
No, instead I put the more-or-less final polish on my Python rocket altitude prediction program. Which is, I have to say, now good enough to share, and I'm delighted to retire the Excel spreadsheet version. But I still won't be sharing it. FIDO is all mine.
First, there are plenty of other model rocketry prediction tools available. OpenRocket is nice (find the packaged installer for your OS). RockSim is fine, and free for the first 30 days. There are many web-powered tools that do the same thing as FIDO. I'm not in favor of redundancy, even if I did go to the trouble of making FIDO stranger-proof.
More importantly, FIDO is tuned for how I fly. It includes no tubes bigger than 66 mm. It includes no motors larger than 18 x 70 mm. It implements my decisions about safe flying, decisions that others might not agree with.
And then there's this dirty little secret: It's all theory. It assumes the motors behave exactly (they don't), and the model is built in a way consistent with the estimated drag values (and it may not be).
What FIDO does do for me, even with all that waffling, is give me a ballpark idea of what a rocket model will do. That's enough to let me pick a motor that suits the range, or suits my intentions of flight. And that's good enough for me.
Fri 12 Mar 2021 — Beware the Ides
In which Bob bards unnecessarily …
As the bits and bobs arrive for the launch controller, I've been spending a lot of time diving through the NAR periodical library: looking at how other people did camera-tripod launch pads; looking at the history of the NARTREK program, and so on. It's an easy rabbit hole to sail into, but a pleasant one.
Also as the bits and bobs arrive, I continue to iterate on my design choices. The latest big decision: dump the unnecessary master power switch. That makes the wiring of the power box so much simpler. I'm all about less clutter.
Also I've been continuing to evaluate my rocketry computing experience. The Python scripts make me happier than the Excel workbook does, so I'm in the process of putting a graphical window on the FIDO script to make it easier to use. In that process, I keep finding mistakes in the motor data I was using. That's very annoying!
Summed up, I'll continue to use RockSim to explore existing kits and find interesting ways to alter them. I'll use FIDO to prep flight info for the vehicles I make. None of which matters today, as there are too many other things to be done.
Mon 22 Feb 2021 — At Last, The 2020 Show
In which Bob looks alive …
With all my chores squared away before 2:00 p.m. on Sunday, I decided to finally finish the Mini Honest John rocket model. By which I mean putting on the waterslide decals. I had procrastinated this since last summer, because there were so many decals and most were small. Once I finally settled to the task, though, I discovered that there are actually two sets of decals: one for the M31 Honest John and one for the M50 Honest John. I opted for the latter, since that's what the instructions show and that's the shape the nose is for. And that left 12 decals. Should have been 16, but the four teeniest were spoiled while in storage. Alas. But hey, that's finally done!
And now I've started building the 13 mm IQSY Tomahawk model. Motor block, shock cord, and launch lug are in, and the fins are underway. I papered these fins, bonding a skin of light paper to the plane surfaces. This will probably become a regular practice, given how much I hate filling and sanding. I also applied a coat of white glue as filler and strengthener on the balas nose cone. This is seriously old-school practice here. That does need sanding and a second coat followed by sanding, but I am very pleased with how it's going. Assembly should be finished by next weekend.
That would just leave painting. Afternoon air temperatures have been (just) warm enough for spray-paint, but afternoon winds say "no." The recent patterns for February and March have been too turbulent to rely on, so I don't expect to go into spray-paint frenzy until April at best. By which time I expect I can have my entire build pile ready to paint. I need small boxes to keep them organized...
The priorities: finish and fly the Tomahawk to complete my NARTREK Silver credential. Finish and fly the iCatcher (my own pointy design) to complete the NARTREK Gold credential. Finish and fly all the rest to have fun! That should take me up to Memorial Day.
While I'm here, let me put down the State of the Envelope within which I fly (mostly as a reminder-to-self):
Maximum Altitude: 180 m / 600 feet. Most will be less. Light models will need to stay under B motors; heavy/draggy models can go C or D as long as the altitude cap is respected.
Maximum Motor Mount Size: 24 mm x 70 mm
Maximum Motor Size: 18 mm x 70 mm.
Keen-eyed readers may think they notice a discrepancies. Not at all. Estes models designed around the 24 mm Estes C11/D12 motors will fly happily with the 18mm Quest Q-Jet C and D motors. Just need an adapter, which I've already got parts on hand for. I'll be flying many models designed for 18 mm A / B / C with an adapter to use the 13 mm A motors.
Sat 20 Feb 2021 — Round, Up
In which Bob blathers on software …
The holiday weekend (yes, last weekend, it's taken me that long to pull this post together) was a quiet one, as we are mostly indoor types and there is still a pandemic afoot regardless of what my state government says. (Yes, the numbers are better. They are now "horrible," down from "catastrophic.") Chores got done, mostly on time. A car race was watched.
I thought to do some rocket building over the holiday weekend. Instead, I did designing. I reworked my project rocket twice. I'm really, really happy with it now, and I look forward to welcoming it to my fleet.
I'm still wrangling with the launch pad. My best idea at the moment is to strip the pan/tilt head off the tripod (extendable tripod legs are indispensible) and permanently mount a 1/4"-20 bolt at the top of the central shaft. Then the rest of the pad attachments (launch lead arm, blast deflector, standoff, launch rod) can go on that. Scrap Pad, here I come.
A new version of RockSim dropped this past week. I spent some time getting acquainted. I also hatcheted out any parts I will never ever use. There are some unusual gaps in the parts database, like the thin elastic most model rockets use for shock cords. I expect that I will be measuring and checking and updating parts in the program as part of every build I make.
I loaded up OpenRocket as well. Its database is vast, but the program hasn't been updated in forever. So much forever, in fact, that it doesn't run under current versions of Java. I have needs to edit the motor list, too, but cannot.
My FIDO programs can do all my calculating needs, of course. Why the other software? They make it a snap to iterate on my designs or investigate other folks' designs. And RockSim and OpenRocket have very nice image tools. So that's the main reasons for the big programs.
In the background, I've also been collecting prior programs for model rocket design, going back into the 1990s. Why? Oh, it's fun. I might try running them in DOSBox someday.
Sun 07 Feb 2021 — Exemplary Night Hunter
In which Bob commits a riddle …
I might look in on the NFL championship later today. Too much to do in the meantime to be slouching about.
During tidying last week, I discovered some lost code that supported a game system I edited back at the beginning of this century. That made me very happy. In the process of retesting the code, I discovered first an error in that lost code (no one would have cared), and then a different error in some of the published products. Oops. Not my error, but it's something I should have caught and it's sad to see sitting there. On the other hand, role-playing games have a 45-year history of indifferent proofreading. I mind a time when one of the Big Players now was a laughingstock for the blatant text mistakes in its products. It got better. Life goes on.
Weather has resumed above-average temps after a nice bit of snow a couple weeks ago. Naturally this will decline over the week, and on the holiday weekend where I thought I might do some rocket painting, snow is forecast. Welcome to Nevada.
I'm done thinking about launch systems or bigger flight envelopes for now. A budget crunch has emerged, and there's no need for me to be shopping for parts. I do have plenty of supplies and projects on hand, never fear.
Oh, speaking of, I've decided the rocketry books will start in ePUB format, not PDF. Just 'cause I have a fetish for print matter doesn't mean I should think my audience does. I think what my audience wants is something easily readable on tablet or phone.
Sun 31 Jan 2021 — Getting It Up
In which Bob demonstrates an occasionally juvenile sense of humor …
I attended the virtual National Association of Rocketry 2021 Convention this weekend. I definitely found it worth the price of admission, although if I were wiser I could have saved the money and just watched the presentations later. But it was inspiring to hear aerodynamics explained by Jim Barrowman in person, and to get news from the manufacturers and the association. The new Estes starter will be around in May or so.
My rocketry books are proceeding. I don't know if I'll do the fourth one ("advanced" topics). My latest check of the book one text says "8th grade" reading level. I need to bring that down to 6th or lower. I don't know if the mid-April deadline will work, but it gets done when it gets done.
In the ground support equipment realm, the "Launch Box" design I wrote about here last August will not happen. It would just be too vulnerable to the wind.
I do have a design for a launch system that I'm happy with. I don't need to build it, but there are aspects of my current launchers that annoy me. My design isn't as sleek, but it will have plenty of power and fit in my hand more nicely.
The launch pad is another matter. My current support is a cheap camera tripod — sufficient but perhaps too cheap and definitely too fiddly. Lots of fliers love this mode, but I don't. I plan to build a mid-power PVC pad from plans published at nar.org. With modifications, of course: installing a 1/4-bolt at the hub to receive my Odd'l Rockets Adeptor. And probably using an upturned metal bowl for a deflector. I'm designing some LEGO shims to tilt the four-paw pad — modularity for the win. Looks like I need a new box for this pad — it won't fit in the current range box.
Sun 10 Jan 2021 — Work in Progress
In which Bob commits to a project …
My rocketry books are go. Even though no fact in them is original, I have conculded that how I want to present them is distinct enough to be worth the work.
"Books?" Yup. Each one will be a 16-page booklet in PDF format, easy to print or easy to read on a tablet. There will be four. The first is focused on the terms and science necessary for a basic understanding. The second book is about flying. The third book is about building. And the fourth goes beyond the basics to point out options beyond the basic rocket.
A picture is worth a thousand words, of course. I've figured out how to illustrate them simply but still clearly. When I hit roadbloacks, I've got my graphic artist daughter to turn to for help.
I wrote a lot of the text for book one yesterday. (Or rewrote, really, since I'd started that material twice before. It was already in my head.) I'll probably make some illustrations today after the rest of my chores are done.
And then, when they're ready, I'll put them on itch.io with a "pay what you will" flag on them. I hope to do that around mid-April.
Sat 09 Jan 2021 — Sparking Ideas
In which Bob heats up and cools down …
From the early 1960s to now, model rockets use an electrical system to start the motor. The usual device for this is a thin piece of nichrome wire. When current is applied, this wire gets hot enough to ignite the black powder composite. In the late 1960s, folks began coating the wire with a dab of fine-grain black powder. The powder protects the fragile nichrome wire, the wire ignites the powder, and the powder ignites the propellant much more reliably. So it went for forty years.
So it went until the mid-2010s, when Federal authorities asserted a new level of control. In response, manufacturers ceased coating igniters in black powder. One manufacturer shifted to cornstarch. The nichrome wire still needed protecting, and model rocket starters still work fine, though they may take a little more out of the battery compared to older, quicker starters.
There's nothing at all in law that says an end user can't dip his own igniters in black powder — just production and distribution are regulated. Some companies sell dip kits. Other hobbyists have shared their methods for enhancing the current crop of starters.
I have three dozen igniters or thereabouts. Some are new (with new tips), some are older (with powder tips), and some are older still (with much-eroded powder tips from shelf wear). I spent much time last weekend investigating the ways and means of upgrading them. Black powder, alas, I can only get in one-pound bottles — enough for a thousand starters, I figure, more than I'll fly for the rest of my life. That'd be silly. The dip kits cost about the same for a mere ounce of coating material, and it depends on acetone solvent. That'd be smelly, and you may recall I try to minimize smelly chemicals in the house.
My decision, then, was — to wait. Because Estes announced last fall that they have a new model of igniter in the works. I hope to hear more about that at the convention at the end of this month. I have seen some hobbyists "test-driving" these in the field. They look very promising. Buying those, all-new, would cost about the same as the other two options.
Sat 02 Jan 2021 — Assertions I
In which Bob speaks and we hope acts …
New Year. It's all an artifact of our design, but trying to make it a useful artifact is a perennial challenge.
My first change for the new year (actually, one of many but it's the first one I'm writing about) is prayer practices. I want to add more structure to how I do my faith. So: five prayers a day, each on a different topic (one of praise, one of gratitude, one of affirmation, one for others, and the Lord's Prayer (which combines all of those). And a daily reading. That's to start the year. I'll review at mid-year and see what I'm ready to add then.
Readers in the anglo-catholic traditions are pointing to their respective lectionaries and saying "Bob, aren't you just making more work for yourself?" Yes. Yes, I am. And that's part of the point. I tried using a lectionary as my daily framework and it didn't stick. I was too distracted by the history and the architecture of liturgical practice. By writing my own cycle of prayers (except the Lord's Prayer, of course, and the one for others which will change to meet current needs), I embed their words into my awareness. Most of them will just be taken from existing Psalms, so it's not THAT much work.
Mon 21 Dec 2020 — Having A Ball
Bob is working only half-time this week. How does he fill he hours? …
The one and only time I read the manual for a computer language, it was 1987 and I don't know what got into me. For whatever reason, I picked up the manual for GW-BASIC which came with my PC/XT clone from Sears and started reading. Or scanning, maybe. I know I wasn't hanging on every word, but I did look at something on every single page. A couple hours later, I was done and I knew what I needed to do to recreate a program from an earlier version of BASIC. Which I did.
I've written three Python programs in the last few days, all related to rocketry. I started by looking at the style guide so I could minimize the "ugliness" of my novice code. From there it was outline the program in comments and fill in the blanks as I went. First real code was a list of CSV-lists exported from my Excel rocketry workbook. And then the coding just … flowed.
Oh, I made mistakes. And then I (re-)discovered wrinkles in the Excel data. And then I made improvements that actually weren't and it took me a few hours to realize what needed to be backed out. But at no time did I feel "ARRGH WHY DOESN'T THIS WORK?" Well, maybe once or twice, but most of the time it was just "that's an interesting error" and "nope, that didn't fix it, what else do I try?" And then, when everything lined up correctly, "Ah, there we go."
I'd like to think part of that was just improved maturity on my part, but most of it was: I know this solution works because I've used it before many times and I have plenty of working implementations to compare this development to ... and see where it makes wrong turns. So now I'm in possession of two programs to support my NARTREK Gold project and a third which has given me data for my rocketry journal. And I'm wondering what I might do next.
Mon 17 Dec 2020 — Naming Names
In which Bob makes a declaration …
As the previous post suggests, I do think about model rocketry quite a bit. And I do things, too, building and painting and flying. I also do designing, and I'm looking forward to trying out some of my own designs next year. And I'll be attending the (virtual) NARcon for the first time. And of course, number crunching and programming.
Roleplaying games I don't think about nearly as much. I think about tabletop games more often, really. For instance, I bought the PDF full-color version of "Black Death" (BTRC) this week. A lovely, grim little game. And if I make assets of it for GamenienTabele and someone else owns the same PDF version, why I can play with them. I could actually play TFT, too, I'd just have to ignore the "scanned" counters. Hmm. Or. But anyway.
So I'm going to call myself a lapsed roleplayer from here-on. Even though there are still many TFT books in the works that I'd like to read and will probably buy. But that's all I do with any of the RPG stuff I have now is read it. Finding or making a group, scheduling, playing (or more likely running) … that's all just too much for where I am. In a lot of cases, even the reading is not pleasurable.
If I end up in a different place — say a convalescent bed — well, that's the perfect time for a lot of solo play. Assuming my brain still works in that hypothetical.
(PyFIDO is mostly finished, and in testing it I found a pernicious error that had snuck into my Excel version of FIDO. Both now give matching results, and it's a matter of making PyFIDO tidy now. Whew.)
Mon 14 Dec 2020 — Pre-Flight
In which Bob revisits the status of his main hobby …
(yup. Love games, but they're definitely not first place these days)
The fourth quarter birthdays have come and gone, quietly. Time to ponder Yule. I'm thinking of asking Santa to get me a swing-arm lighted magnifier. That would help with the sometimes fiddly things I have to do for rocketry or other projects. Or some safety goggles. Maybe a soldering station.
I succumbed to the Cyber Monday offering from Estes Rockets and snared three kits for just over $20 with free shipping. (Consider: that's about the same as one kit plus shipping.) The first kit (a two-stager) will be harvested for parts. The parachute will replace the one I melted in August. The engine mounts will be converted into motor adapters, allowing me to use 18 mm motors in 24 mm models … something now practical with the Quest composite D motors. The second is another two-stager, skill level 2 (now: Advanced) for mini motors. Since the delays on mini motors are so short, if you want to stage, you have to be draggy. This has decorative rings that do that job. The third a helicopter-recovery, again with mini motors. It was Skill Level 3, now "Expert." I don't know that I am an Expert builder. I will find out in the spring, I guess. (My "build pile" is now over five deep. I'm starting to feel like a real rocketeer.)
I have been irked at the weather, no longer suitable for outdoor spray painting. I investigated indoor spray painting. It would have been possible, but highly expensive. I figured outlay of a minimum of $200. If I wanted the good stuff, $400 … which is nearly as much as I've spent on the whole rocketry hobby relaunch to date. At bottom, I couldn't justify it to myself. Definitely not a small and simple solution. Painting season reopens in March, I expect. (The alternative is printed body wraps. My current printer won't do. My old printer may still work. If not, I get to invest in another printer, but that would be less than $100.)
I am resolved on the launch site situation. As a reminder: there's a small one 30 minutes away, but it's closed when fire restrictions are on. There's the club site an hour away, on private property but I don't dig the club equipment. There's another club site three hours away, also vulnerable to fire restrictions. Plus all the pandemic limits. Or … and this is my likely plan … a dry lake near a national conservation area two hours away. Guaranteed fireproof, rocket-eating-tree-free, and all the isolation I could ask for.
I'm making a new version of FIDO (a "learning Python" exercise) that will run a set of simulations with all the motors at once and flag which are good and which are bad. (Bad = too weak for clean liftoff or delay too short.) The good ones I'll add to my OneNote page for each model.
Sat 21 Nov 2020 — I Had A Terrific Post Title This Morning
And a teaser, too …
I'm feeling change in the winter-onset winds.
Oddly enough, writing (typing) on the tablet with a Bluetooth keyboard is more pleasant to me than typing at the desktop machine. Not in this website, but GMail was nice. Maybe something will turn there.
A friend pointed out a new Casio graphic calculator with MicroPython. Which would be more interesting and perhaps more useful to learn than HP Prime or relearn TI_Basic. Something is likely to turn there.
Gotta do exercise. Also wanna start playing a wind instrument again, to maybe rebuild some lung strength. Yes, I know there's no science to back that up, but that didn't stop us when I was 11. I need to make turns there.
Model rocketry is not for turning. Though I may not come back to it until the days start to lengthen again.
Wed 11 Nov 2020 — Post Toasties
In which Bob goes round and round …
I have been positively plagued of late by impulses to write essays. An essay about VTTs, or about all the computers I've known in forty years of serious exposure. An essay about what Star Trek means to me. But having the essays fully formed in my head does not mean I have to write them. And when I sit down to write them, I'm just overcome with a sense of labor. (Work is enjoyable; labor is not.)
That's part of why I seem to have stalled on rocketry. The next thing I should do is apply the decals to the Honest John, but they're small and fiddly and boy is that labor. There's nothing but cold winter days ahead, so I may as well get to it. Outdoor spray-painting season is definitely over, but I can work on assembling my other kits to be ready for spring. And the fire restrictions have been lifted so I can use my public land launch site again. (A record-breaking snowstorm last weekend can make that happen.)
As for games, I spent some of yesterday revisiting Tabletop Simulator, and it's as annoying as I remember. And the free support for The Fantasy Trip: Melee for Tabletop Simulator seems to have vanished. There's a workshop module for classic Melee. None of it is as flexible as what I've made for use in GamenienTabele. Unless someone invites me to a game night in Tabletop Simulator, I'm probably done with it.
Speaking of, I did one of those "my tech stuff" loops lately. The summed-up: games now happen on my PC instead of the tablet. That's all. Other than my desk is now 4" too high and my seat 3" too low.
Or maybe COVID Brain is finally setting in.
Sat 24 Oct 2020 — Iidying Up and Moving Things Around
In which Bob plays code-monkey for a while …
Some of my spare time this week has been turned to, of all things, website maintenance. Not that there's much here to break or need minding. But I did decide to rearrange the sections in the library, and I edited some descriptions here and there. I also took down one article, with a mind to revise it and see it properly published.
A fun update was making a better set of images for the Triplanetary Basics of Space Flight article. I remember laboring mightily over those a couple years back. Today, different computer, different tools, less than an hour to remake all five graphics. It was, of course, necessary to edit the article here and there to harmonize with the new pictures.
I have a coding and documentation project for work to finish this weekend. Naturally I am distracting myself with other tasks or napping. Or thoughts about games. The graphics updates made me think about all the graphics work I did in that same couple-years-ago to make digital elements for use in playing with virtual tabletops. Having made those elements, I can't play with others because that would be an illegal conveyance of copyrighted material. I do see loopholes here and there, but I shan't trust my happiness to loopholes. I have also invested materially in solo-play games this past year. So I am a weird hybrid of tabletop gamer using electronic means to play alone.
And I have two places to play! There's Tabletop Simulator, a wonderful realistic 3D environment with controls that drive me crazy and which cost $30 besides. And there's GamenianTabele … a mouthful to say now, but it's the open-source free gaming whiteboard co-developed by (now-novelist) Andy Weir and still available but no longer in active development. At least it makes sense. I'll probably keep using that.
A cold snap rolls in tonight. I have to finish the work project and then get one rocket kit built up to the "paintable" mark for later next week when the weather warms enough. Plus groceries and shopping tomorrow. Deep breath.
Sun 18 Oct 2020 — More Musings on Launch Sites
In which Bob might be de-ranged …
I learned that the fire codes for model rockets were updated in 2017, and the update allows me to use expected altitude to determine range size... Yay! It also says that the minimum dimension should be 1/2 the expected altitude … not 1/4 like I was planning. Boo. And the NAR did not (yet) extend this provision into its Model Rocket Safety Code, so if I do fly a bigger motor on a smaller range, my insurance would not apply if there was a mishap. Boo some more.
At my preferred public-land site (all sandy, no fire risk), I can have up to B-impulse (and any altitude) with coverage or up to 400 feet altitude (and any motor) but no coverage. This is a kind of hard decision. Or it would be, if I didn't notice that day-before-yesterday the fire restrictions order on that site was extended indefinitely.
So the search for a launch site begins again, or I just cave and fly with the semi-local club. Decisions, decisions. You think it would be easy to find a two-football-field area to fly in.
Sat 17 Oct 2020 — The Weave
In which Bob updates and downchecks …
We had updated internet equipment installed this past week. Now we don't have to fret about competing for bandwidth between me (working from home full-time), spouse (working from home part-time), and college student (learning from home mostly).
I did a lot of my early fan writing with ClarisWorks/Appleworks. Loved that program. I've got it running again on Windows 10. Probably not for long, but long enough to convert/archive a couple dozen old files. Also very tempted to use this to create a bundle of printables for EZFudge Essentials.
I have ideas now and again. I don't put them in the blog. I must be rolling into one of my low cycles, 'cause I'm not enthused about blogging. I think I need to do something else, not something I've done over and over and over again. I wonder what that something else will be.
Sun 11 Oct 2020y — Old Dogs and New Tricks
In which Bob rules the rules of thumb …
For all the model rocketry has always declared itself "a scientific hobby," a lot of the science is more empirical than analytical.
In the mid-1960s, the safety recommendations for range size were "minimum of 1/4 the expected altitude." Later the code acquired a table with minimum range sizes based on motor size. But where do those sizes come from? Turns out they're around 1/4 of the expected altitude of an average rocket for that motor. You've heard me sing that tune before, but it amuses me so much I keep bringing it back. These hard and fast rules have nothing behind them except ... long experience of safe flying. And hey, that's good enough for me.
Another challenge is making sure you've selected a motor that will get the model flying fast enough off the rod for the fins to provide stable guidance. One rule of thumb for that is to expect a minimum speed of 30 mph. Another rule of thumb is that the ratio of the motor average thrust to the model launch weight should be 5:1 or higher. And another is that the ratio of motor peak thrust to the model launch weight should be 4:1 or higher.
My FIDO rocketry calculator already did speed-off-rod. Today I installed checks for the other two. Having these additional checks improve my level of comfort with the flying designs. I love my FIDO.
Sat 26 Sep 2020 Catching Up
In which Bob circumloquates about recent developments …
How is it that it's taken this long for it to sink in to me that the first chapter of The Hobbit is titled "An Unexpected Party" and the first chapter of The Lord of the Rings is titled "A Long-Expected Party"?
A small unexpected financial windfall landed here recently. So I did some shopping.
I bought a new office chair for the college student and took my office chair back from her.
I caught up on missed supplements for Beyond the Wall, my second-favorite D&D retro-clone.
I caught up on a missed supplement for ICONS: Superpowered Roleplaying, the only superhero RPG I'd actually want to play or run any more. So I'm caught up for rules there. Maybe someday I'll splurge on all the adventures.
I finally caved and bought Thousand Suns, a sci-fi RPG inspired by "imperial sci-fi" of the 1950s-1970s. The author is a long-time acquaintance, and he actually gave me a thank-you on the credits page. Thank you right back, James!
I finally caved and bought The Magical Land of Yeld, a fantasy RPG companion to the "Modest Medusa" webcomic (and possibly the "Ghost Kiss" webcomic, too). I dig the art, and the setting world is refreshingly colorful (but the colors include dark bits, too). The rules are also fun and fit the world nicely.
A Bundle of Holding popped up for Fudge-powered games. Most of the games I don't care for or about, but I donated generously for the sake of getting Deryni, Terra Incognita, and the Tenth Anniversary core book, all in PDF.
And I bought the rest of the fin and tube tools from Qualman Rocketry. I've already mentioned I like the designs. They're not going to have me making perfect rockets overnight, but thinking about how to use them well has also made me think about how I work and how to maximize my feeble skills.
And then I remembered I had to get a smog check and renew the license plates on my car. Oops.
Sun 13 Sep 2020 — Far Future Enterprises
In which Bob looks ahead while commiting a sly callback …
In consequence of yesterday's decisions, I browsed back through the current Estes Rockets catalog to see what now could be in my future. Truthfully, not a not jumped out at me. I don't like complicated builds, and I don't need more basic (fins-and-nose) builds. I saw maybe a half-dozen kits of interest, most of them things that it seems like every rocketeer should have (Big Bertha, Der Red Max).
There's a nostalgia thread in my head that wants to recreate some of the models I lost in the early years, or built but never got to fly. There are some out-of-production designs that appeal and which I could clone without fuss. And I still have the mini-motor projects which I'd still like to do.
If I get to the AP composite motors, I'll need a new launch controller. Not sure if I'll build that or buy that. We'll see what the NARTREK Advanced assignments look like. If I ever get there. This all a long way ahead.
Sat 12 Sep 2020 — The Fixed Stars
In which Bob rewrites the rules, which is better than starting over …
After a couple hard days thinking, it is decided: I'm going to widen my rocketry world plans a bit. Just a little.
First: my flight ceiling is now 600 feet. This still fits comfortably inside my targeted range space, with room to spare.
Second: my motor limit is now by physical size, not impulse. If it flies on an 18 mm by 70 mm motor and stays under 600 feet, I will consider it.
This means never ever guessing about how it's going to fly. I've got to do the measurements and the math and have a good prediction for the outcome. A scientific hobby!
This also means I can build bigger models. Which I think would be easier on my mind. I'm probably still looking at pretty light models, but now the 5- to 16-ounce range of model is available.
This also also means, when I get around to it, I can play with the Quest Q-Jet and AeroTech RMS 18/20 motors. AP Composite, I'm on my way. I'll still probably stick with the A or B class motors, but I may have some models in the horizon pipeline that would need a D.
And that's where I draw a hard line. Higher motors than that mean new and tougher launch equipment and new build techniques that I'm not interested in tackling.
Interesting side effect: This keeps me in the realm of model rocketry as it was when I started, mostly.
Fri 11 Sep 2020 — Waffles
In which Bob demonstrates his spine of steel-colored gelatin …
The smaller boxes have arrived. I have actually used more of them than I expected to (only one to spare). I did not have to cut the tube-fitting jig; a box surfaced that fit the bill. I did have to order a razor saw blade and some safety covers for the hobby knives. There are some things I have way too much of; the overflow now has a box of its own.
Another thing I need to do is make an electronic record of expected performance by motor for each model, records that I can access in the field. That information feeds my goals of keeping rockets in sight and keeping them under the ceiling for my range. That's easy enough, just have to sit down with the scale and FIDO.
I might have worked out what I did wrong while spray-painting models earlier this summer. 1) The primer coat was fine, except maybe I could have been more genteel about the application. 2) The topcoats I messed up by giving too much time between sprays given the temperature (hot) and humidity (low). Next batch of rockets should be better.
I find my resolve to stick exclusively with 13 mm motors eroding under two pressures. The first pressure is the discovery the some of the models I built in the '80s may have survived. I'd love to see them fly, even though they have to have 18 mm or 24 mm motors. The second pressure is the expanded offering of 18 mm AP Composite motors. These look like fun to try, but the challenge will be fitting them to models such that they will stay inside my small launch site. (As discussed before, that means managing weight and drag.) There's no rush for that. I still have four models to build and finish and fly before I really start thinking about stretching the envelope that way.
I also need to make my new launch pad jet deflector. Might need some metal snips for that.
Mon 07 Sep 2020 — Less Labor Day
In which Bob natters about rocketry tools some more …
I'm making one more attempt at a manufactured fin alignment guide before I resort to making my own. I'm impressed by the manufacturing quality of this guide and the careful thought that went into the design and execution of the product. I've also learned a refinement to my fin attachment technique that should improve my satisfaction with the work.
I'm also making an eBook explaining model rocketry concepts. It will be in ePUB format. It will be in a conversational voice. And there will be other wrinkles. If I work diligently, I can have the first draft done by the end of the year.
A slight detour. I subscribe to a YouTube channel called "Adam Savage's Tested." This is a group of photographers, makers, pop culture fans, and all-purpose nerds based in San Francisco and featuring the former Mythbuster. Many of Adam's videos are filmed in the shop space he leases some blocks from his home. Adam's "Cave" is a physical and visual manifestation of Adam's enthusiasms, curiosity, and many many skills acquired through a life in the practical entertainment arts.
Adam makes shop organization a priority with drawers, bins, racks and shelves everywhere. He describes this as essential to his workflow. The tool that's a hassle to get to and use is the tool that won't get used, even if it's perfect for the task at hand.
Here's where I am with my tools: I have two medium tool boxes, one labeled "Range" and one labeled "Build." And neither is full, but both are cluttered and fill me with annoyance every time I have to open them. So it's time to do it over again. Instead of one build box, I will have several smaller, easily-stacked, cardboard boxes. Each box will be clearly labeled with contents, and I will drop dividers into boxes as needed, sticking the dividers in place with a glue gun. Other boxes will have spare parts and liquid supplies. The range box will be retained for its rugged outdoorsiness but stripped back to only what's needed on the range (pad, launch controller, motors, starters, recovery wadding), with one extra cardboard box of emergency repair supplies.
There are interesting side effects to this plan. My tube-cutting jig will not fit in the cardboard boxes. I will have to cut off 3 or 4 cm, but that's okay. The jig will still be usable even for long tubes. I already had started storing recovery devices (chutes and streamers) in a box of similar size.
Mon 31 Aug 2020 — Rocket Madness, Ground Support Edition
In which Bob spins in a relatively new circle …
Looking beyond the completion of my NARTREK Gold project is an advanced Ground Support Equipment project. I had thought about a launch system in a lunch box — Launch Box, get it? — but that was really only part of the issue. I want something clever for the pad as well. I had been looking over all those old rocketry catalogs, and I really dig the ones with the battery at the pad. I also need a standoff for the launch leads.
And as an out-of-shape middle-aged dude, the higher off the ground I can make it, the happier I'll be. And I'd like to reduce the number of Things I'm Carrying Around. Which leads me to this:
Imagine a suitcase, or maybe a range box, 12" x 18" x 4". Inside is everything except the launch rod. Carry it like a briefcase. For launch, set it on a narrow side (putting the 12V motorcycle battery at the bottom). Remove the Odd'l Rockets Adeptor, the launch leads, the controller, the controller cable, the launch standoff, the blast deflector, and the legs. Two legs slide through a holes across a short side of the bottom and are for tipover stability. The third leg slides in at a right angle to the other two, providing stability on the other axis plus a lever for launch angle adjustment. Then the launch standoff (basically a 12"-16" strip of something with a 1/4 holes at either end) goes over the 1/4"-20 bolt end sticking out of the top and is secured by the Adeptor. The rod goes in, and the blast deflector (the traditional cut steel can) goes on. Don't forget the safety cap! That's the pad.
Connect the launch leads to the designated connector on the suitcase and run them up to the standoff. Connect the 5m controller cable to its connector, string it over to your launch position, and connect the controller. Controller is done and you're ready to fly. Reverse steps at the end of the day to pack up again.
There are issues of geometry to resolve: running the wires around the perimeter walls inside the case, securing the battery, orientation of the launch leads, deflector, launch rod, and stand-off. Do I want a master power switch and indicator on the box? The box bottom has to be waterproof, and maybe the top needs its own flame protection. The stand-off needs to be short-proof. I don't plan on "advancing" to mid-power, but if I did, I'd need a 10m controller cable and a way to secure thicker launch rods. I'm still trying to decide if the legs are wood or PVC. Hmm, maybe use PVC tunnels in the box for the wiring.
Pondering in progress, more news next year.
Sun 30 Aug 2020 — Hopping the Clouds Some More
In which Bob commits meta-posting …
I have edited the post of 27 Jun 2020 on cloning the Estes Cloud Hopper and the post on 28 Jun 2020 about my fleet status.
And I'm writing about that here like you care.
Fri 28 Aug 2020 — Summer's End
In which Bob meanders around the season change …
September is always part of autumn for me. Never mind it's still hot and sunny. Summer ends when school starts, and school has started. Never mind I'm not in school nor have I been for nigh on two decades. Summer is over. (School is still present, as the University Freshman in the house demonstrates on a daily basis.)
Model rocketry is on hold. Not only am I still working on the tool problem, air pollution from the regional wildfires makes painting impossible. That's fine, there are plenty of other things going on. I look forward to diving back into the four kits I have on hand in October. Possibly I'll have them done and flown before Thanksgiving and be ready to head into a proper winter build season. I have a few designs of my own I might tackle, and there are still a few interesting mini-motor-powered kits out there that have caught my fancy.
One Paragraph Review: Star Trek Adventures from Modiphius Publishing. Yes, I'm late to the latest Trek game. I will say it's very pretty. I will say the Starter Set is essential because it has the pretty gameplay tokens and it has the rules in compact and clear form. The corebook is huge, as the times demand, and it's chock-a-block full of details. It thankfully goes away from skill-list driven characters to a more descriptive play model. It is engagingly written, and very mindful of Traditional Starfleet Values. It uses custom dice for one play aspect, which mildly irks me. I got a huge PDF library from Humble Bundle and I will say it was entirely worth it.
Sat 15 Aug 2020 — Night Errands By Day
In which Bob goes shopping again …
A quick revisit on my rocketry tools post from last month.
The big irk about the fin alignment jigs I bought and the tube cutting/marking guides that I haven't is that they constrain my work to limited specifications, namely the Estes tube diameters and the jig's fin sizes. This makes my brain itch, even if it is true that I expect to work with those tube sizes most of the time. (But the BT-20 fin jig has slots too narrow for some fins I'm using, so it's for-sure out.) Basically any rocket building is on hold until I fix this issue.
And for the price of a short brass angle for marking, I can buy a yard of aluminum angle and a carbide hacksaw blade with which to slice off useful lengths. Three lengths become three fin jigs for each typical fin thickness I will deal with, usable on any diameter tube (once I figure out how to make the slot.) One length becomes a marking guide. And the four take up way less space than the Estes contraption and the other fin jigs. (I'm glad they're all recyclable.)
That just leaves tube cutting, and for $4 more than the Estes kit with its five specific diameters, I can buy a single jig that will cut any size tube I'm likely to handle.
As usual, I've wasted some money getting here, but I'll be happier and better skilled in the future.
I'm reasonably well-resolved that I won't be doing the club launch site again, for several reasons which I will not post here.
Sat 08 Aug 2020 — Flight Day
In which Bob reminds his family what used model rocket motors smell like …
Up early (0430) to shower and dress. Quick run to the store for ice, water, snacks, and breakfast sandwiches. College daughter and I hit the road around 0800, with her doing her second round of freeway/highway driving practice. Traffic was light, until a wave caught up to us, but that was fine. About an hour and one minor detour later, we pulled up into the parking zone. We watched some other launches while I prepared the Alpha 1975 for flight.
I'm not going to go through every movement at the club launch. The people running the show (safety officer, range control officer) were kind, patient, and well-versed in their roles. We flew, in order, Alpha, Athena, Mini Honest John, and Cyclone. All were perfectly normal except Mini Honest John's parachute got scorched. I discovered afterward that I had put no recovery wadding in it. That could have turned out much worse. We also watched many other rockets, big and small, fly, most of them well.
Just before noon, we rolled out and drove into Fallon, grabbing a bite to eat at a fast food drive thru, before heading home a rather longish way around. Interesting sights were seen, and College Daughter got to see a bit more of the variety of Nevada. And I got a thorough sunburn.
I don't know if I will go again. Club will be busy next month with a major high-power launch event on the Black Rock Desert. Next launch would be October or maybe into November ... by which time fire restrictions should be lifted and I can use a closer place to fly. On the other hand, odd rocs deserve a bigger audience. So. We'll see.
Sun 02 Aug 2020 — Gone Shopping?
But not for piston engines …
I like getting things and paying less. It's probably why most of my RPG buying of the last decade or so has been PDF eBooks. They're not as completely satisfying as a proper book, but usually less money and so much less space.
I've hesitated for over a week on the Star Trek Adventures Humble Bundle. I'll be ignoring half the bundle (adventures, STO add-ons), but it's still a bargain and a half.
This post may seem odd. It started as a long meditation on why I wasn't buying it. In that process, I just couldn't find enough reasons to resist at that price point. So here we are.
Fri 31 Jul 2020 — A Reflection on Rocketry Tools
In which Bob takes the measure of his work …
Model rocketry is a hobby built on a few simple techniques and tools. You need to be able to measure and to mark accurately. It helps to have a way to hold the work off the tabletop horizontally. And then you need to be able to join pieces well and then decorate them. As I look back at the last three months, I'm seeing things in my toolkit that I feel a need to change.
A metal ruler with a corked back is recommended for measuring. I have one. It works fine. It's twelve inches and a nice maroon color. I could use a smaller one, maybe. The recommended marking tool is a pencil. I have a suitable mechanical pencil and plenty of regular pencils. No problems in either of those fronts.
I'm half-pleased with the Estes Tube Marking Kit. The discs for setting fin spacing are cool. The measuring-line marking-fin alignment thing is not convenient to use and hurts to look upon, like something from a Lovecraftian outer world. I feel a strong urge to get other tools for those tasks.
For marking lines down the length of a tube, a piece of metal angle is ideal. I'll check the hardware store, but I expect all those pieces to be too long. I'll probably have to order one from the internet. Either way, it'll be cheaper and take up less space than the Estes Ultimate Tube Marking Guide.
For marking around a tube and cutting same, the Estes Tube Cutting Guides will be swell. I do have a bunch of tube-cutting in my future, so I'll add those to my list.
I made a cradle stand out of a box a motor shipment came in. So that's taken care of. And I'm pretty happy with my glue technique all-in-all.
For getting fins aligned well, neither my eyes and hands nor the tools and jigs I've already bought have been really good. That's close to $100 gone, not to mention the pieces of my soul which fell away with each successfive botch. I think the only option left is to buy some simple wood trim and make my own, using my unused Dremel tools and the instructions in the Handbook of Model Rocketry. I think I'd better put some Dewalt safety goggles in the cart while I'm there.
Surface finishing and painting are something I've always struggled with. I'm exploring techniques like laminated fins and body wraps. (At some point it's okay to say "I'm bad at this," as long as you're not just being lazy.)
Wed 29 Jul 2020 — A Dice and Rocketry Update
... 3 ... 2 ... 1 ... roll! …
I mistakenly double-ordered my DoubleSix dice. So the Young Dungeon Master (college daughter) got a set and I got a set. And then because I'm often nitpicky and have to have things just-so, I raided the new Chessex online store for d20s to match the appearance of the DoubleSix dice. Two of the three were good matches; one is less good but I can live with it given the others.
The personal dice toll sounds this way now:
22 d6 in the Fantasy Trip bag (all properly products of SJ Games)
5 d20, 5 DoubleSixes, 8 Fudge Dice, and 8 teeny d6 (for no reason other than they're cute) in my personal dice box. For other dice, I have the Dice Fake Book and the Varda.
1 Gamescience d20 (0-9 twice), 1 Gamescience d20 (1-20), 1 Gamescience d20 (micro), and 2 aluminum-color d6 in the "museum" storage. These were gifts, oddities, or (in the case of the first two) the first hobby dice I ever bought, circa 1980. Forty-year-old dice!
A bag of 20 numbered d6 that I have no idea what to do with.
In rocketry news, the IQSY Tomahawk made me so upset that I tossed it before trying to apply decals. I'll use the Mini Honest John in its place for my scale model project. Truthfully it's no better built but at least the paint edges aren't awful, the fins aren't warped, and the motor mount isn't askew. Looking at a flight day on Sat 8 Aug to get that off the ground.
The research project rocket is still half-finished. I need to laminate the fins, assemble, and paint. I have two other kits on hand and I should probably try to get them done before outdoor painting season ends. On the drawing board are a two-motor (cluster) model and a two-motor (staged) model. I might still buy a glider kit. And in my head are thoughts about ground support equipment. I have a real challenge there, trying to build compact and portable but also accommodating to my middle-aged desire for comfort. We'll see.
Sat 18 Jul 2020 — A Computing Update
which Bob needed ten minutes to remember he wanted to write …
Thursday I got the urge to make the 2011 MacBook Pro work again. (In spring I did a disk wipe on it and then discovered my macOS installer media was corrupt.) I made a USB installer drive for Linux Mint, plugged it in, and everything went tickety-boo.
Of course, with it up and working (and a new power cord ordered to replace the very chewed-up one), I began wracking my brain to find a use to put it to. I thought about media streaming, but then I remembered it gets very hot when it's doing a lot of visuals. It probably would not last long. After an afternoon, I gave up, powered it down again and put it back in the box. I imagine I'll be selling it, if I can tolerate the hassle.
There's also this Dell box just sitting around. Actually, I do need to power it up so I can do a proper wipe of its hard drive before it goes to the recycler. It also would do okay as a media streamer, but I'd have to get a wireless controller for it. And an Android Box takes up a lot less room. Let it go, Bob. Just let it go.
After that, I guess I'm off to the store to pick up more cleaning supplies.
Sat 18 Jul 2020 — A Calculator Update
including special bonus rant …
Much tidying has been going on in Stately Portnell Manor. One item that emerged was a TI-25X Solar pocket calculator. It was a cute little thing, functionally equivalent to my first pocket calculator (TI-30) but much smaller and less thirsty for electrons. I say "functionally equivalent" as if it worked, which the TI-25X did not. I gave it a good solar charge, but two segments of the display were still bad. Reviews at Amozon indicate this is not rare. That's too bad, but into the e-waste it goes.
I have to own up to being a TI calculator guy, I guess. My friend is a serious HP collector, and lots of people will say HPs are better. I'm happy to say HPs are better for them, because you need to find tools that blend with how your brain works, and for many HP does that better than TI. For me, TI is fine.
TI marketing, however, is evil in the extreme. Let me say this, with all the emphasis to be mustered:
YOU DO NOT NEED A TI PROGRAMMABLE GRAPHING CALCULATOR FOR ANY MATH CLASS.
If you take the time and learn the tool, any basic scientific calculator (for this discussion, one with built-in trig and log functions) will do. I did Algebra I and Geometry with my old TI-30, Algegra II and Trig/Pre-Calc with a TI-35 (today's equivalent would be the TI-30X IIS). I had a Sharp programmable scientific calculator for Calculus and Statistics, but it did no graphing.
Somehow in the 1980s and 1990s, TI got their hooks into textbook publishers to include examples of how to use the TI-8x calculators for problems. This practice spread, and now school districts are telling parents this overpriced piece of 1980s tech is needed for their wee freshmen. Balderdash!
I would choose the competitor product from Casio, or even the NumWorks calculator over a TI-8x for a younger student and I expect it would probably last them through most of their math instruction needs. Only a scientist or engineer might actually need a TI-8x in the long haul ... and even that's less likely, given the state of portable computers. (I'm ignoring apps and online tools due to the standardized testing environment, but those are perfectly good everyday solutions too. My everyday calculator is a NumWorks version for Android.)
That said, I circle back to brains. Some students' brains will be happier with a TI-8x because it suits how they think. In such cases the TI-8x will be worth the $110+ you pay. Otherwise, the calculator becomes just like one of those required-course textbooks that you sell off and forget about after you're done with it. If your net expense is $70 and you have no calculator at the end, well, why spend $70 to rent when you can spend $50 to own (the Casio)? Or if you don't need graphing, the TI-36X Pro has a vast array of functions and a multi-line display for a mere $20.
My daughter the college freshman has a TI-36X Pro and a TI-84+ CE in a lovely shade of blue. Having completed a semester of college calculus and a semester of college statistics during high school, she has no actual need any longer for the TI-84+ CE. It helped her because she doesn't visualize math easily, so the graphing display and menus served for her. But now it's probably done. Some use may turn up for it someday. Hard to know.
Mon 13 Jul 2020 — A Stargazing Update Post
The omens were right …
With the maroon laptop bag going to use as my daily carrier, my former daily carrier -- a black Batman backpack -- needed a new job. So I relocated my stargazing supplies into it. Those are now better organized. Plus I made some interesting discoveries.
I found out the operation which publlishes Sky & Telescope magazine and related books was acquired from a bankruptcy sale by the Americal Astronomical Society. The excellent magazine goes on, as does my annual-must-buy SkyWatch viewing guide.
I found out the U.S. Naval Observatory is revamping its website this year. They thought they'd be done in spring, but then COVID happened, so now aiming for fall. I hope it's back soon, and the tools I used to use are still there.
I found the Estes AltiTrak elevation gun which I thought I'd tossed. And which I bought a replacement for. So now I have two. This is a perpetual story for me: a short time after buying a replacement thing, the original thing resurfaces.
I got up early on Sat 11th to see Comet NEOWISE, and dragged the daughters out with. We had a perfectly decent view of the comet from down at the corner (with the rotten streetlight behind us). We'll probably go for some evening viewing attempts, too, on the upcoming weekend, though we'll have to go 'round the corner a ways to get a decent look at the western horizon.
I found my green laser pointer still works, though I don't dare use it outside near the house. We're right under one of the approach cylinders for the big airport, and aircraft pilots are (rightfully) touchy about lasers in their eyes at night. Not something I want, even by accident. (People who do that on purpose need to be made to drive a bus through an obstacle course of their family members, blindfolded.)
Mon 13 Jul 2020 — The Shaving Cream is a Lie
And so is the shaving gel …
I'm finding that I get the best results on a facial shave with a simple lather made by hand off the soap bar. Clean the face and then shave the face.
Spray can shaving cream just gunks up my razor. And shaving gel is worse. Score one for the cosmetics industry for making us think these goops were necessary. But I don't think I'll be buying any more.
Sun 28 Jun 2020 — A Gaming Update Post
In which Bob accepts some inevitables that have been around awhile …
Given the demands on my time by family, health, work, other hobbies, and circumstances of location and time, I don't expect to play an RPG in a group again. I have scant hope of playing any games with my family. So I'm a solo gamer now. For real.
It's kind of a good time to be a solo gamer of the early 1980s sort! I've talked extensively here about The Fantasy Trip and the solo adventures being produced for it. Last year I picked up Mercenaries, Spies, and Private Eyes which has a couple solo things. And last week, I picked up a vast haul of Tunnels & Trolls Deluxe material which I've never seen before. Plus the Project Aon gamebooks. I think I'm set in that regard.
Video gaming might happen! I'm trying to get the hang of Mario Kart 8. I'm laughable at it, but at least it's viewable to these tired eyes. I tried original Mario Kart on the Super Nintendo Classic ... ack. Not sure any of the other games will take my interest. Don't like shooters, or quests, or sports. I'm fond of vector-based games, which are of course so very retro. Maybe hanging out at the Internet Arcade makes sense.
Otherwise, that's that.
Sun 28 Jun 2020 — A Rocketry Project Update
In which Bob confesses to surprise but not ruthless efficiency …
We are almost ready for next weekend's flying. All the models are painted. The Alpha '75 has its go-faster stripe and is done-done. There's an hour or two of teeny-tiny waterslide decals to put on the Mini Honest John. There's an hour of home-printed stickers to put on the IQSY Tomahawk, and then an acrylic seal.
Two more kits arrive this week: a Break-Away and a Cloud Hopper. (Okay, not really a Cloud Hopper, but the parts necessary to create a clone of the Cloud Hopper. Which I wrote about yesterday.) So the fleet looks like this:
Estes Alpha - basic parachute sport rocket. I want to fly this often.
Estes Mini Honest John - basic parachute sport scale rocket. Will fly sometimes 'cause I like its look.
ASP IQSY Tomahawk 13 mm - basic streamer "scale" rocket. Will fly once. I hope. But I'm only building this for the NARTREK Silver requirements, and neither scale modeling nor this design appeal to me.
Portnell Minitross - basic streamer sport rocket. Must fly at least six times for NARTREK Gold, but if I can get to a fin shape I like, it might become a regular flyer.
Odd'l Cyclone - monocopter odd-roc. Will fly regularly.
Odd'l Break-Away - break-apart odd-roc. Will fly regularly.
Estes Cloud Hopper clone - goonie odd-roc. Will fly at least once. Might give it away to a deserving person.
On 12 Jun I figured the rocketry "kick" would be over this fall. After spending two hours this morning trying to design a cluster model to play nice with A3 and A10 motors, I might have figured wrong. There seem to be many challenges yet which will sustain my interest. Like:
Cluster mini motors? or staging? The challenge here is the short delay time, which means these need to be really draggy models but light enough to get off the pad safely and also stay under my personal 400-foot ceiling.
Glider? Estes has a kit for that. (Not trying anything like the Semroc Hawk again.)
Decor. Gotta find ways to make more visually interesting models with feeble paint skills. Wraps, stickers, and decals are a-comin'. The glider is going to get markered.
Fins and me. I don't like shaping or filling fins. So I might end up with laminated cardstock fins on some models. or paper lamination on balsa.
I think I might visit iconic designs in the mini context. There are kits for some of these; others I'd have to scale and clone.
A homemade launch controller? Every controller I've tried has features I like ... and dislike. And there are features of past controllers and launchpads that I wish were still around. Maybe that becomes a NARTREK Advanced project.
Yeah. Sounds like I'm in deep.
Sat 27 Jun 2020 — Cloning the Estes Cloud Hopper
In which Bob is in full rocketry nerd mode …
The Cloud Hopper was one of six "Goonybirds" introduced in the 1973 catalog. Goonies had short, squat, borderline tasteless or comic themes in the decals (Cloud Hopper was a bunny). Goonybirds weren't in the catalog very long, but they left an outsize impression on flyers, and making Goonie versions of kits is now a prominent niche in the hobby. Here are the rules I've come to as I prepare to clone a Cloud Hopper.
I will start with the Estes Baby Bertha.
I have to cut the body tube to five inches length to match the design length.
I will not use the 18mm motor mount in the Baby Bertha kit. I've bought a 13 mm BT-60 mount kit and motor hook from Uncle Mike's Rocket Shack. The 13 mm mount is what the model was designed for, and I need that to buy back space in the body tube and weight distribution.
I have been saved from having to hand-shape the fins. Semroc makes a laser-cut fin set for this model. Yippee!
I will add about 6 g (0.25 oz) of polymer clay to the nose to ensure static stability. Even with the plastic nose, this is a tail-heavy model and needs a smidge of help. Unfortunately, the added weight means I can only fly it with A10 motors. No biggie, that's my main motor these days, plus it seems appropriate given the tail profile.
I will not be recreating the original bunny decals. I have a more personal decal design in mind, and with in a new name for the model. More on that later.
Tue 16 Jun 2020 — Seven Nights Later
(and not a zombie yet) …
A week ago I had comprehensive medical assessments for my allergy and asthma conditions. My back still itches in spots where the test reactants were stuck. But the new inhaler seems to be helping my asthma. It also seems to be changing my voice. I hadn't thought to see if that was a side effect. (Looks. Yup!)
Back when I was a wee little Bobby, the family decided it would be good to have me learn a wind instrument as a kind of lung exercise. In April 1975 I was given a soprano recorder, made of maple. But in fall of 1975 I started in band and ended up in the low brass, starting with baritone horn and moving on down to tuba.
Fast forward to the present, and I think a wind instrument might be nice. Unfortunately I don't have any school districts to loan me any. Also, tubas are wicked expensive. There is such a thing as a plastic euphonium! It's still out of my price range. Staying in low brass, I've thought about a plastic trombone. Many plusses, but one big minus: I'd have to put my lips back into shape for buzzing a horn. I don't have that kind of patience any more.
So I'm planning for a tenor recorder, made of resin (plastic). As cheap as the plastic trombone, with a nice soothing sound that won't peel paint, and it requires a goodly regular air flow. Time to start saving up. (Saving up? Yes. After the debacle of the furlough, my income continues to drop.)
Among other corollaries, I have to re-learn how to read music. I'd gotten acquainted with treble clef during third through fifth grades, and then I was downshifted to bass clef. Now back to treble! I can still read the notation well enough, I'm glad to report. (Some thanks there to the younger daughter when she was in middle school)
Sat 13 Jun 2020 — Rewriting Some Rules
In which Bob repaints the goalposts …
Reflecting on the rules I've set for myself to help model rocketry stay fun. Recent thoughts included:
Being able to fly bigger models in smaller ranges, using a Jolly Roger Chute Release to "shrink" the recovery area. (Rejected; probably still a violation of safety code.)
Shift to 1/8A motors. (Rejected; my build skills and eyes aren't that good, having only one motor class chafes, and it wouldn't solve my range issues.)
Allow A and B motors, but mind a ceiling of 400 feet. (Rejected; would allow some bigger models not not really any more features.)
So after all that, the only new rule I'm taking on is: ceiling 400 feet. My heavier models on A power can reach that. On A power some of my lighter models would sail right through. That ceiling keeps me cleanly inside my range, which I know I can easily drift out of.
Fri 12 Jun 2020 — Never Read The Comments
In which Bob comments …
I'm seeing this phase of the model rocketry mania waning by November. It might steady down into a new model once or twice a year, or it might just ebb completely. Like many other things, I have nothing particular to prove to myself. Will I still be enjoying it? I know I don't enjoy the hassle of finding a place and time to fly, and flying is supposed to be the point.
I'm getting an itch to tackle amateur radio, but it's a foolish itch. I had fun during the CB days, and our GMRS radios will be useful to us I'm sure. It would be a new realm to develop knowledge in. But that would be about it. My introvert side isn't interested in talking to people around the world or whereever. And the equipment is outside my budget now and for years to come. So getting an amateur radio license would be like getting my High Power Rocketry certification when I have no intent of using it. It seems like a pointless path. Even if the custom callsign I have in mind would be wicked cool.
I'm still fairly excited about the revival of The Fantasy Trip and cheerfully spending money on product. But, it turns out, less than I was as I work through what I'm actually doing with this stuff. Some of it is just to have physical markers so my family can see "this is something Bob loves." Part is that I do love this game, and I'm continuing to buy the solo adventures for it. But I'm not buying the party or campaign books any more. And I'm still trying to get a handle on how I want to play. Do I just use the electronic tools I have (which are nice)? Do I use the classic-scale play kit I've invested deeply in? Do I use the Legacy Edition components even though they're much bigger than I like?
And how long do I keep looking at the online TFT community and when do I just stop? The majority of people seem nice and knowledgable, but there are two or three who pepper the community with questions that I find pointless to how I play. And there's one person who's only reason for being seemingly is to aggravate with ridiculous system or rule hacks completely in violation of the spirit of any game. And for him alone I am sorely tempted to bail from the entire community.
I've given up on the idea of writing for publication, not even YA fiction or anything at the children level. There's nothing there that I can say with the confident, or clarity, or honesty that such storytelling demands. And nothing from my personal experience that I want to haul out, share, and recast. There are occasionally scenes I see, people I hear in my head, and I basically have to write those to get them out of my head. That's about it.
The Mandalorian is good clean fun.
Tue 02 Jun 2020 — Where Were You When ... ?
In which Bob speaks briefly to the current time …
I don't write about politics or religion or current affairs here. While I have opinions on these topics, writing them down would only be (from my point of view) an exercise in repeating myself. I already know my opinions. I'm not egotist enough to think those opinions need to be shared with anyone who cares to read them.
Except one: VOTE. It's the literal least you can do to contribute to the political health of our communities, state, and nation. Please. Think about what you want, find a candidate who more or less agrees with you, and support them in the polling booth.
Sat 30 May 2020 — Flights of Fancy
In which the sky is not the limit …
I didn't look in on the Crew Dragon countdown until about five minutes before, only to discover weather was okay and the launch went on. Rocket launches are always tense, and I find I don't let up until everything has gone right and orbit is safely attained. It may not be a reasonable way to behave. After all, the Falcon 9 rocket is a well-proven launch vehicle, and the Crew Dragon 2 crew are able veterans. Still. Getting up is the hard part, where the most things can go wrong. After that, getting down is easier if there's trouble.
Construction on my Estes Alpha model rocket finished last night! It was long interrupted, but I finally cleared the decks and got it squared away. It's not finished. There's still painting to be done. But it's a little too windy today. I might get to prime them tomorrow.
Them? Yes, them, because as I write this, construction of my Estes Mini Honest John is nearly done and it will also be ready for priming tomorrow. Yes, I did the whole thing in less than a day, but then I did give the Alpha a little more TLC because of its place in my personal flight history.
My Odd'l Rockets Cyclone is under construction. As I write this, the stabilizer unit is nearing completion. It's not clear to me if I will get the Upper Spin Unit finished tonight or not. But I expect it to be done by tomorrow.
So that puts me about halfway through full completion of all five models. The Semroc IQSY Tomahawk is next and gets a TLC build, since it's my "Scale" requirement for the training program I'm in.
Post material ends here
Sat 23 May 2020 — Now Presenting: RUST -- The Oxidation Extravaganza
For audiences which couldn't get enough of WATCHING PAINT DRY and WATCHING GRASS GROW …
No phone surgery yet, haven't worked up the nerve or the clear desk space.
No rocket progress, again due to clutter and distractions. For instance, youngest daughter finally picked up her cap and gown and most of her regalia. Also picked up her yearbook, in which she appears more than I did in my senior yearbook and also did some proofreading and page layouts (uncredited). And her team finished fourth in state in the Go Girls Cyber Challenge Nationals. So much to be proud of in her, and it will only go on.
Asthma still coming and going. Weight still bad. I don't want to give the impression that things are actually bad. Just that things are. That's all.
Oh, I forgot! I read Andy Weir's novels this week (in between tablet recharges which were quite frustrating). Not much for me to say about The Martian since it's already infused into pop culture. As for Artemis, I was entertained although the characters (even the narrator) felt thin. But no thinner than Mark Watney & Assoc., certainly, nor the cast of Casey & Andy.
Next reading stop: The X-Wing novels by Stackpole and by Allston. I can't resist an omnibus, and my county library had 9 books-in-one e-book.
Wed 20 May 2020 — Space Race
In which Bob sets a goal … ?
The word has come that I will be recalled to work on the first of June, albeit still working from home full-time. I am of mixed feelings about this. It will be nice to feel more productive during the day. But I will miss being able to do what I do at my preferred speed. And there are still, even after two months, many many tasks around the house that will have to all get done before fall.
In the personal tasks dept. are five model rockets to build and fly. One of them actually needs to fly six times as part of a research project. None of them are terribly complicated, but I don't want to rush any of them. Still. I need to get as far with them as I can before I start selling my time and energy again.
Maybe I can have them done and ready to fly on the 30th?
Mon 18 May 2020 — Letting The Days Go By
In which Bob reflects with fondness …
Whilst prowling the quieter corners of my cloud storage this weekend, I ran across a hack of GURPS Ultra-Lite I made in 2011. I did a bit of editing on it to make the combat rules cleaner and easier to use. And then I put it back. It's an absolute violation of copyright, so I can't share it. But it would be great for a pick-up game with a few pre-gens tossed in. Hmm. What I'd need to do with it, then, is add some rules quick-ref to the character sheets and then a rules quick-ref for the GM. Hmmmm.
GURPS Ultra-Lite is published as a one-page PDF that you fold into a little booklet. (This was part of why I needed to hack it: the print was too small, and the organization across the 8 mini pages didn't suit me. Plus, no character sheet! Also I want higher-is-better rules.) I demonstrated the booklet printing and creation to younger daughter and just about fried her cortex. She'd never seen such a thing.
Uresia: Grave of Heaven was the "deal of the day" at Drive-Thru RPG on Saturday. Half-price. I bought it (again) … that's a fair price for getting it secured in my DTRPG library. While I was about it, I bought copies of the PlainLabel Game System rules I worked on for MicroTactix Games at the turn of the millennium. And I briefly considered trying to stage a one-man revival, putting my old PL fan works back on the site and making some new ones. That urge passed fairly quickly, but I still dig that system.
I've discovered something about myself and solo adventuring: the character matters. The "Lone Wolf" books I like, because the character has an implicit core of positive values brought from his history as a student of the Kai Masters. On the other hand, the first new solo for TFT has a character that's compelling but unappealing to me. Her mission is dark and bloody revenge, and I find I don't want to go there or be her. This gives me great pause as I look ahead to more TFT solos being published this year. I'm going to have to get choosy, and this I did not expect.
Thu 14 May 2020 — Another Week Indoors
In which Bob catches up and looks a little ahead …
Another week gone by. Nevada has entered a "phase one" reopening of businesses, which is going about as well or poorly as might be expected. My shipment of bandannas finally arrived, but the hairbands I bought for improvised masking don't really fit. I will be sacrificing some model rocketry supples for better-fitting elastics. Some of us need haircuts, but we're approaching that cautiously. Some of us need nail treatment, and that is happening today.
The moving-back of the eldest daughter is proceeding apace. A slow pace. We'll do some moving of material to storage today, and might get some time to go to the apartment and do some packing. Tomorrow will be the big push, with rental truck and all. Moving out was six hours start-to-finish for the truck and included packing. I'm planning for that or less since there will be less packing. The weather is actually delightful for such activity: cloud cover and light to moderate winds, but not very hot.
Perhaps this weekend, after the moving, I can resume work on the Estes Alpha. When it's done, I can move on to the Estes Mini Honest John I picked up on clearance. I built a Maxi Honest John back in the early eighties, one of my higher-skill-level builds. It never flew for me, but it was pretty. The Mini should come up nicely, and give me good practice on fin shaping before I tackle the Semroc IQSY Tomahawk again. I did some digging on the Excel spreadsheet I wrote for rocketry predictions and calculations, and it's still sound. Whew. Oh, and I finally found what what I was doing wrong with the sanding block. So perhaps that function will get easier?
Early in the quarantine, I was pointed to Project Aon, the online publisher of the Magnamund solo adventure game books by Joe Dever and friends. I have a checkered history with solo game books. I had the Sorcery! books by Steve Jackson (UK) for the longest time, keeping them for my "thing to do if bedridden for an extended period." Eventually I just gave up on them and moved on. Lone Wolf and sequels look much more approachable, and I dig the combat mechanic. I don't dig the combat results table, though, so I wrote an Excel version to do the lookups for me. And I downloaded the whole lot of game books. I expect to die frequently, as warm-up for the TFT solos.
My asthma is seriously acting up, and I'm not sure what's triggering it. Otherwise, we're doing fine and hope you are doing the same.
Thu 07 May 2020 — Upside-Down Again
In which Bob has mixed feelings …
The good: I hacked the motor database of the rocket design software I bought as a design and drawing aid. It now lets me put 13mm motors in adaptors on designs with 18mm mounts. It's a timesaver.
I'm still wrestling with a possible design for altimeter-lofting rocket of minimum diameter. So far it just looks dumb, but if I buy a smaller altimeter ... ugh.
The Alpha is nearing final assembly -- time to sand the fins a final time and glue 'em on. But a lot of the joy of this has fled. Because ...
Older daugher is moving home. The experiment in independence was going fine, but a disaster struck in the middle of all the other disasters. I'm happy to have her back, but I hate moving furniture.
Sun 03 May 2020 — Speedy Delivery
In which Bob reports on the "new" computer …
I was quite surprised by the arrival of the newly bought computer yesterday afternoon. Setup went smoothly, with only one tardy driver issue. Oh, and a microphone port issue that I half expected.
And then I learned that even this system is not modern enough to do real-time background swapping in Zoom. I'm one processor tier and two generations behind that capability still. C'est la vie. This will still be fine for what I need to do. It's fast enough and uncannily quiet.
Wed 29 Apr 2020 — Let Me Tell You About My …
(roleplayers know to run away right now) …
… model rocket launch gear. Because it's weird and I like to talk.
I did not own a "launch system" until 2008. Prior to that, it was either school equipment, or (in one case) a welding rod stuck in some scrap lumber, launched by an overelaborate controller made from magazine plans (I didn't make, but I bought the parts and did the case detail). But when I opted back in as a club leader, it felt like I needed to have resources to support a club. Which meant picking up rocket starter sets off eBay and Craiglist. I acquired a Quest set and two Estes sets that way.
But as a "grown-up" I wanted fancier stuff for me. So I invested in an Aerotech Mantis pad and a Pratt Go Box controller, both of which were cool and capable. Too capable, really. After the club days waned and I discovered the bigger rockets and higher flights didn't appeal, I sold that rig and mostly tossed out the rest.
My launch pad these days is a camera tripod. I extend two of the three segments on each leg to raise the work area high enough to be comfortable and to put the end of the launch rod up above eye level so I don't ever have to worry about capping the rod. I've marked one leg as the "wind" leg -- I always put that leg downwind, and then I have a reference when I use the tilt head on the tripod to adjust the launch angle if I need to.I've got a small clamp on that leg to act as a strain mast for the launch leads.
On the camera mount is a washer and then on that, threaded to the mount screw, is an Odd'l Rockets Adeptor. The launch rod is clamped into the adeptr, and then a standard Estes standoff and blast deflector plate go on top. Ready to fly, and stable enough for the small rockets I'm into these days. If I go for big rockets someday, I'll fly them on club equipment. (I have a daydream of doing the one necessary build and flight to qualify for Level 1 High Power Rocketry, and then stopping to the bafflement of the rocketry community.)
I have an Estes and a Quest controller. And for a while I wasn't sure which to keep. The Quest is just a little small for my hand, but it has a cool safety key, makes noise, and can launch with one hand. The Estes is simpler and entirely reliable, but it demands two hands (that's a feature, to be clear). Quest uses a 9V battery, which I hate. Estes uses 4 AAs, which are fine for single launches but not great for clustered motors (not that I'm doing that any more).
Two pieces of info helped me settle my mind. First, while I was away, it was determined that the old model rocket igniters with black powder pyrogen at the tip fell into the oversight of the BATFE. So the manufacturers changed their products to not use that pyrogen. That makes current igniters that much more sensitive to the power applied. In this environment, both the 9V and the 4AA batteries are likely to drain much more quickly.
The Quest controller has a party piece, though: an external battery connector. I have this and can connect to a 6V lantern battery that will launch all day. That more or less settles me on the Quest as my go-to launcher. I probably will keep the Estes for backup.
And so, more than you wanted to know about my Launch box. Time to load the box up and build some things to fly with it.
Wed 29 Apr 2020 — The Modest Step Forward
In which Bob continues to embrace the state of the art of five years ago …
Our MacBook Pro (13" late 2011 model) has been retired. It's still a capable enough machine, but I fatigued of the small screen and the weirdnesses in how Microsoft Office apps behave on the Mac. I thought about repurposing it as a console game emulator and decided against. I don't need that project when I have three perfectly fine Nintendo consoles at hand.
That meant putting myself back into the old Windows desktop machine, which is of an age and has its quirks but I could live with them. And then found out that Zoom could not replace my cluttered background with something pretty because my computer was just too feeble. And then I looked at the Microsoft site and discovered I'm barely meeting the minimum system requirements for current installs of Office.
Clearly, something must be done. I toyed with adding more memory before I realized that the Windows OS I have would not be able to address that memory. So, after a brief stop to see what minimums universities are requiring lately, it was off to the shopping sites. Where I learned it can be very hard to buy old tech, although old tech is just as reliable and much more affordable. After two days, I found a machine that will do the job, I think. I might even be able to bring the older hard drive and less-old graphics card from the old PC to the "new" one. It arrives next week, I already know its name, I chose a form factor to give me back some room on my desk, and getting it set up should occupy a nice long day next week.
Fri 24 Apr 2020 — Assorted Assorteds
In which Bob gives a smattering of news and updates …
After two months of intermittent struggle, I finally have Microsoft Office running on the home desktop again. I am so much more comfortable with Word for Windows than Word for Mac. In fact, it's getting likely that I will retire that MacBook and stick with the comfortably large screens on the desktop. Need to review the Mac apps I need to find equivalents for and be sure I'm ready.
Deliveries of model rocket material have been trickling in as I notice gaps in my supplies. I have two models to build this weekend, and then I'll try to get some flying in before the lockdowns for fire safety are set. I decided against making the cardboard box into my shop, and put my toolbox from the 2010s back into service. Ditto for the launch supplies, which will be much pared down compared to years of yore. My minimalism has picked up some leftoever clutter from the past, but at least it costs no extra money.
I've rejoined a couple of old favorite wellness apps, with intention to stave off the quaran-15. Yes, I've wasted most of a month being inert. If I don't take advantage of this opportunity to reset, I'm probably doomed. Off to prepare dinner now. Ta-rah!
Sun 19 Apr 2020 — Taking Stock
In which Bob reflects some more and maybe plans …
Rocketry activities this week:
I bought some dowels, suitable for converting into paint wands and model stands. Also I bought some fresh hacksaw blades suitable to the task of converting dowels into wands and stands.
With a jaundiced eye I culled my paper files of rocketry material, freeing up two loose-leaf binders. I also streamlined my electronic files of rocketry material, sticking with core reference works which still have contemporary use. (Ancient technical reports of model performance, for instance, do not reflect current technology. Besides, I've embedded all that knowledge into FIDO.
I spent a while investigating catalogs and made a list of a dozen or so models I'd like to build and are within my skill set. The common denominator seems to be they mostly all use different recovery systems. As I look back on the list of past models, parachutes dominate. I'm fine with pushing away from those.
But there are two models on the list that will be more challenging. I really want an Estes Mini Red Max, but they've been out of production for a few years. Likewise I'd like a mini version of the Estes Scout. In both cases, it appears I'll need to buy suitable parts and "clone" them (as the jargon goes) using the original instructions as my guide.
That's a lot of rocketry engagement I'm imagining. The cubic foot of The Fantasy Trip material behind me is saying, "Yeah, we were your obsession last year and look what happened. Do you really mean it with the rockets?" Well, gaming stuff, life with you is still possible. I've now got a decent set of Melee assets for the Tabletop Simulator ... I can still play solos (as few as they are). But the rocketry thing is designed for solo. And I am getting a little excited about pushing myself as a balsa engineer. One of my rediscovered electronic assets was a huge set of useful patterns ... including cradles and stands.
So, yes, I think I'm in it for real with the understanding and continuous reminder that I'm keeping it basic, still trying to keep the functional workshop inside the range box. (I might want to buy another range box or two for overflow storage.) Still preferring to make instead of buy (which means I need to lay in some tubes, nose cones, and fin stock).
Next project, when the first rocket order gets here, is to build some compartments into the workshop box to help it stay organized.
Tue 14 Apr 2020 — Memory Skylane
In which Bob visits the past and accuses the future of treason …
Today around the house included an emergency visit to the vet for the elder chinchilla (he's fine, just pink eye), some grocery shopping, some craft supplies, and some appointments for the dog for later this week and next.
I spent part of the day wracking my memory for model rockets: trying to remember flights, reviewing catalogs for an "oh, yeah, I built that" memory, and scanning my records for flying from 2008 to 2014. There were a lot more "easy to assemble" or "ready to fly" models in there than I recalled, but there were also enough actual builds of sufficient challenge to confirm my fictional rank of "Craftsman" in the Estes Aerospace Club. Whew! That's 21 models built over my lifetime, and most of them flown.
I also looked back at the last two days posting and I can only think that cabin fever is getting to me. None of what I've written sounds like any fun to me! Here's what I think I'm actually doing with this project.
One, don't stress. Experiment with new build methods if I feel like it, don't bother if I don't. I do think I'll try to paper the Alpha's fins. I won't be trying to shape fins to gain best possible performance; rather, I'll do what I like while trying to avoid the nastier performance penalties. I might also build a launch system that fits my oversize hands.
Two, stay small. Not just the models or motors. I'm going to try to fit my workshop into a 12"x18"x4" box. The paint shop is already in its own tool box. The launch rig and field kit will each go into a cat litter bucket. (The launch rod has its own carrier already.) Back when, making trip after trip to unload the car was really annoying. Not doing that any more!
Three, "NEVER PUT YOUR OWN MONEY IN THE SHOW." Yes, a Producers joke to wrap with.
Mon 13 Apr 2020 — Balsa Engineer Apprentice
In which Bob meanders around the topic of model rocket building …
I've mentioned recently the low opinion I have of my building skills and my patience with them. Today I realized the only way that changes is if I start to try different things. Like what?
Some are simple, like keeping a wet pad of paper towel near the work area when I'm applying glue. If I'm using a finger to smooth a fin fillet, it makes sense to get that finger clean again before moving to the next fin. (Besides, I've always hated having wet stuff stuck on my hands.)
Some are old news to old hands but I've never done them. Using a sanding block, for instance. I watched a video of a master builder (Command Master Chief Balsa Engineer) and saw a tiny piece of block technique that was very easy but I'd never thought of. Learning. Also watching for better tools and better ways to use tools.
Some might be crutches. For instance, I fear the filling and sanding. I can avoid most of the filling and sanding by laminating paper over the faces of the fins. But should I? I think I probably will on the Alpha, since it has simple fins which are agreeable to such treatment. Other projects I have in mind for the future would not make "skinning" easy and I'll have to deal with filling and sanding on them as they happen.
All a long way of saying that if I want a different experience out of rocketry this time, I have change, too. And odds are good I will be bad at new things at first. I have to give myself permission for that.
Oh, the Excel workbook update went fine. I love that workbook. It's called FIDO after the NASA Mission Control station in charge of managing flight dynamics. I'm pretty sure the Alpha will fly well here on the motors I'm thinking of. The B-power composite motors from Quest are very tempting, but they're a) noisy! and b) would be breaking my A-power limit. I need to build and fly awhile inside A before I think about stretching the envelope that way.
Sun 12 Apr 2020 — Bob and Yuri's Weekend
In which Bob blathers about some news …
Yesterday I started my 56th lap around the sun. It was a routine Saturday, by and large. Oldest daughter did her morning shopping, and then came over for family time in the afternoon. Dinner was had. I received a gift of an interesting new pack of cards. Youngest daughter finished spring cleaning her room (a three-day affair).
Today is Easter, of course, but also the 59th anniversary of mankind's first flight into space. I have the weekly grocery run to make and some linens to wash. Just a thrill a minute here, but growing up in my grandparents' home has given me some appreciation of stillness now. It's not a foreign place at all. (But next year's Yuri's Night needs to be special.)
My model rocketry supplies arrive later in the week. A model as simple as the Alpha can easily be assembled in a morning, but I think I want to spread the process out over a week, gently striving for quality and letting processes like gluing, filling, and painting take the time they need to take. Plus I'll be watching to see what methods or tools I need to change.
Computers with rocketry are fun. OpenRocket and RockSim are outstanding simulation programs. And I'm feeling they are also too big for what I want to be doing right now. I don't need a full-on simulation, just computational answers to a few essential questions. If I fly with a given motor:
How high will it go?
Is the ejection delay compatible with the predicted coast time?
Will it be flying fast enough when it leaves the launch rod?
There are lots of other questions I can ask and do math for, of course, but those are the most important ones -- the first relates to the needed size of the launch site, the second affects the safe recovery of the model, and the third means I'll have a stable flight to altitude.
Being me, I made a tool for all those things and more, years ago. It's a fairly basic Excel workbook, but it does all that stuff. I need to update it to have the latest motor data (and remove the motor data I'm not using). That's a task for this morning, I think. See you later.
Tue 07 Apr 2020 — The Die is Cast
In which Bob reports a commitment and a change of plan …
The food budget came in light this week, so I ordered some rocket motors, the Estes Alpha kit, and a tool. It should ship today, and probably take most of a week to get here (since motors cannot travel by air).
I spent most of yesterday morning angsting about the tool situation. I had everything I needed except something to help mark straight lines on tubes (I don't trust our drawers or door trim) and something to help hold fins straight while the glue sets. There was a mighty battle over letting go of dreams and imaginations of things I could or might make. At the end of it all, I said to myself, "Bleep it," and I ordered a multi-tasking tool made by Estes.
This relates to the reservation. My mission here is to have fun focusing on Doing the Things. Rejoining the NAR is more expensive than the order I placed, and it leads to even more expensive "gee-I-oughtas" related to unfinished past goals. So I think I'll hold off on that and pay attention to the "now." Alpha first. I should grab some cardboard and make that cradle.
In related news, I see that Estes has finally retired the numeric skill level designations. They're now words: "Beginner" (ready-to-fly or easy-to-assemble), Intermediate (requires glue, sanding, and paint but simple models -- used to be Skill Level 1), Advanced (more complex assembly or flight modes, used to be SL2-3), Expert (SL3-4), and Master (SL4-5). It's a shame the color-coding to go with the new levels doesn't match the old colors for the achievement levels in the Estes Aerospace Club.
As I said, I'm pretty much Intermediate with occasional surges to Advanced. What I want is to be a really good Intermediate builder. Bigger projects don't interest me right now.
Sat 06 Apr 2020 — Flying Again
In which Bob lays plays for the spring "and beyond" …
My employer has thoughfully provided me a month or two of unpaid leave. Finances will be fine, but this does give me a great deal of time to fill. And seeing as how the 45th anniversary of my first model rocket flight occurs next week, and this is prime flying time in northern Nevada … well, it just seems right. Plus I want something to do that's not staring at a computer screen. Like I'm doing as I write this.
But people who know me well know I can go overboard with things, as I did during my previous rocketry revival from 2008 to 2012. So this time I'm setting myself a framework to guide my perspective.
First, last, and always, fly within the strictures of the Model Rocket Safety Code published by the National Association of Rocketry.
Fly only models requiring motors of A impulse or less. My reasons for this: those motors are less expensive; those motors enable the smaller launch sites which are more accessible; and historically all the "great problems" of model rocketry (gliding, payload, helicopter recovery) were solved in the 1960s with motors of just this capability. So there's no technical reason not to.
Master the essentials. "Master" is about my build skills, being patient and doing the work right from assembly to finishing. The "essentials" parts means sticking to the core skills and materials (glue, filler, paint, sandpaper, cardstock, balsa). My sweet spot is Skill Level 2 but able to deliver on Skill Level 3. (I have made SL4 models in the past, very badly indeed. Not going to bother.)
So what's on the build list?
An Estes Alpha, in the 1975 Estes Catalog paint scheme, in tribute to the anniversary. The Alpha was my first flight, but it hung up on a telephone wire and I never got it back. SL1.
An Odd'l Rockets Cyclone. This is a break-apart model with both sections recovering by spin. Should be terrific. SL2.
A boost glider. I had a Semroc Hawk that was nice (SL1). The Estes Tercel looks nice and is actually a SL3 model.
A Semroc IQSY Tomahawk. Scale models are the apogee (beg pardon) of the model rocket world. I ruined my first attempt at this model. I want to get it right. A deceptive SL1.
A multi-stage rocket ... no. Actually, no. Not only would this force me to break my "A" impulse rule, it would make me buy a pock of motors that I could only use with that model. Inefficient. No.
A model of my own design with a payload compartment for an altimeter, targeting 1/2A and A motors. SL2.
Things to do:
Audit the tools and supplies, I probably need glue and wood filler.
Rejoin the National Association of Rocketry. Which means digging up the box of material stored from the previous rocketry fit to find my member number. This membership isn't strictly necessary, but it comes with a card that will tell the reader I'm insured for up to $5 million. Not that any property damage these little rockets could make would get anywhere near that.
Make a cradle or two, or maybe one for each model. If I go that way, they'll just be cardboard.
Order a kit.
Things to NOT do:
Extensive record-keeping. Model rocketry may be a "scientific hobby," but I refuse to indulge in flight records, logs, or other such paperwork hassles (with the exception of personal designs). I'm just in it for the memories. Blog posts will be about it.
Going overboard (except on this foundation statement). Last time I bought every supply I could imagine, motors to last years of flights, tools I've never used and am still unlikely to use. Flight days had me houling four toolboxes onto the range. No more of that. Mind the essentials, shun the rest.
Rejoin the rocketry forums. The noise-to-signal ratio, for my purposes, was appalling.
As usual, more news when it happens.
Sat 28 Mar 2020 — The Month That Was
In which Bob recounts the past four weeks …
The final week of February included a county school district honor band concert, a mandatory meeting for the trip to Europe in development for the graduating senior, and regional competition for the state High School Mock Trial team. This was one of the most intense weeks in living memory. And, naturally, the Mock Trial team qualified to advance to the State Championship. And the first cases of COVID-19 were suspected in Reno and Las Vegas.
The following week marked the start of mid-terms, and a weekend in Las Vegas for Mock Trial plus some sightseeing. The Mock Trial team placed as usual, but a good time was had by all. (This was when I pooched my phone.) Meanwhile, back on Monday, Oldest was invited to be roommate with an old friend, to move in on Saturday. We weren't quite that quick.
Second week of March now. Finals conclude. A high-stakes language exam is taken, resulting in the graduation senior receiving the State Seal of Biliteracy on her diploma. My new phone arrives, and the headphone jack broke within days. Oldest moved out of the house that weekend.
Third week of March, first week of Spring Break. Another trip to Vegas for a campus tour. Nice enough day, lots of walking, some good information learned and good people met. Two major casino operations announce closures while we're there. The following day, the school district announces spring break will be extended a week. Trip to Oakland for another campus tour is cancelled due to California pandemic management. Graduating senior develops symptoms that could be COVID-19 or any number of other upper respiratory issues. She stays in her room for the most part. And through this week the state governor ratchets down business activity.
Fourth week of March. My workplace has me and many others working from home. Road construction near oldest daughters' house causes unexpected water shutoffs, so we brought her home for the weekend. Graduating senior's fever finally broke on Friday. Also on Friday, work leadership signalled furloughs are coming. I can cope with a reduced schedule. We can cope without a paycheck for two or three months. After that ...
Right now, I'm really really scared.
Tue 10 Mar 2020 — Finnegan, Begin Again
In which Bob starts so many things over …
The move was postponed a week in the interest of acquiring a proper moving truck. Upcoming weekend will be very, very busy.
On the Computing Devices front, my five-year-old smartphone is no more. I accidentally killed it on Sunday, thinking a factory reset would solve a memory frustration I was seeing. Problem solved, all right. A new smartphone should arrive today, with awesome cameras that I won't use to their potential, facial and fingerprint recognition that I won't use, many many apps for me to disable, and an evening's worth of online chicanery to restore all the functionality I'd lost. And a stylus, which might become very entertaining for an old scribbler such as I. The most aggravating losses turn out to be my digital check register and the 2FA authenticator apps. Fortunately I had saved off all the photos last Friday, and the music was all on the removable memory card.
Also gives me my annual reflection on how I live with devices. Actually, I'm not seeing much change. The phone will still be for on the go things: voice calls, messaging, playing audio, tracking checks, and some retail things. (So nice to search the store from the app and have it tell you what aisle to go to.) The tablet is still for reading, playing video, playing games, and light document writing/editing. Desktop? Until Word or Excel Online are as capable as the desktop programs, I still need one. Not sure that I won't bail out of the MacBook for something Windowsy again.
Tue 03 Mar 2020 — Sunrise, Sunset
In which Bob is blindsided by an unexpected aspect of parenting …
My oldest daughter will start moving out of the house this weekend. And I am an utter bawling wreck.
I don't think I'm supposed to be, or at least not where people can see and hear me. It's something we've been working toward for a long time. Maybe I've been in denial that it would ever happen. She has health issues that make her world complicated. The world doesn't always see her for her power and spirit.
But here we are. A friend with similar challenges found a place she wanted to move to, but needed a roommate. Oldest agreed. And in the housing market around here, you have to move quick. It's a nice little house in the west university district. They'll be paying more in rent (total) than I'm paying on the mortgage for a house twice as big and a third the age.
But there she goes. And I'm being ridiculous, because she's only a 25-minute drive away and we'll see her very often, probably many times a week. But for now, I can't stop crying.
Sun 23 Feb 2020 — Where Have I Been?
A few updates …
The Star Wars Project: Going slowly. I'm trying to get traction on Clone Wars, and suddenly a new season drops. I think I need to look for a tablet stand for the exercise bike.
The Health Project: No progress. Intermittent fasting looks more and more like a good fit, if I can figure out when I'm eating. Do I start with breakfast before work? Breakfast at work?
EZFudge: Well. Months after getting a question about ranged fights, I looked really hard and realized I was not making clear a really vital design choice: one roll per round, made by the player. I'd also neglected to pick up the penalty to evade arrows, bullets, and beams. And then I looked at my character sheets for Final Frontier and noticed they were botched. (Especially Janice Rand, which I had never actually finished. Sorry, Janice! I hope you approve now.) All of that took fixing, since my software tools today don't match my tools from two years ago. But it's fixed now. I hope.
College: Not me, the youngest. College tour season is in full swing. She's seen one of her final five, and we're going to hit two more during spring break. Whee!
Sun 26 Jan 2020 — Pocket Boxing
In which Bob recalls two games and reports news …
Belated acknowledgement to friends and family who have or had birthdays in January. You know who you are or were.
My 2019 Reproduction edition of the Pocket Box edition of The Awful Green Things from Outer Space (hereinafter AGT) arrived. This was a Kickstarter from last spring, mildly delayed by production issues. It's still very fine. The new counters are great, and the rest is just as it should be. The publisher might have a few more of these in their online store come March. Or might not. I am not prescient. This is another of those "I only played it once but I loved it" games.
There are now 2019 Reproduction editions of Car Wars (first edition) in the world now, too. I was given a used copy of the original first edition, but never played it. Three more editions went by, but I didn't buy them. Fifth Edition stripped back to the basics and changed the scale. I bought many of the Starter Sets, but didn't play them. Sixth Edition has just funded on Kickstarter (bit of an understatement), and it looks nice but I won't be playing it either. I think this is all down to my feebleness at duel games plus my lack of patience with fiddly bits. I keep thinking about getting Mini Car Wars or Car Wars Classic (fourth edition, intermediate volume of rules between first ed. and fourth edition Compendium). Then the urge passes.
In the health news, I've been about as diligent as usual with the 20K resolutions, which is to say not at all. But I've realized my blood pressure is up and it's staying there, meaning my health risks are much higher than I thought and I really need to act on this.
In the reading news, my Bible reading plan is ticking along. I have read the three Middle Kingdoms novels by Diane Duane, and am moving into Harry Harrison's memoir. I checked out a book on the physics of sci-fi and fantasy, but was alas the prose was what a physics professor thought popular writing is like. Quite a disappointment.
In the Star Wars project, I watched episode I, watched most of episode II … again fast-forwarding through much of the "romance" bits. Oh, that dialogue. The Clone Wars pilot movie was reasonably fun. I am up to episode four in the series ... a long way to go and I'm not sure I'm liking it. Still. This is the road I've chosen.
Wed 15 Jan 2020 — This is Madness
Slowly digested over a thousand years …
The project begins. I subscribed to Disney+ with intent to catch up on the Star Wars and Marvel media libraries. Today I've started in the galaxy far far away … and I'm going chronologically. And horrifying as that seems, that means Episode I.
Actually, I'm having fun so far. It's just about "Summon Bigger Fish" time … I was pleased to hear Newman's "Fox Fanfare with CinemaScope Extension" … and the captioning is very very good.
Sat 11 Jan 2020 — Odometer Rollover
Reflections and resolutions abound …
A new year is upon us. Today is my 19,999th day. Both are causes for reflection and resolution. Here are a few fruits of that labor.
I often think how much I'd like a monastic lifestyle, and I try to make a personal schedule that echoes the Daily Office, or the Hours of the Church, or whatever your particular branch of the tree calls it. I have since realized it's impossible. I'm not a monk, I'm a working dude with a family firmly in the world. Anything I try to do to improve my life is going to have to fit into that ... not supplant it, not be supplanted by it.
What I really want is a discipline, a routine to cling to against the sciroccos of chaos that is my environment. In defiance of all the "small steps over time"/"one thing" crew, I will make all of the changes below starting tomorrow, Sun 12 Jan 2020, my 20,000th day of life.
As a side note: to support these changes, I have acquired the cheapest 10" Android tablet I could lay hands on. It's not fast or furious, but that's okay — it's an opportunity to practice more patience. And it's SO much nicer to read on or edit with than the phone. I revived my Logitech K480 Bluetooth keyboard, which also requires a certain flavor of patience but it works.
For spiritual me, daily Bible reading and more prayer. I've got reading plans and my Olive Tree bible study app and I'm not afraid to use them. In fact, I started this discipline yesterday. To strive for: patience, gentleness, and kindness … but any or all of the fruits would be welcome, really.
For mental me, more reading and games. The tablet makes this easy to approach. I started Diane Duane's Middle Kingdoms novels today. The TFT Helper app isn't optimized for my device or accessibiity settings, but it's cute. Hello, Ticket To Ride my old friend. And new games, too, surely.
For physical me, part one: exercise. Wake up is 5:15, do a few self-care chores, nudge the water heater if necessary, and then 30 minutes of activity, mostly calisthenics, bodyweight resistance, and walking or exercise bike. That's the start, and that's the minimum. After a few weeks, I'll add some evening cardio.
For physical me, part two: food. The evidence is building that intermittent fasting is good. So I will only eat between 7:00 AM and … 3:00 or 5:00 PM, I haven't worked out which. (Funny about the evidence on eating earlier in the day being better, that was known anecdotally at the Cooper Clinic back in the 1990s. It's all coming together.)
For creative and student me: I haven't decided yet. Possibly a daily post, plus get serious about learning some ASL. For work me, a new work-only backpack to keep firm boundaries between my employer's needs and my own.
Join me tomorrow for day 20K, won't you?
Thu 19 Dec 2019 — A Random Mess
In which Bob just starts writing and sees what happens …
First thought: I'm pretty happy with this blog. It takes a little coding to make a post, which I don't mind. And I don't have to feel guilty about not having tags or hotlinks or other organizers.
Second thought: I have checked out a Python book from the library. I'm going to see what I can trick a NumWorks emulator into doing. Probably something like DicePickXR/XL.
Third thought: There are many games I love but I'm totally useless at playing them. It's hard to remind myself not to buy that, or that, or even that because ulimately they will not be played. Car Wars comes to mind here. The current Kickstarter program (hands tried to type "pogrom", which is interesting) for Sixth Edition is easy for me to resist, as it's out of my price range. "But what about the classic reprint," I whisper to myself. Then I think, and look, and I ponder at the 64-page rulebook … and all the counters and tokens and then the urge passes away.
Fri 13 Dec 2019 — Bye, O'Rhythm
In which Bob plays with numbers and mocks the hive mind …
I think I first met biorhythms in a paperback book my mom had. She was always interested in things like that. I became fond of them when they were presented in The Great International Math on Keys book that came with my TI-30 calculator. Biorhythms are for me a fun math game in which I put no particular stock. Like horoscopes (except astrology math I stay away from).
While browsing the Wikipedia entry, I came across the following which says more than I can. First quote:
Each of these cycles varies between high and low extremes sinusoidally, with days where the cycle crosses the zero line described as "critical days" of greater risk or uncertainty.
Later … a whole TWO SENTENCES LATER … this:
The numbers from +100% (maximum) to -100% (minimum) indicate where on each cycle the rhythms are on a particular day. In general, a rhythm at 0% is crossing the midpoint and is thought to have no real impact on your life …
… and I just couldn't not post that here. Well done, Wikipedia editors.
Thu 12 Dec 2019 — Calculating Ways
In which Bob goes nerdy on old tech …
Being a teen in the 1980s, I think pocket calculators are cool. In fact, I think pocket calculators are way cooler than digital watches. My first calculator worthy of the name was a TI-30. Then I moved to a TI-35 (statistics!). Those saw me through high school. For my college math, I had a Sharp programmable in Radio Shack trade dress. There was a bit of a lull in calculator land for a decade or two until I had to help my wife get through her college maths. That's when the TI-8x series came into our lives and I got to play with the TI-82 and TI-83 Plus. After wife was done, there was another decade lull before the younger daughter, aka The Gifted One, had need of TI calculators. She has a TI-84 Plus CE in Lightning blue, and used a TI Nspire CX for a year which she liked better for stats.
My dear friend Gary also likes calculators. His like is focused on the Hewlett-Packard (HP) products, and he has a very nice collection of them.
Some observations here: HP and TI both created calculators with intent of reaching professional users: scientists, engineers, etc. The education market was a secondary thing. When desktop computing supplanted pocket calculators, HP's interest faded away. TI doubled down on education, managing to get the use of their product into textbooks and curricula for colleges and high schools. And with that market lock, TI has been able to keep their product price silly-high.
I wasn't paying attention when NumWorks hit the scene in 2017. I learned about it this fall and I am very, very fond of it. NumWorks is a programmable graphing scientific calculator aimed for the high school market, it's completely open source, and it's only 2/3 the price of a TI Nspire. It has become my favorite calculator-at-hand, since the software is also ported for a browser app and for smartphones. Same code, different case, you might say.
I saw many complaints that NumWorks is nowhere near as functional as the TI Nspire, TI-84s or HP Prime. The complaints miss the point. Remember when I said the TIs and HPs were designed for professionals? The NumWorks is designed for students. It nicely supports what students do in high school classes. Complaints about the version of Python in the calculator (!) go into the same bucket. It doesn't need to be the replacement everyone wishes existed -- it does what it does, well. I like it fine.
I do wish it were cheaper. NumWorks falls between the high end and the low end (Casio's graphing calcs) for price. But it's not like they have HP or TI or Casio resources to force the benefits of large scale. I'll buy one, probably sometime next year.
Sat 30 Nov 2019 — Logocycles
In which Bob learns, albeit slowly …
I've grumbled in recent posts about my tendency to revisit old problems, analyze them yet again, and more often than not come to an unchanged conclusion. After reflection, I think I can say there is some value in it, in that when I remember it all, I can be confident that I've done the homework, it adds up, and the answer is the right one for me. So it's a tiny bit of psychic security.
Also, sometimes I catch news that I'd missed that can be important to me. For instance, English Bibles (not Bibles from England, but Bibles in the English language, although I do have two here in the former sense). I like scholar Daniel B. Wallace's opinions on what Bibles a believer should have. Summed up: Have an Authorized ("King James") Version, for its beauty and historical importance; and also have a translation that's readable, a translation that's accurate, and a translation that's elegant. In my library, the elegance is covered by the Revised English Bible, the readability by the Common English Bible, and the accuracy by the New English Translation (NET). (I also have a New Revised Standard Version, as it's the long-preferred translation for academic use.) (And we have at least four other translations in the house as well, plus others I have in electronic form via the Olive Tree Bible Study app to which I've been connected since my Palm PDA days.)
But the news I'd missed was that at long last the NET Bible had found a mass market publishing partner, the Thomas Nelson imprint of HarperCollins Christian Publishing. So now there are muliple print formats, including large print which makes my middle-aged eyes happier and economy versions that make my wallet happier. Oh, and Olive Tree is part of HCCP, so electronic versions too.
(You can probably infer things about my beliefs from my Bible translation preferences. And you could easily be correct.)
You might be wondering "What about <insert translation here>?" And I would say, "I'm sure that's fine. I probably have a copy of that somewhere. But these are the ones that speak to me such that I keep copies with me always (i.e., in my cloud drive and on my reader device)." The Word doesn't need me to specify how it should speak to you.
Mon 18 Nov 2019 — Echoes and Reverberations
I don't remember Memory Land being this round …
As I've been window-shopping (screen windows count) for the tablet mentioned in the previous post, I remembered that I've done this same assessment of my tech needs twice before in this decade, and with mostly similar results. Both times, a primary motive was to get stuff off my phone and let the phone focus on the really mobile activities (phone, messsaging, GPS, audio, stuff for emergencies). The other device would be something I can do light editing, reading, web stuff, and media viewing on.
In 2011, the solution for browsing, productivity, and media was a Nexus 7 tablet. I dug this tablet very much, but the screen wasn't much larger than my phone. Plus I had issues with the limited memory in the version I bought. So I passed it on to a new home. In 2015 or so I bought a 10.1" 2-in-1 tablet on the theory that it would become my personal activity machine, and I'd get out of the desktops altogether. That didn't work, mainly because the OS would update monthly and consume all available memory.
What is different now is that I do most things in a browser, with apps connected to cloud storage. (Hey, I've been paying for this cloud for years … might as well use it.) For Windows, I run a portable version of that browser on a stick. I use the store versions of it on MacOS and Android. Working well so far.
I'm back to thinking that 10.1" is the right size, comfortably between my 5" phone and 14" laptop, for my budget and the activities. The winner is … the Nook Tablet 10. Eventually.
Sat 09 Nov 2019 — Round the Whirl'd in 80 GHz
In which Bob looks yet again at his use of tech …
Tech is everywhere and it's cheaper all the time. And my needs and wants likewise change over time. Every couple years or so, I find myself heading down a rabbit hole of overanalysis and there's nothing to do but ride it out and see where it takes me and if I learn anything. Welcome to the 2019 edition.
Fitbit? Not wearing any more, didn't make me feel motivated or tell me anything I didn't already know about myself.
Watch? I keep fending off impulses to put my Casio hunting watch back into service. Sun and moon rise and set times were cool, but they're as easily found online or with a phone app. So, no.
Last time I did this dance, I settled on having documents or web browsers on the laptops at work or at home, and keeping my smartphone just for interesting things I do on the go ... listening to music or podcasts, for instance. Oh, and taking phone calls and messages. Two things have happened since. I don't really have a home PC, so I've been doing more and more document handling on the phone. Also, I do my e-mail through the browser. And for both of those things the phone has been terrible.
I'm just about resolved that I need a tablet again, to have a larger screen factor to handle my reading, browsing, and e-mail. I had a Nexus 7 back when, and also a 10" 2-in-1. I think 8" or 9" would be right for what I have in mind. And I think Android would be fine, since the phone has that. But of course, few manufacturers are doing Android tablets any more, and I'm stuck with either more expensive than I want, or less reliable.
Alternatives? 7" would be fine, I guess. I don't think I want to go to 10" … I found that big for a tablet but too small for typing. With Black Friday coming, there may be a deal to be had somewhere.
So, the idea sits and gels.
Sat 02 Nov 2019 — Over My Shoulder: The Dice Fake Book
In which Bob answers the question "What were you thinking!?" …
In the early 2000s I had this notion: If you're going to use d20 for all actions, why not use it for all results as well? My solution, being under the sway of the PlainLabel Game System at that time, was to make lots of itty tables. The tables I made did deliver the average values correctly, but they did not deliver correctly equal weights for each outcome. Bad. (Interestingly, this math heresy appeared in the final edition of d20 Weekly … and another math heresy to make all GURPS rolls higher-is-better appeared in the final edition of Pyramid vol. 2. Oh, and for the record, I think the Blue Rose method of effect checks is a much, much better solution to the "use only d20" problem. Schooled by Steve Kenson again.)
In reflections this year on how to reproduce the "0 to 9 twice" dice of days long gone, I decided the solution was a d6 with the d20. And in a trice I saw this was the solution for just about any common gaming dice roll, and even a bunch of uncommon rolls. I resolved to share this amazing insight with the world.
It was first necessary to decide which dice needed emulating. I wanted the usuals, of course, but I also wanted to be sure I covered the wacky dice used in the Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG. One wrinkle was how to handle the d7. Then I made the tables. Then it was time to write and layout the document.
First attempts came to six digest-size pages, digest-size being the natural habitat of RPGs. I wanted eight pages for easy booklet printing. What could I add? Fudge/Fate dice came to mind, naturally. There are 81 outcomes for Fudge dice. That's very conveniently close to 20 times 4. So I made a Fudge table that, true, wasn't an exact emulation but was very, very good. What's another common roll? Well, 4d6 keep the highest 3 ... or 4d6, drop the lowest one, if you prefer. The attribute roll for D&D. Hmm. 1296 possibilities. A 2d20 table would be too big. A d6 and d20 table ... 120 outcomes? Factor of ten? Good enough.
The battle of layout began in earnest. Most of my side jokes slipped away. The introduction shrank. But the disclaimer grew. What was I to do with that? Then I realized the disclaimer should be in really small type. That saved my disclaimer snark and the pagination.
A fake book in music is sheet music with just the melody notes and a chord notation. The experienced player is expected to be able to elaborate well based on that beginning. So it is with my dice fake book. Starting with a d6 and a d20 only, the experienced player can generate any roll they need. Two of each is better, of course, and better still if they are in differing colors. My (non-Fudge) dice bag is now exactly 8 dice, four sets of d6 and d20, each in a specific color.
And that's how that happened.
Fri 01 Nov 2019 — Propulsion
In which Bob reports on the battle with inertia
Wow. The gap between posts here makes it clear that while I was willing to do the work to set up a blog page, I still do not necessarily know what I want to do with it.
I have started several 'where am I now?' posts, but I've done so many of those and there's nothing new there. I'm still stalled on just about everything I want to do vs. everything I have to do. Any time I think I'm lined up to start making progress on something, a new factor enters the picture and I'm dumped right back into stasis.
I did finally break down and buy the big Fantasy Trip box. There was an unexpected windfall and there was only one left in Warehouse 23 — a situation guaranteed to have me clicking 'buy'. Now that I've bought in, I will probably pick up the other set of Megahexes and maybe some more counters. The extra copies of games may end up with youngest daughter, who I think is having a good time as DM.
With the demise of Yahoo! Groups and the reduction-in-force at Cumberland Games, I have been lacking my dose of S. John Ross's genial wackiness. But it turns out he's focusing that energy into small doses on the Twit-thing. It's tempting to go back just to hear him and the conversations with other folks we both know and like. But Twitter ... guh. No. I can't. I'll just peer in wistfully from the web every now and again. We'll always have PyraMOO.
In my Kickstarter impulse buys, the Big Eyes, Small Mouth material is nice. I'm curious to see the Fourth Edition. A version of Champions Now was turned out. I'm disappointed, and that's all I'll say about it here. Over at Bundle of Holding, that Catalyst games bundle was a happy-making haul. And here comes The Magical Land of Yeld, based on the Modest Medusa comic (or vice-versa).
And here I am again, just blathering about games. Maybe it's 'cause I don't have or won't take permission to write much about the other things going in my life. Maybe it's 'cause I love games and always have, and RPGs have just been deeply important to me (along with the people I played with).