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New Plane!

My new plane is awesome. I and two other partners went in on a 2011 Cirrus SR20 G3. She arrived on Thursday and I spent Friday making instructional flights in her so I can become familiar with her on a flight up to Minneapolis (to return the ferry pilot home) and then in the back seat on Saturday while another pilot got his own instructional lesson on the way home.

I love her.

Flight planning

The thing I hate about flights to Lake in the Hills is that the true course from here to there is something like 002º. That is east of north which mandates an odd-thousands+500 altitude, but any kind of zig-zag between waypoints often creates course legs slightly WEST of north, which mandate an EVEN-thousands+500 altitude. It really complicates the planning and makes me just want to fly at 3000', but every other lazy VFR yahoo is also flying at 3000', especially on nice days like this, and that makes me nervous.

In other news, I went up this morning and did five touch and goes and one full-stop landing on the narrow runway at KCMI. Felt pretty good. 32L/14R is 75ft wide, and I was pretty much nailing the center line every time, so the 50ft runway at 3CK should be fine. The tough part was actually that all the visual cues on approach to landing on a runway that's not 150ft wide are sort of alarmingly different. It took me a couple of times around to get used to it.

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Music boxes

I can't get this stupid little song out of my head. How embarrassing.


Limited arithmetic skills

This being a college campus, I'd sort of assume that basic math skills would be relatively prevalent.

I just bought a coffee and a sandwich at a local shop, and there was a sign on the cash register saying "NEED $1 SINGLES PLEASE!" My total was $6.26. I looked through my cash, and I had a couple of twenties and a few singles, so I gave the girl a twenty, two singles, and a penny.

She took it all very uncertainly, and looked at me like I'd done something wrong. I just looked back at her expectantly. "Did you mean to give me two dollar bills?" "Yes, the sign says you need singles, I'm trying to help you out."

"But this won't...." she started. I said "just enter that in the cash register and you'll see what I mean."

When she did, and the $15.75 change amount displayed, she looked at me like I was a miracle worker, or something.

*sigh*

I finally like pork

After too many dry and tough ones, we finally hit on the right way to cook pork rib chops.

I was always a little leery of pan-cooking these things, since it's so hard to get thick meat to cook properly all the way through. But we found a promising recipe and it worked very, very well. It involved searing the chops for about three minutes on each side in a bit of olive oil, and adding about 3 tbs of butter and three smashed garlic cloves to the pan about half way through. The pan is then tilted and the butter and renderings ladled over the chops to baste them. For once, we let them rest properly afterwards, too, for almost ten minutes.

After pouring off most of the butter and renderings, we deglazed the pan with some red wine to make a bit of a sauce to put on top, and served them over sauteéd apples and radicchio.

The crust was lovely and they were at just about the right doneness. The apples added the right amount of brightness to an otherwise fairly heavily-flavored chop.

We'll definitely be doing that one again. The only real problem was the stove got grease-spattered pretty badly, which is never fun to clean up.

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I'm not sure what was going on in downtown Champaign last night. I thought we might have lost the basketball game, which had people in bad moods, but we actually beat Wisconsin, so the mood should have been more upbeat.

sudbla and I were driving to meet a friend for dinner. In the busy downtown area, I made a right turn and had to immediately stop because there was someone in a crosswalk going across the street. I was nearly actually at a stop when he turned, pointed both arms at me, and yelled "STOP! JUST FUCKING STOP! I'M CROSSING THE STREET!"

I probably shouldn't have engaged him, but since I WAS stopped, I rolled down my window and said "Dude, I did stop. Just relax." His response was still going on and fading away behind us as I drove away. "FUCK YOU! FUCK YOU, YOU ASSHOLE! YOU'RE A FUCKING ASSHOLE!"

Slightly shaken by this, I made another right and parked, and we got out of the car and walked across the street to the restaurant. A car came up right behind us and there was a loud horn blast. Startled, both sudbla and I whirled around and raised our middle fingers at the inconsideration. Once again, we were met with the response from the angry driver of the car, a woman this time. "FUCK YOU! FUCK YOU!"

I always forget that what I'd like to do in situations like that is to stop and stand in front of the car, further delaying them, but that probably would be risky because someone in that kind of mood might actually dare to step on the gas and hit me.

It was just really disorienting, though. I've not seen that kind of blatantly angry behavior around here in a while; to have it happen twice in a matter of minutes... I hope it isn't just people on edge because of the economy or something. I was actually a little shell-shocked and when it came time to leave the restaurant I almost didn't want to walk back out into the street.

Five years on Mars

Five years ago, Spirit and Opportunity landed on Mars. While they're getting pretty broken down and rickety, they're still functioning despite their expected lifetime of a few months. This is an amazing testament to these vehicles roaming around another planet and to the people here on earth controlling and maintaining them.

I watched a TV special on the rovers, and it ended with surprising poignancy. I thought it was very touching that these normally down-to-earth scientists and technicians were speaking about the rovers very personably, as if they were more like beloved pets. It made me a little emotional myself.

The show ended with this dialog:

Ashley Stroupe: These rovers are pretty old, now. They're getting kind of arthritic; they don't see so well any more because the cameras are getting more and more coated with dust so their vision's getting a little fuzzy.

Together, they've explored Mars in a way that no planet other than earth has ever been explored. And those who work with them have given up trying to predict when their mission will finally end.

Steve Squyres: They're gonna die when they die. You know, at this point, every day's a gift. We just push the vehicles as hard as we can, enjoy them while we've got them, and some day they're gonna die and I don't know when.

However this adventure ends, their legacy is assured. They've returned hundreds of thousands of images, enough data on martian water history to keep scientists busy for decades. And their most important work may be yet to come.

I used to have this naïve idea that at some point we'd be able to sit back and fold our arms and say "yeah, well we did it. We learned everything we can about Mars with these rovers." I don't think that's going to happen.

But then, there are scenarios in which the rover is still alive, but it can't do much useful science any more. And you'd like to think at that point, well, you turn it off. Well, you can't turn them off. They don't have an off switch. If you build a piece of hardware with an off switch you might accidentally hit that off switch when you don't mean to, and you don't want to do that. So we have no way to turn them off. There's not a command that we can send that says, okay, *click*, you're done.

And so, as long as the rovers are alive, they'll wake up every morning when the sun hits their solar panels. And they'll call home and await instructions, whether anyone is listening or not.

And long after their circuit boards have given out, they'll be sitting on the surface of a planet where little has changed for billions of years.

It's cold, it's dry, there's no vegetation, they're not going to rust or anything like that. You know, these things could be still sitting there with their aluminum surfaces still shiny a million years from now. They're going to last a long long time. Longer than most things that humans have ever built.

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It's practically a new phone

Despite my WM6 smartphone seeming less and less shiny since I got an iPod Touch and am using it for almost everything except actually making phone calls, I was poking around on the net for news about it last night, and was horrified to discover that there have been major software and feature upgrades available for over six months now.

I was pissed about this because "Windows Update" on the phone was returning nothing and Sprint's web site seems to have totally forgotten that this phone model exists. But going to the web site of the phones manufacturer, HTC, revealed a new firmward download. It took my ROM version from 2.09 to 3.56, and now I have EVDO rev A, plus GPS (I had no idea this phone even had GPS hardware; the previous software load didn't acknowledge it and the phone's hardware specs don't mention it). Windows Mobile 6.1 fixes a bunch of bugs, makes available a bunch of features I used to use third-party add-ons for, and generally runs faster and looks better. There's even a GPS navigation program that seems to work fairly well, although I haven't tried it out and about yet. And something called "Sprint TV" which downloads live video content over the air. Despite it mentioning things like the Discovery Channel, NBC, and CNN, this isn't nearly as useful as that since it's all just clips, really.

And to think I was missing this for all this time.

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Jan. 4th, 2009

sudbla, armed with her new stick blender, makes a pretty good smoothie with yoghurt, milk, fresh berries, and whey protein. Almost no cleanup, too.

The Midwest so far this winter


Cartoon by Jeff Koterba, Omaha World-Herald

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