Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Pic of the Day: NASA's badass Saturn V S-IC

This is a time-lapse shot of one of the Saturn V first stages being put together at the Michoud Assembly Facility just outside of New Orleans. I found it at Heroicrelics. He's got a much larger scan of it there.

Boeing's full-scale item has much better detail than my Revell 1/96 kit...

...but then theirs cost a lot more and was made of stronger stuff.

I haven't done anything with mine since December of 2011, when I scribbled my last review of the kit. In the past few weeks, I pulled the model out, looked it over and decided that I can work with it.

I'm still not thrilled with Revell's design decisions, where each of the three stages are made of solid styrene end-caps joined by rolled-up styrene sheets. There's an ugly, very visible overlap, especially on the upper half (click on the picture and look along the left side). I didn't use enough clothespins to clamp the thing together.

The other big issue is that the "systems tunnel" (the long pipelike structure on the left, used to clamp the rolled-up sheets into a cylinder) is in two pieces, which don't meet in the middle. There's another such tunnel 180 degrees around on the stage. At this scale, that's a one-foot gap in each of them.

Time for some surgery. I'm going to cut both systems tunnels off, glue them up separately, and re-install them after trimming the excess sheeting off. Hopefully the sheets don't just tear themselves loose when the pipes are removed.

This should be a lot simpler than the approach I was going to use when I first saw how jacked up the thing was. I was going to throw some plastic filler in the gaps and try to sand things smooth.

I'm playing it smarter with the remaining two stages. I'm going to roll the sheet sections up and put them into hot water so they'll stay rolled, then glue them up a little at a time to their end-caps and trim off any overlap. Since each stage has at least one systems tunnel intended to clamp things together, I'll arrange the sheet so that the tunnel covers the seams.

Pre-repair pics of the stage are here.

Monday, August 19, 2013

In Which I Inconvenience an A-hole...

I was on the end of some medical errands (doctor visit, taking care of some billing issues) this afternoon. Stopped in at a store for lunch. When I came back out to the car...it wouldn't start.

This is the second time in two weeks that I've taken the X-11 out for more than a short run, only to be unable to start it. Fortunately, the first time was at the same auto parts joint where I bought the (still-new) battery. The guy there popped it out, charged and tested it, and after almost an hour I was back on the road.

This time...convenience store. All my tools are in the Tracker, 4 miles away. I let the battery "rest" between tries, turned everything off, waited a few minutes, tried again. No good. Then I tried letting it roll back on the sloped parking lot and popping the clutch. No good--and now I was stuck in the middle of the lot. No way I was going to try pushing back uphill, so I cut the wheel hard-left and started huffing and puffing, pushing the car toward the side lot.

I was obviously having trouble; one nice guy walked helpfully past me, hopped into his Mustang, and considerately moved it out of the way, then out into traffic.

Then there was Mr. Asshole, who had pulled in next to me before I tried popping the clutch. Mr. Asshole came out of the store as I wrestled the steering wheel. He got in his truck and started yelling at me for being in his way (I didn't see or hear it--I was too busy--but one of my helpers told me about his tantrum).

If I hadn't been busy being the only horse moving the wagon, I'd have gotten my camera out to take pictures of his truck to share with the Internet, since the Internet likes assholes. Just ask George Tierny of Greenville, SC. But I was busy.

A nice lady came running over and helped me push, then a guy who wasn't Mr. Asshole joined us. Mr. Asshole kept ranting manfully in his truck, safe from physical effort, and as soon as we inconsiderate car-pushers were clear he backed out and drove away. I was still too busy to whip out a camera, but I'm pretty sure he's a Republican. Fits the profile, these days.

We got the car around to the side of the building and I thanked my helpers and sat there for a few minutes. After maybe half an hour of sitting, I got the engine running. Ran like crap, rough and sluggish, and didn't get much better the entire way home. Hope I didn't inconvenience Mr. Asshole in some way, having once already ruined his day.

"Scumbags" tag's for him--and Johnny Cash has a message, too (I think he's saying, "Thanks for your help."):

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Pic of the Day: Grampa Solo motivationals, 2

The first batch were the easiest. I'm running out of ideas.

("Air Force One" joke. :p~~~   )

San Francisco: Morrison Planetarium at the California Academy of Sciences

We hit the California Academy of Sciences (CAoS) on the afternoon of Wednesday, May 1. After a morning at Alcatraz, I didn't have any business walking around, but I'm too stubborn for my own good. I really hate to let all the medical crap I've been through in the last three years get in the way.

So I explored. Slowly. If there was a bench nearby I explored it as well.

The ground floor is where most of the action is. There are a pair of enormous globes: one for the Rainforests of the World exhibit, the other for the IMAX Morrison Planetarium.

We'd come specifically to see the planetarium, billed as "the world's largest all-digital" in the CAoS brochure.

I didn't wander very far, but we had an hour to kill before the next show. I took in the Puerto Rico reef aquarium and watched the Foucalt Pendulum display:

Explored several benches. They were of good quality and reasonably comfortable, but the main bench exhibit (a small group of them, supposedly shown in their natural environment) was kind of boring.

No benches at the planetarium entrance. We only stood for maybe 15 minutes, but it was starting to seem like forever by the time the doors opened and we were ushered into...the next waiting area (a darkened room, where our eyes could adapt). My legs and back were having fits, but I just kept standing.

Another 10 minutes in this darkened room, then (FINALLY!) we were led into the main theater, a 90-foot dome. Some pretty evil stairs, and damned if my host didn't want to go alllll the freaking way to the top. Man, what a hike. I felt like I'd fall backwards if I didn't hold on to the railing. Practically fell into my seat. Sighed in several kinds of relief.

Several minutes of introduction from the staff. The theater was more brightly lit than that darkened room had been (so much for adapting to the dimmer light...). The lights went down and the show got under way.

I wish I could describe the show. It looked amazing on that 90-foot IMAX dome, as if we were floating above the building's Living Roof. We pulled back, back, back: the campus, San Francisco and its peninsula, the West Coast, the Earth--

I blinked. I'd swear that's all it was, a blink, and overhead we were zooming back toward the Earth. Credits rolled, lights came back up, and my cellphone claimed that 20 or so minutes had passed.

Seriously. I'd managed to sleep through the one thing I'd come here to see.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Pic of the Day: Grampa Solo motivators, 1

I saw the trailer for Harrison Ford and Gary Oldman's new flick, Paranoia this morning. A bald-headed Harrison Ford is freaky deaky.

It'd be awesome of Ford keeps the shiny skullcap look if/when he reprises Han Solo in the upcoming "Star Wars." Grampa Han Solo. If we go by the books, his wife Leia is Space President, which makes him First Scoundrel. AND since he's a famous war hero and beloved celebrity, you just know he's doing ads for various things like Reverse Mortgages and urinary catheters.

Seriously. There are ads with Chuck "Love Connection" Woolery hawking urinary catheters. Squicky.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Pic of the Day: Alligator Gar Overhead!

Shot in the basement of the California Academy of Sciences (CAOS! heheheh). An alligator gar prowls above the ceiling of the "Amazon Flooded Forest" tunnel. Above is the "Rainforests of the World" sphere.

The entire basement level is a series of aquaria, some of which are also visible from the ground floor. Mostly natural daylight coming down through the building's skylights. Makes for some spectacular shooting, especially if you can find a place without a crowd of people in the way.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Pic of the Day: Another Satisfied Customer!

I just got an email from a second member of the Citation X-11 Yahoo! Group thanking me for the decals I drew up in CAD.

The first guy did his in grays (it looks like he kept it close to the original colors); this second guy did his in orange and red:

He hasn't put the decals on yet. I love the car's new color!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Pic of the Day: I Left My Mark on San Francisco...

This'll show 'em for not having Fort Point open and ready for inspection.

I wish I could have set up a camera to see the reactions of other visitors. Even better if that was still present after three months.

The most disappointing part of the whole San Fran trip is that I only took 357 pics. Only 21 of them were at Fort Point and only 12 of those even have the fort in them. I got more pictures of Alcatraz (44, but still...only 44?!), a few of that red bridge (can't remember the name, sorry), but neither of my cameras were anything close to full. I completely missed Muir Woods and the twisty, narrow road leading in and out of there, the gorgeous valley on the way in. Kept the "big" camera (12 mp Kodak) in a shopping bag as I shambled up and down Haight Street.

I could just say I was too busy looking, and that'd be part of it. But I've been out of the habit of getting the camera up or even taking it with me.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

The Most Important Part of Repairing Something Yourself...

...is knowing when to call in the experts. Our 11-year-old heat pump stopped pumping two weeks ago. Since I'm the guy with tools, people are looking at me to do something about it.

Nuh-uh. I understand the basics behind an air conditioner system, but the 220 volts of people-killing AC powering the thing scared me enough that I wasn't about to do anything deeper than pick up the phone and call in an expert.

That was easy, but there was a big problem: All four of us in the house are on Disability and this close to the end of the month we couldn't even pool enough money together to pay just for the service call, let alone any parts or repairs. We'd have to wait for the beginning of August.

I felt pretty shitty, having the only room in the house with a working air conditioner. I put a window unit in and shut off the house vent in 2011 because everyone else in the house is a smoker. With the house air down, leaving my room was like walking into a wall of heat and humidity. We had all the windows open, but the wind never seemed to blow in. Ninety degrees, all night long. On cooler nights, it dropped to 89.

After a few days of that, I did my usual thing, hitting Google and trying to figure out why the system wasn't working. I started poking at the controls, trying to make the system start...compressor and outside fan would "bump" but not run. I could hear the contactor relay clacking on and off. Then...nothing.

After watching videos and reading dozens of websites and looking over the wiring diagrams for our system, I decided, "hell with it--I'll give it a try." All the troubleshooting guides and pro advice pointed to a bad capacitor in the outdoor unit.

I was still paranoid about those high voltages, though. I double- and triple-checked the breakers and cutoffs, made sure I understood how to discharge the capacitors, checked for voltage even after unplugging stuff, and even threw together a capacitor checker using my old RadioShack "75 In One Electronic Project Lab" kit.

Pretty proud of that one. I based mine on this one by Lance Summers. Had to modify it a little (the kit didn't have the right values on some parts), but by this past Tuesday evening it was ready. Getting to the capacitor was easy. No dramatic sparks when I shorted it to drain any juice it might still be holding.

It tested "good," as far as my knocked-together tester was concerned. Dammit. But this didn't mean the cap is really good, just that it's still kind of working. I ran out, got my multimeter, and checked it again. One side (Compressor) good, other side bad (Fan). Good! I ran out and got a new one. Twenty bucks!

Hooked it up.

Smoke test! Compressor and outside fan "bumped," contactor clacked...and nothing. Dammit. At least there wasn't an explosion or smoke. Everything was exactly as it had been and I was down $20.

Back to the Google, more schematic study, and I started looking at that contactor. Its contacts weren't moving when the thermostat triggered it. They seemed frozen when I tried moving them manually. Unplugged the power, safed the new cap, and pulled the contactor....

Be careful when you're trying to pop the connectors off. One of them was holding on too tight and I kind of...broke...the terminal off the side of the thing. Dammit. Brought the contactor and its broken-off piece indoors, tried to save it, and failed. Still, it needed replacing even without my breaking it. The contacts were pretty badly pitted and hadn't been moving properly.

Had to wait for Friday morning (payday!). Back to the store, $19 for a new contactor. Got home, gathered my tools, went to work...

The two screw terminals for the power wires didn't fit the new part.

Screw going back to the store. I whipped out the Dremel tool and a grinding bit and started carving Bakelite off of the thing until I'd hogged out enough space for the terminals.

Back out, hook it up (and check a dozen times to make sure all the wires are in the right place), check it yet again, and hook up the power.

No explosion, no fire, so far...switch the system on...

Compressor and fan "bumped," new contactor clacks...and nothing.

This was that point: acknowledge defeat and call in the experts. I'd gone as far as I could. By this point I was thinking it could be a bad motor, something grounded, bad compressor...all more expensive and more involved than I was comfortable with.

Guy comes out, pokes around the indoor unit first. Finds a bad capacitor and swaps in a new one ($30, but now the indoor fan runs at full power). Pokes around the outdoor unit. Nothing wrong out there (he didn't criticize my work, at least). I could hear the compressor come on and STAY on (so the outdoor stuff is fine...I didn't screw it up!). Several minutes of tinkering and testing. He replaces the thermostat ($65). The system comes alive, running much better than before. $190.00 for all his work and parts. I was expecting much worse.

The cap and contactor I put in were money well spent (I wonder how much the A/C guy would have charged to replace those?) and I'm feeling pretty damn proud of myself.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Picture of the Day: Closed?!

One place I was looking forward to seeing during my three-day tour of San Francisco was, of course, Fort Point. It's the only such fort on the US Pacific coast.


It's open for tours Friday through Sunday and I was there on...a Monday.

Reminds me of  that time I went all the way to Fort Pike on a Saturday to find it closed and fenced-in.

Since Fort Point is a National Park site, there's a clearly-marked schedule, something the Louisiana parks people didn't think of ("What? A schedule on a sign? Why'd anyone need that? We know when we're open!"). Oh, and Fort Point is open ON WEEKENDS, which makes sense for attracting tourists, something else the Louisiana people didn't consider ("What? Make the fort open on weekends? But that's mah fishin' time!").


At least this one's only half-fenced off (basically the northern and western fronts), probably as protection for the Golden Gate bridge, which runs directly overhead. The bridge's chief engineer Joseph Strauss saw something worth preserving in the fort, so he designed an arch to carry the bridge over (link goes to a tour site; very good picture of the arch).

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Picture of the Day: Dear Penthouse...

Here's New York Mayoral frontrunner lastrunner Anthony Weiner doing what he does best comes naturally:

Mat Taibbi at Rolling Stone wonders what this guy has to do to get himself disqualified, if sending crotch-shots to strangers on the Internet doesn't qualify.

I'm embarrassed that I ever liked Weiner...er, as a politician. *ahem*