Day 59: Biotechnology and the Airplane

I mentioned there were some busy days coming… here’s one. Today I’m heading to Southern California for some serious work on a few fun projects.

Dad is away in Washington D.C. in meetings with BARDA about data analysis, so Mom picks me up at the Burbank airport. She says “You can borrow dad’s car, but first I’ve got a job for you.”

Mom runs a few biotechnology labs in Pasadena. Startup companies use the labs as an incubator in their early stages, and students use them as a place to learn valuable skills and get practical experience working with the startup companies. It’s a lot of work, but a great mix of fun and interesting people.

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Mom and Diane in the lab, telling stories again.

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Here’s the job she’s got for me: There’s a computer in the lab which needs repair. That’s how I earn my keep when I visit my folks. (In this case, it looks like the computer is done for, but we’ll get the data off safely, thanks to an idea of Dad’s.)

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After lunch with Mom at Lucky Baldwin’s, I head to my brother’s place.

You might remember last time I was here, we worked on the electronics for his airplane. He’s working today and tomorrow, so I’m on my own.

…so I’m going to build something to make the avionics work easier.

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Metal parts adapted from… what?

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They go together easily enough, but some mods from my original plan are still necessary.
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It’s sort of a heavy-duty frame for working with the plane’s electronic systems. The height and tilt are adjustable, and the whole back is open for easy access to everything. There’s even an attachment point for the GPS antenna.
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…and hooray, the cheasel is born. (It needed a name, right? His nickname for me is “Doch” so doch-easel = cheasel.) When he gets home it’s going to look like elves have been busy in his workshop.

Tomorrow: Crazy fun with a 44,000-pound optical instrument.

Random assertion: To keep your lunch safe in the bio-lab fridge, just write “ex/38463-36” on it. No one will dare eat it.

Steganographic data: 1848/1.4

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Published in: on July 16, 2008 at 10:04 am  Comments (3)  
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Day 27: Try the other wire (beep)

Time for some aircraft fun. Today’s goal is to sort out the wiring for all of the avionics, and figure out where the wires are actually going to run inside the plane.

It’s going to be a long day, and we know we’ll forget to eat lunch, so we go to Dinah’s for a huge breakfast.

When you open the garage at my brother’s house, this is what you see.

As you might expect, the kids in the neighborhood love it.

Bethany’s having a party at the house tonight, so the first thing we do is put the engine cowling on to make the plane look nice and presentable. CJ shows me the recent epoxy work he’s done where the doors meet the fuselage.

Here’s where the electronics need to go.

This aircraft is classified as “experimental.” The equipment we need to sort out today is:

  • Primary and secondary flight displays (EFIS = Electronic Flight Information System)
  • Vertical power control system
  • Engine monitor (which also acts as a third redundant EFIS)
  • 4-radio communication stack
  • Audio interface panel
  • Various sensors and deely-bobs

We start laying out components and wiring harnesses, and bring up specs and plans on the computer. There’s a lot of information we can get from similar planes others have built, but none of them are exactly like what CJ is building, so there’s some “use the meter to see what this cable is connected to” action.

RS-232 and RS-422 are old computer connection standards, but they’re robust. Planes still use them for just about everything. There are serial connections from every component to every other component.

After the first wiring pass, we climb into the plane to test-fit the components. They don’t fit, so CJ makes minor modifications to the aluminum plates.

As predicted, we totally forgot to eat lunch.

Here are most of the systems together, including the radio stack. About 75% of the white wires are going to be serial connections between one system and another.

When we’re done, the panels all fit into the plane, and most of the cables have a place to go. The next step for CJ is to build a test mount outside of the plane so that we can power up the components, and test their interactions as we hook them up.

CJ and Bethany are very proud of this project, and can’t wait for it to be @&*%# finished. When it’s done, it’ll take them less than 2 hours to come to San Francisco on a whim, and less than 80 minutes to Las Vegas.


Bethany’s Celtics shirt is trouble, but we like her anyway.

In the evening we’re really ready for a break.

Bethany’s house party tonight is no-boys-allowed, so CJ and I disappear to watch the Laker game at Hans‘ house.

Hans is a writer and a lifeguard, and we’ve been friends since we were both 2 years old. That means I’ve known him longer than either of my brothers. He and Jen have their own 2-year-old now, who has already started demonstrating superpowers. Keeping him off the tops of the bookshelves was a big task tonight. Lakers: Seriously? Wow.

Random assertion: Each new generation has a responsibility to shock the one before it. Shock-resistant parents make this a challenge.

Steganographic data: 1878/0.6

Published in: on June 13, 2008 at 4:00 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Day 26: Gravity Boys

When my muse leaves for work, I get on the highway.


These propellors help keep the Earth’s rotation from slowing over time. It takes hundreds of them to do the job.

It’s a 6-hour drive from San Francisco to Los Angeles, but it’s easy. Roll the windows down, crank up the music, and you’re there.

First stop in Pasadena is to see my grandmother. Gram has been reading this blog every day, and it’s got her in a mood to tell fun stories. During my visit, she drops hints about some mischief in 1931, which apparently made the papers. I’ve got some digging to do when I get back to the library. If I can I find it, I’ll post it for you.

From San Francisco, Las Vegas and Culver City, the boys all converge on Mom & Dad’s place. There are stories to tell. A lot of them.




Three guys with no respect for gravity

  • Kris (on the right) has a few days off from his show. He’s an acrobat for Cirque Du Soleil in this show, and his act is amazing to watch.
  • CJ (in the middle) spends his non-work time BASE jumping, flying planes, and tinkering. He’s currently building an airplane, which is why I came down.

Before dinner, I jump in the hot tub with a book. After a few minutes, dad stops by to hand me a margarita. See, this is why we treat the parents so well when they visit us. Good training.

We get to CJ’s place close to midnight, and Bethany (his muse and skydiving companion) has stories to top anything we’ve heard all day. Her work is far more dangerous than mine, always. She teaches 5th grade.

Before going to sleep, CJ gives me an overview of the avionics equipment for his plane. This is what we’ll be working on tomorrow.


Random assertion: To do a dull thing with style is preferable to doing a dangerous thing without style. To do a dangerous thing with style, is what I call art. – Charles Bukowski

Steganographic data: 1864/0.5

Published in: on June 12, 2008 at 8:26 am  Comments (2)  
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