Friday, November 13, 2009

Workaround for AutoCAD Section Plane Problem

While working on one of my presentations for Autodesk University, I discovered what appeared to be what's referred to as a "regression," something that used to work in a program, but after an update, no longer does. In this case, the regression involves the Section Plane tool in AutoCAD.

In AutoCAD 2009, and in the first customer shipping version of AutoCAD 2010, you could create section planes away from a 3D object and then use those planes to create two-dimensional elevations of the object through the use of the Create Block tool (the SECTIONPLANETOBLOCK command).

But in AutoCAD 2010, after applying Service Pack 1, this no longer works. If the section plane is not physically touching the 3D object, when you attempt to create the 2D block, AutoCAD displays an alert informing you that the section creation operation did not generate geometry because of the position of the section plane.

I reported this situation to tech support personnel at Autodesk, who have verified that this is indeed a regression and that the matter will be dealt with in a future update. Until then, the work around is to make sure that the section plane at least touches the surface of the 3D object. You should then also adjust the section plane's Intersection Fill properties so that the elevation does not include any intersection fill.

You'll learn this and much more about using the Section Plane and other tools in my AU class "Back to Flat: Producing 2D Output from 3D Models" (course AU122-2), which I'll be teaching on Tuesday, December 1, from 5:00 to 6:30 in Lagoon A.

Monday, November 9, 2009

North American Eagle Tests Again

On Friday, I once again made the 13-hour drive from Bellingham down to Gerlach, Nevada to watch the next series of tests of the North American Eagle land speed record challenger.

Saturday morning, the team met for breakfast at Bruno's at 6am and then headed out onto the playa. It was an absolutely beautiful morning, although a bit chilly. We met about a mile out from the 12-mile entrance and then moved about 8 miles out toward the north east.

It' hard to describe just how vast this place is. From two miles away, cars and people vanish below the horizon. If you don't know where you can easily get lost out here.

By 7:30am, the trailer is in position and the team begins the process of unloading the Eagle vehicle from its trailer, attaching the huge aluminum wheels, adding fuel, and hundreds of other steps before the vehicle is ready for a test run. In the meantime, I help Steve Wallace to erect the antennas that will be used as part of the ethernet network to capture real-time telemetry from the vehicle as it hurtles across the desert.

By noon, most of the preparations have been made, and the temperature has climbed into the upper 40's under a mostly clear sky. But it still takes hours more before everything is ready.

In spite of all the advanced preparations, it's still nearly sundown on Saturday before Ed Shadle makes his first and only test run of the day, reaching a top speed of around 185mph. Once again, just like back in July, the after burner refuses to ignite. And at the end of the run, the high-speed parachute fails to deploy and Ed brings the Eagle to a stop using only the magnetic brakes.

On Sunday morning, we again meet at 6am for breakfast and then head out into the desert. It's absolutely freezing this morning. The temperature is 18-degrees. When I get to base camp, I have to plug my camera battery charger into a small generator and recharge, because the cold has completely sapped most of my batteries.

With us again is Per Wimmer of Wimmer Financial. It appears that he is going to become a major North American Eagle sponsor. He's here this time with his girl friend Vicky, a Swedish fashion model. After getting some land speed experience at Bonneville this summer, Per is going to make a test run today.

It's after noon before everything is ready for the next test run. Jon Higley and I drive out to the 2 mile marker and wait. Finally, we can hear the big J-79 jet engine start up and a few minutes later Per comes roaring by. He appears to be going a bit faster than Ed's run yesterday. Just as he comes by us, however, he hits a bump in the playa and the Eagle makes a big bounce.

After the Eagle flies past, Jon and I jump into my Subaru and race across the desert at 80mph. When we pull up alongside the vehicle, we can see Per's huge grin even through his face is still mostly hidden behind his oxygen mask.

Al Von Hollen of S&S Turbine Services is concerned about the amount of desert dust that has been sucked up into the jet engine. There's a lot of dust visible in the tail cone. If there's that much here, just imagine how much is inside the engine.

When we get back to base camp, Per gets interviewed for Danish television.

It turns out that the bump was even more severe than we thought. The Eagle bottomed out and the impact tore away a metal panel just in front of the center wheels on the left side, along with a piece of the door panel. There's too much damage to risk another run. So after just two test runs, the team begins the process of dismantling the vehicle and loading it back into its trailer for the long drive home.

After saying goodbye to everyone, I load up and start my 13-hour drive back to Bellingham, arriving home around 5:30am on Monday morning. The team will now have to work through the winter making repairs and other modifications to the North American Eagle before the next test runs and hopefully a record attempt next summer.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

End of an Era in Fairhaven

It's the end of an era in the Fairhaven district in my home town of Bellingham, WA.

This afternoon, a crew of workmen used a large crane to remove the first two of the three Great Northern Railroad Pullman cars that have for years occupied the northeast corner of 12th Avenue and Harris Street, to make way for a new 5-story building.

Over the years, these cars have served as home for numerous businesses, including a dog grooming service and an espresso stand. But for more than a year, they have been empty, available to just about anyone who would pay to take them away.

Someone finally has. A woman in Pennsylvania has purchased all three cars and will eventually convert them into a restaurant. She is spending nearly $100,000 to move the cars. At one time, I had considered taking ownership, moving one to my property and the other two to Alger where they could become part of the Bellingham Society of Model Engineers. But the cost of moving them was too prohibitive.

By the end of the afternoon, only one car remained. It will be lifted onto a flatbed truck on Monday morning and taken to join the other two down in Burlington, WA. From there, they will be fitted onto specially made frames and loaded onto railroad flat cars for the cross-country trip to their new home in Pennsylvania.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Should Third-World Dictators Determine US Gun Policy

I am not a political person. But this morning I received a phone call that really burned me up.

I could tell from the caller ID that the call was from the NRA, as in National Rifle Association. So I was intrigued.

The woman on the other end identified herself and stated that she was calling on behalf of the NRA as part of a national survey. Would I be willing to listen to a recorded statement from the president of the NRA and then answer one question. So I said, sure.

In the recording, the president of the NRA stated that the United Nations is currently meeting in secret behind closed doors to pass a treaty that will ban guns worldwide.

After the recording completed, the nice lady came back on the line and asked me the single question:

"Do you trust third world dictators and Hillary Clinton to set gun policy in the United States?"

I kid you not. What kind of stacked, stupid question is that?

First of all, if the UN meetings are such a secret, how does the NRA know about them? Second, when has the United States ever signed a UN treaty without approval of Congress? We never signed the Kyoto Accord. And even if there was such a treaty and the US did sign it, how would that ever trump the Second Amendment?

So, of course, you know what my answer was, right?

I said, "Sure. I trust them."

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Brighton Beach Memoirs

It's the beginning of another season of shows at the Bellingham Theatre Guild. The first show of the season is Neil Simon's Brighton Beach Memoirs. And once again, I will be the official Guild photographer. Cast and production photos will be posted to my Flickr site.

The play is being directed by the wonderful Teri Grimes from Bellingham High School and the cast includes several of her students, including my daughter Clarice. There will be a premier VIP performance on Thursday, September 24 as a fund raiser for the BHS Drama Department. Tickets are $15 and proceeds go directly to support the drama department. The price includes a lucious desert buffet during intermission, with many of the deserts created by my wife Genny. Tickets are available through me, cast members, BHS, and at Village Books.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Hey Guys...I'm an Expert!

I was recently tapped to be one of the experts on Autodesk's AutoCAD Exchange community website. It was an interesting experience. I had to fly down to Autodesk's San Francisco headquarters and spent a day in a small room with a film crew (cameraman, soundman, and a director) as well as my good friend Heidi Hewett.

The videos went live in August and from August 22 to 29, I was the resident online expert, fielding questions from AutoCAD users worldwide. I hope I was able to provide useful responses to the many questions that were posted.

Those questions, as well as the videos from our San Francisco session, are now archived for viewing on the AutoCAD Exchange site.

For my conversations with Heidi, go to the AutoCAD Exchange site and click on the link to "Hear the Difference."

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Sad News About Vicki Cruse

Sad news arrived today from Great Britain. Vicki Cruse, whom I had met out in the Black Rock Desert last month when I was there chronicling the efforts of Ed Shadle and his North American Eagle land speed record challenge, died while practicing for an air show to be held at the Silverstone race track.

I learned of her death when I received a phone call from Ray Meese, photo editor of the Ventura County Star newspaper. Ray had found several of my photos of Vicki from Black Rock and wanted permission to publish them in her hometown newspaper. The article went live online later that afternoon. The article also appeared in the print edition the next day. (Click here to view the article on the newspaper's website.)

Vicki had flown into the NAE base camp in the desert outside of Gerlach, Nevada on Tuesday, July 7, and stayed with the team until Thursday. She spent time during the week familiarizing herself with the North American Eagle vehicle, in anticipation of her driving the vehicle to set a new woman's land speed record.

Throughout the week, she also pitched in at every turn, even spending several hours helping to prepare lunch for the NAE team members and other visitors.

Her Edge 540 stunt plane was a beautiful thing to behold and before she left the desert, she put on a show for us. Vicki was meticulous in maintaining her plane. Unfortunately, she was flying a borrowed aircraft while in the UK and something went terribly wrong. She was unable to bail out and crashed when the plane suffered a mechanical problem.

It's a terrible loss on so many levels. Vicki was a wonderful person. She was completely at home with the NAE team and I know that everyone looked forward to having her join the team's efforts. She will be missed very much.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Flying High at Sea Fair

I managed to get myself invited to a Sea Fair party. My sister Lori had recently been in touch with an old friend from summer camp when she was around 14. He now lives in Seattle. And obviously, his home overlooking Lake Washington was a fantastic vantage point to watch all the action.

Amazingly, this is the first time I've ever attended Sea Fair. Twenty-two years in the Pacific Northwest and this was the first.

We also had a perfect vantage point to see all of the people who were trying to cross Lake Washington when the I-90 floating bridge was closed. They obviously made the best of the situation. The were allowed to venture a short distance out onto the bridge to watch. There was a similar crowd across the lake on the east side of the bridge.

Many of the Blue Angel's passes ended up going right over our heads. Not bad.

The airshow was fantastic. This was certainly not the first time I've ever seen the Blue Angels perform, but it was one of the best views I've ever had. Quite a sight to see them out over Lake Washington, with Mount Rainer and the city of Bellevue in the distance.

The unlimited hydroplane races weren't bad either, although I would have liked to have had a closer spot from which to watch those. Maybe next year. Hydroplane racing on Lake Washington factors into my book project, so I may just have to get a much closer, personal look at these amazing machines before too much more time passes.

I've got a few more really great photos of the day's events on my Flickr site.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Black Rock Desert - Day 4

It's the final day of this week of testing of the North American Eagle here in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada. The goal for today is to try to get the vehicle up to 500mph. The team also plans to do its first turn-around. Everyone is hopeful. The stretch of desert that the Eagle is going to run on today is much harder than where they ran the first two days.

It takes more than an hour to tow the vehicle from the hanger at the 3 mile mark out to the new start line at the 12 mile mark. Once it finally gets there, I've got to get into at least one photo.

The first run is absolutely flawless. Ed gets the Eagle up into the mid 300mph range. Everything looks great. The only issues are that the desert is still a bit soft, the nitrogen charge in the front suspension is gone, so the vehicle is riding on the front springs only, and as a result the dust deflectors below the vehicle that help prevent dust from being sucked back into the intake ports have begun to come apart. There's some initial talk about just practicing turning the vehicle for a return run, but as the wind dies down, Ed decides to do it for real.

I loan a team member my video camera to record the entire turn around operation. In a real record attempt, the rules say that the vehicle must make a return run and pass back through the 1 mile timing strip within 60 minutes. It takes less than 40 minutes to turn the vehicle and get it prepped and ready to make its return run.

This time, Ed plans to go to after burners at the 2 mile mark, so Keith Zanghi and I go down to the 2 mile mark to watch. It's amazing how quickly the flare goes up, letting all workers and spectators know that the vehicle is ready to roll.

As we watch at the 2 mile mark, the Eagle flies past, but we see no after burner. This run looks to be about the same speed as the first run.

In reviewing this specific photo of mine afterward, the engine specialists are sure of what happened. Ed did indeed try to kick in the after burners. But they did not ignite. You can clearly see the cloud of fuel just beyond the tail cone in this image. It has not ignited. The question becomes, why not? What kept the afterburner from kicking in?

After the second run, Vicky Cruse climbs aboard and goes through the procedures for starting up the big jet engine. Once that's done, we head back to the base camp. It takes another hour before the vehicle makes it back to camp. In the meantime, we all have lunch and then, around 3pm, Vicky has to leave. She buckles in and the puts on an air show for us all before she heads back to California.

Her Edge 540 is truly an amazing plane, and we see why she was the 2007 US World Champion aerobatic pilot and remains one of the top aerobatic pilots in the world.

To complete the day of testing and training, Per Wimmer gets strapped into the Eagle, goes through the startup procedures, and then goes through an actual power-up. Afterwards, he reports that it was quite an experience.

I've got lots more to write about this week. I've also got lots of video. But the connection from out here in the desert is not nearly as fast as what I have at home, so I'll be posting more once I return and give my car a very well deserved trip through the car wash.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Black Rock Desert - Day 3

Day 3 out here on the Black Rock Desert is much calmer. There's almost no wind, at least compared to yesterday. But the playa hasn't gotten any firmer.

In spite of plans to get an early start, it's still mid-morning before they tow the vehicle out onto the test track. The plan for today is to run the Eagle on the desert road that has been used by cars that head out across the desert. Yes, there are actually roads out here.

There are some initial problems with the huffer cart used to start up the jet engine, but after a brief delay, that gets resolved and the team is ready to go.

In spite of the road being much firmer, there is still a lot of concern. It may be firmer, but there's a definite crown to the road and ruts where the automobile tires have worn into the playa. The concern is that the Eagle, with its centered aluminum wheel at the nose and the large aluminum wheels at the rear won't ride well on that surface.

I drive down range about 3/4-mile and watch the startup through my binoculars. But I don't really need the optical assistance. Even from this distance, I can clearly hear when the engine has started. It's loud and thrilling.

Within seconds the vehicle rockets past, but it's pretty clear that this run is not much faster than yesterday. It also turns out to be much shorter. Ed reports that it was indeed difficult to keep the vehicle centered on the road and he shuts things down before he reaches the 2.5 mile mark. But the test is a success. The high-speed parachute has deployed and a pair of Intel solid state hard drives are ejected from the moving vehicle and successfully recovered, and of course, they still work.

The entire team gathers for a photo at the end of the run. Then, after lunch, I go with Ed and several team members to a place about 12 miles north of the base camp, to scout for a more solid stretch of desert to do some faster tests. It's pretty cool to drive my Subaru at nearly 100mph across the desert. And sure enough, just more than 12 miles north of the base camp we find a stretch of desert that is very flat and very hard. I mark the northern and southern ends using my GPS and we head back to the base camp for a meeting. After a brief discussion, the team decides to move tomorrow's tests to the new location. I drive out to the new site a second time along with another test vehicle, this time retrieving the flags marking the previous course and setting them out on the new 4.25 mile course. Then we head back to base camp.

Once back at the base, they tow the vehicle out onto the playa away from the shelter for a photo op. A photographer from National Geographic Adventure magazine is here to take photos for an article that will appear in that magazine later this year.

I tag along to take some photos of my own. It's quite a lengthy process, but I do get some great shots of the vehicle and Ed. Ed's got his own paparazzi. Now he knows what it feels like to be a super model.

One of the most fascinating things about this trip is the variety of people who are showing up. Today's most prominent new arrival is Per Wimmer, who has flown in from Denmark along with a cameraman. Last fall, Per did a tandem skydive over Mount Everest. He also plans to be the first Dane in space, and has already reserved seats on three commercial space flights. He may also be a candidate to pilot the North American Eagle.

Stay tuned for more. The plan for Thursday is to do the first run around 8am, then turn the vehicle as quickly as possible and do a second run within 60 minutes. This will be an excellent test. Higher speeds are definitely expected, and the team will get some very useful practice, since in order to break the Land Speed Record, they need to complete two runs, one in each direction, in less than one hour.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Black Rock Desert - Day 2

It's day two out here on the playa in the Black Rock Desert.

Things did not start off early again this morning. There was still a lot to do to prepare the Eagle for its first run. I watched, and later helped John Winchester pack the high speed parachute that would be used to slow the vehicle on a speed run.

As John was finishing his work, a small plane buzzed the base camp and then did some nifty maneuvers around the edge of the desert.

This turned out to be none other than Vicki Cruse, the 2007 US National Aerobatic Champion. She's here to see the North American Eagle and may actually make a run in the vehicle later this week. It turns out that the women's land speed record is a rather sedate 318 miles per hour. So she could actually set a new record in the Eagle if conditions permit.

Finally, after hours of preparation, they're finally ready to fire up the jet engine for the first time this week. They tow the vehicle out from its protective structure, position it out on the playa, and hook up the auxiliary power unit, or huffer cart, used to start the engine.

Ed goes through some last minute instructions, first with his direct support team, and then with all of the ground personnel, those of us out here working with the team or covering the event, and the collection of spectators. Although this first run will be at low speed, safety is still of utmost importance. People need to know what to do if the vehicle veers off course, there's a fire, or some other unexpected event.

Finally, Ed climbs aboard and gets buckled in.

The team goes through the final check list. It turns out that there are several problems at start up. First, during an initial engine start, the vehicle fails to switch over to the on board generator when the ground power is removed. Then, when it's time to start up for the actual run, the engine fails to start on the first two attempts. Then, on the third attempt, the low speed parachute canister opens and part of the chute comes out. The team initially calls for an engine shut down, but there's already a fire in the engine due to fuel pooling from the first two unsuccessful starts, so they continue to spool the engine up and then, once it's running, simply remove the parachute, which won't be needed for this run anyway.

I get to ride in one of the chase vehicles, and shoot video from the rear seat. I won't get to edit that video and post it until after I return from this trip (assuming the video camera survives the dust).

Speaking of surviving the dust, by the time the vehicle is returned to the shelter, the wind is howling at around 40mph. Everything is coated in a layer of tan dust. My cameras are a mess. My car is no longer green. I actually am a bit concerned that all of my photographic gear will make it through the week. Its all going to get a thorough cleaning tonight, and then I'm going to bed. The plan is to do another run early tomorrow morning, before the wind picks up.