Search Lobsterland

Wednesday, April 30, 2008


Em had her first babysitting gig tonight.

Well, sort of. She's awfully young to be responsible for all the mayhem a kid can get up to.

Still, one of her closest friends, same age, has a license to babysit, and had lined up a gig that called for more than one.

The way Em initially explained it to me was along the lines of, we'll be keeping the kids busy so the adults can have a party with drinking.

At which point, I was, What makes you so sure I'm letting you do this?

However, knowing the family of the other babysitter, I knew either the description of the event was totally wrong or else it was something the friend wasn't going to be allowed to do either.

Turns out, what it was was a Bible study session for the adults. They had four toddlers among them, and the two twelve year olds were hired to keep the tots out of Mommy's hair while she got her scriptures on. Quite the contrast from Em's original description of a John Cheeveresque cocktail party.

Plus, if anything serious went wrong, a broken bone, a seizure, a choking, the adults would be available.

Em had a blast playing with the little microhonyocks, and after it was over got a check for ten bucks. Not too shabby when you consider she'd have done this for free just to play with little kids and hang with her BFF.

Sunday, April 27, 2008


Grilled some burgers and chicken breasts for supper. With weather like this, it seemed wrong to cook indoors.

The Daughter of Invention

Em decided today that she needed to take a bunch of stuff part in the interest of science.

She started with opening a broken kiddie karaoke machine, declaring right after she got it open that she now understood how it worked. I showed her the parts I knew were resistors, and the ones I think might be capacitors, and this seemed to reinforce her 'understanding' in a nebulous way.

Then she tied in on a camcorder that hasn't worked in seven or eight years. Just watch, next thing you know she'll figure out how to actually get that to work.

The Thrill of Victory and the Agony of Defeat

We had unfinished business from yesterday's launch, namely two maiden voyages to fly. The winds didn't seem particularly strong, so we headed to Shawnee Mission Park with the new & improved Mr. Creosote II and the hotroded Crapper II.

The first Estes Porta-Pot Shot I built was a disappointment on many levels. It has incredibly fragile clear plastic fins, yet came with a microscopic parachute seemingly designed to ensure fin breakage. And they provide an 18mm motor mount and suggest motors as wimpy as a B4-2. The largest Estes motor that will fit that mount, the C6, is barely adequate to overcome the drag of the boxy shape.

The result was we got very few flights before the cumulative damage of hard landings and lawn darts took the rocket out of circulation.

My main improvements this time were to treat the center tube as the motor mount, allowing 24mm C11, D12 and E9 motors. Then I hollowed out more of the interior to make sure a full sized parachute (in this case, a 15" rip-stop nylon chute) would deploy freely. The parachute wouldn't be in the motor tube (no room above an E9 motor for that), but the nose cone roof ought to be able to drag it out of the side pocket upon ejection. And if not, I reasoned, the roof should fall faster than the body, and that ought to finish pulling the laundry out pretty quickly.

I had epoxied an ounce of lead shot into the nose to ensure stability. With the heavier motors, I figured the center of pressure could ended up forward of the center of gravity otherwise. This would lead to unstable flight, which would be an ugly scene. I wasn't sure how to get Rock-Sim to calculate such a bizarre shape, and being a cube, it's a tricky model to swing test, so I was guessing a little.

I'm glad I added the nose weight: the rocket corkscrewed a bit going up, which tells me it was flirting with instability in all likelihood. Could have been a canted fin, but I doubt it the way these fins mounted. The other possibility is that the higher airspeed got the fins flapping slightly.

But as you can see from the video, the parachute didn't quite get free of the hole. With catastrophic results. I may look at repairing this ship, but it's got a busted fin, a breach of the wall where I hollowed things out, and it's not quite square anymore.

On the bright side, Mr. Creosote's re-debut was a resounding success. We flew him twice on D12-7's (on the video, you'll hear me call it a D12-3 on the first launch, but it was a seven second delay). I put a smallish parachute on him, a 12" (his predecessor flew with a 24" monster), but he's stout enough to handle a bit rougher landing. 1/8" basswood fins instead of balsa; the fins are through the wall, epoxied to the motor tube, with good epoxy fillets at the body tube. Since he gets much higher than his C-powered Papa, this is good for reducing the chance's he'll drift into the great beyond.

We went to launch Thor's Candycane. The wind had picked up, and he's a good one for windy days because he doesn't get very high and does come down fast, even on a 24" chute.

Right after I got this nice shot of him at ignition, a gust of wind blew the rocket and launch rod over and he did a worm burner across the grass for about 20 yards. I wish I'd gotten video of that: it's something I wouldn't want to repeat, but it was funny.

Em surprised me by coming out of her pseudo-teen-angst and actually participating in this outing. She even took an interest in prepping the rockets, packing chutes and loading motors. And this is something she has never done before.

She went on to further surprise me by asking questions that showed genuine curiosity about things she usually willfully ignores. Kind of like when Mo has a breakthrough moment of verbal communication, it was a thrilling instant of connection around the hormones and the obvious geek factor of a Dad who's into model rockets.

Happy Birthday, Bro

I've been sitting on this because my Bro reads this blog sometimes.

I don't make cards for people to be cheap, actually, despite what my tag line says. Even if you leave aside fees for stock photos, I often find myself spending two or three hours on a card.

Which is far more satisfying than just popping a buck and a quarter for prepackaged Hallmark sentiment.

Usually I'm stuck for an idea. I started keywording on things like 'middle age' and got pictures of guys doing medieval battle. Pictures which come somewhere near the violence of me and my brother growing up.

If you are going to make your own cards, it's awfully handy to have a commercial paper cutter and a scoring machine, by the way. Right after you upgrade your desktop inkjet for a Xerox DocuColor, stop off at your local bindery equipment broker. A Polar 78 cutter will only set you back maybe $30,000; you can probably get the scorer (which will also do sequential numbering) for just $7,000.

Saturday, April 26, 2008


Stroud's. This is the real thing.

To give you some idea, when I joked with the waitress that I wanted 'four fried chickens and a Coke,' she took the statement at face value. She'd never seen the Blues Brothers, but she had seen people order such quantities of food.

I remember back when the plains were black with buffalo, Rush Limbaugh mentioned on his radio show that he'd be taking his speaking tour to Kansas City, and was going to dine at Stroud's. This was back when he was relatively new to national syndication, and would brag about being on three hundred and some stations and compare his weight with that number, and the comparison was always pretty close.

I remember he said, 'When you die, this is what they scrape out of your arteries.'

He wasn't lying. Anyway, back then, Stroud's was in a run-down building under a bridge. And people waited outside the place for a seat to eat genuine pan-fried chicken served family style. There was a Stroud's up north of the river, but that was practically like travel. For those of us on the mainland, Stroud's meant the shack on 87th.

A few years ago, the building was razed, and I gather the family that owns the business had some setbacks getting another location in the southern end of the metro.

There's finally a Stroud's again, this time in a building that was once a Waid's, and has since been four or five failed restaurants. If they can't make a go there, the location is obviously not meant to be a restaurant.

I don't think there's any danger of that. My employer prints their menus, and only two weeks after opening, the owner called to reorder carryout menus. When I asked how many, he said, 'Whatever we did last time, quadruple it.' Okay, 16,000 carryout menus coming up, even though the place has been so busy they've often refused takeout orders because the kitchen can barely keep up with the dining room.

In fact, when we asked the waitress just how many chickens get cooked there every day, she didn't know. But she seemed to recall it was something like 10,000 pounds a week.

Before there wasn't a Stroud's in the vicinity for people to miss, keep in mind, they had people waiting in line. We wanted to eat there for my brother's 36th birthday, but we didn't want to wait two hours or more for a table.

I called to see about a reservation, but they don't take them. I inquired as to when their slow time might be. 1:45 to 3:00, the guy said, he wouldn't guarantee you could just walk in and be seated, but that'd be the shortest wait you'd likely encounter.

Bro got there at 3:00 and was told it'd be 30 minutes. The rest of us headed that way and got there just after the table had come available. That's about as lucky as it gets.

I eat fried chicken so rarely I honestly forget what it tastes like. I mean the vivid flavor recollection I can get with foods I eat regularly. First bite, and I'm like, That's what Willis was talkin' about!

As I've said, Mo does love her some fried chicken. She demolished four wings and two breasts, which was more than even her gluttonous father consumed (I was good for two breasts and a wing, a bit of mashed potatoes and gravy, a thimble of green beans).

As a heart attack survivor, Rush's joke about what they scrape out of your arteries isn't that funny, but if food is going to kill you, this comes as close to worth it as you can get without falling in.

After, we went back to Grandma Mary's for tree climbing, sidewalk chalk, appliance box houses, and pie.

Out to Launch

In the morning, I had a two and a half hour seminar on the topic of parenting teenagers. It ended up being a bit over three hours, actually, but it's a pretty big topic.

And (as the post that will soon show above this will show), I had an appointment to eat a lot of fried chicken at Stroud's in the afternoon.

When we got to Shawnee Mission Park, I explained for the umpteenth time that we were going to launch a couple of rockets and head to Grandma Mary's and then to Stroud's to eat what may be the world's finest fried chicken. I'd repeated this over and over because Mo's behavior is always better when she's hyper-prepared for things that are out of the routine.

But Mo loves her some fried chicken. She responded to this script by grabbing me by the head to lay a big, wet kiss on me.

I used to think I couldn't launch with the club and supervise Mo at the same time. She's pretty good with my rocket gear, not grabbing things I can't have her grabbing, but get a half dozen flyers with their stuff all spread out...

But she did great. Even helped me prep the rockets and get them on the rods. Even pushed the launch button for Kandy Kolored Tangerine Flake Streamline Baby, and when told to wait for the countdown, did so.

Em also ditched her teenage angst and actually made friends with another rocketeer's kiddo. It was about as much fun as we've ever had with rockets in only thirty minutes or so.

I didn't launch Crapper II because I realized I'd forgotten a finishing touch (the foil tape that protects the styrofoam around the motor tube).

I did get a decent shot of a fellow club-member's three engine cluster leaping off the rod. It's a bit blurry, but the thing didn't ponder it's moves: on three B6's, it was the opposite of the slow liftoff my heavy, underpowered rockets tend to.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Sound, Fury, Cold

Three years ago, I volunteered some time selling raffle tickets for the United Way at the Kansas Speedway. Not because I'm all that civic-minded, but because I got into the races that weekend for free.

I'm no fan of motor sports. I like the physics of it, and the amount of faith it takes to believe someone as cute as Danica Patrick could drive what amounts to a glorified go-cart 212 mph on tires thinner than a credit card.

And I know racing isn't just for rednecks, but the rednecks are sure what jump out at me. I can occasionally forget the sunscreen, but you see a lot of dudes who have either never heard of it or mistakenly think double-sized cans of Busch Light have some sort of SPF factor.

I can imagine asking these dudes, 'No earplugs?'

'Come again?'

Still, it's a spectacle. And when I saw, awhile back, that the ARCA race today was going to be free to the public, I took note.

That other time I was there, it was ARCA, IRL & Craftsman trucks. And the place was packed. With people who paid $50 for the cheap seats. I figured free door (and free parking) would mean a more than full house.

I took off work early so I could pick the girls up when school let out. Parking opened at noon, the gates at 2:00, and it was a 4:00 race. We'd get there right about starting time, and I prepped Mo for the reversal if it turned out to be full up and turning folks away.

We got there and it wasn't even heavy traffic. Got parking that qualifies as close for this place (it's a vast facility, 1500 acres). The wind was brutal and the temperature was cold and dropping. It could have easily passed for February 25.

I never planned to stay for the whole race. I don't know any of the racers, so I can't imagine caring who wins. Barring a spectacular crash, there's nothing there for me.

Come to think of it, the motor sport I truly enjoy is demolition derby.

Em was ready to leave days ago. Mo was a trooper, but after a few minutes, I asked if they were ready to go. They couldn't possibly have heard me, the pack had spread out enough that there were always a couple of unmuffled cars, minimum, blazing by at 180 mph. The noise, like the smell of molten rubber, was general.

By the time we got to the car, Em had told me about how there's nothing that would make her go back in there, ever again. Millions of dollars, the chance to flirt with the Jonas brothers, to be Hannah Montana, nothing would be worth it.

Mo, on the other hand, did not declare the scene 'lame.' That's been the default with her lately, but she indirectly described it as 'fun' and 'cool.' However, when I asked her if she wanted to go back in and squander the remainder of her hearing, she said, 'NOOOO!'

We walked in the gate at 4:10 and were going through the gate designated for rednecks about to pass out by 4:20. It was loud for me even with earplugs. Em claimed she couldn't get her ear plugs in, and Mo has a track record of eating ear plugs rather than wearing them, so I was fine with getting them out of that concrete bowl while they could still theoretically hear a nuclear test in a Tool concert.

Free Wesley Snipes!

This is an outrage.

Three years in prison might be appropriate for someone who'd stolen something that didn't belong to them. Wesley Snipes was sentenced to three years in prison for keeping his own money.

It's not 'Uncle Sam's' money: Uncle Sam didn't pay dues in show business and make a bunch of movies millions of Americans have enjoyed. Snipes was well paid, to be sure, but that's because he delivered what moviegoers wanted.

Plus, Snipes has, to my knowledge, avoided being as weird and creepy as, say, Tom Cruise.

I've said it before, I know (broken record), but how much money you earn and what you do to earn it is a private matter. Unless you're running a dog-fighting operation or a kiddie-porn ring or something like that, it's simply not the state's business.

For that matter, even a child pornographer's income isn't the issue: it's his criminal conduct. Which would still be criminal even if he did it for free or lost money at it.

For crying out loud, this country was founded on tax resistance. It's the single unifying idea behind the Declaration of Independence.

We could fix this pretty quickly: ban income tax withholding. Everyone has to pay their federal tax bill on their own come tax day. First off, it would alert millions who erroneously feel they've gotten a bonus when they get a few dollars back. This would change the sheeplike acceptance of the income tax. Plus, millions upon millions of people would have the option of NOT sending that check.

We may have a great appetite for jailing people in this country, especially black people, but in the face of thirty million middle class tax resistors, what's the government going to do? Put everyone under house arrest?

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Paint That Fatso

I'm hoping to get Mr. Creosote II into character for Saturday's club launch. If I make the club launch, that is, a big 'if,' since I have a seminar in the morning and an appointment with some serious fried chicken in the afternoon.

I considered fiberglass reinforcement on the fins, but between the through-the-wall construction (the fins are epoxied to the motor tube, and to two carbon fiber centering rings; they also have a good epoxy fillet along their joint with the outer body tube. They're 1/8" basswood, tough stuff. I can pick the rocket up by a fin and shake it with no fear of damage.

Plus, unlike the booster stage for Kandy Kolored Tangerine Flake Streamline Baby, Mr. Creosote II is meant to land under a parachute, not simply tumble to the earth.

Plus, I noticed he's lighter in the tail (and overall) than the first Mr. Creosote. Those epoxy clay fillets I built on the first fat bastard were overkill, and they probably added an ounce of weight. And tail weight is not what you want with a rocket. To much of that and your center of gravity moves aft of your center of pressure, resulting in the rocket equivalent of a violently fishtailing car. Worst case scenario, you take off unstable because the ass is too heavy, then with half the motor burned, the rocket becomes stable and hurls itself at hundreds of feet per second wherever it happens to be pointed at that time.

Since this new and improved glutton is going to fly on D and E motors, putting heavy clay fillets on the fins would risk having to epoxy lead shot into the nose cone to compensate, and at some point you'd end up with a rocket that performed as pathetically as the C powered Mr. Creosote I.

I did use some Z-Poxy (an epoxy specifically for fiberglass work) to seal up the fins. I was mounting the launch lug, and remembered how well epoxy worked at sealing up balsa nose cones. So before applying primer, I brushed on epoxy. I scraped the excess off so it's just what the wood would absorb and what would stick to the surface. Doesn't add much strength but it'll keep the fins from absorbing a bunch of paint which would only make them heavy and hairy.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Mr. Creosote II: Epoxy

Epoxying up Mr. Creosote. First, I wanted to secure the centering rings so they'd stay with the motor/stuffer tube when inserted in the body tube. To that end, I used some CA glue with baking powder.

Then I epoxied the thrust ring in the tube, then knotted/epoxied the 400 lb Kevlar shock chord around the stuffer tube between a carbon fiber centering ring and a carbon fiber 'cap ring' (centering tube for a smaller, BT-60 outer tube).

When I slathered up the fin tabs with epoxy and inserted them in the body tube slots, I noticed I'd gotten carried away at making sure they were long enough to reach the motor tube. The result is a gap, maybe 1/16", between the bottom of the fin and the wall of the rocket. Which will either be bridged with fiberglass in the next step or it won't (if I decide against fiberglass reinforcements for Mr. Creosote II's fins).