I took the RC helicopter out last night to adjust it a little more and get my practice on. There was just the slightest bit of wind, but for the most part, it was a clear night and I really wanted to get it going.

I flew several shorter flights, trying to fine-tune this little potentiometer on it to get the thing to stop tail-spinning. I think I had it, too. Took it up for a bit, got it under a reasonable amount of control (very mild spinning, probably more me just over-correcting) and was bringing it down when this tree in my front yard violently attacked the helicopter, bringing it crashing down.

Either that, or maybe I sort of flew into the branches there… you choose. My vote is for the Whomping Willow version.

Anyway, that wasn’t the first time I had hit the tree, but it survived all the other times. Not this time. This time this little bar that balances out the helicopter’s main rotor broke cleanly in half, bringing my flight to an end. Just when I was getting good, too! (Jenn can attest to the fact it was flying with some mild amount of control.)

So now I have to go searching for replacement parts. The owner’s manual says you can get them, I’m just not sure where. (“Items to be purchased are lined below. You can order them by their item name, purchase them from local distributors.” The owner’s manual is in Engrish. I think my favorite is the warning about flying in wind - “Do not fly in strong winds. It can limit the helicopter’s fly and confuse your control. Flying in strong winds. The chopper will be missing or cause damage.”)

Time for a Google search.

This weekend was my 30th birthday weekend, and a hell of a time was had.

Friday night our friends Jason and Tracy took Jenn and I out for a great dinner at Applebee’s where I had a pretty tasty steak and shrimp plate that really didn’t leave any room for dessert. Hung out there for quite some time and had a good time seeing them again.

After that, Jenn and I hit the store for some last minute supplies in preparation for Saturday. While we were there, I picked up the KT Tunstall CD Eye To The Telescope (which, as it looks, I should have bought from Amazon since the price is like half of what I paid). It’s a pretty decent album, but while there are a couple of real stand-out tunes on there, most of it feels pretty same-y. Sort of like the James Blunt album Back to Bedlam - good, but many of the songs feel a little redundant.

Saturday Jenn, Stu, and I headed out for the Wild Waves/Enchanted Village theme park in Washington. It was record heat and only a couple of hours north, so we figured that sounded like a lot of fun.

It was a long but fun day - we left the house at 8:00a and got back at 7:00p. Jenn’s face got sunburned pretty bad (she didn’t put lotion on her face), and Stu and I both got burned on our shoulders and back where we missed getting suntan lotion (which just goes to prove that the lotion actually works). They have some really cool water slides and except for the pretty long lines, it was really awesome.

Wild Waves really gets you coming and going. It’s $30 for a ticket to get in, then $12 to park. Oh, and if you want a locker to stick your stuff in, that’s another $11. (Thank goodness we parked close enough to the door that we could leave our stuff in the car and just go out and get it as we needed it.) Lunch was a $3 hamburger and fries basket that cost $8.50 including tax. You’d think that’d be cost-prohibitive to a lot of people, but this place was packed. I suppose folks just come to expect that.

Saturday night we were pretty beat from the water park all day, but when we got back home we sort of hung out and had a good time relaxing and talking about the craziness that is Wild Waves. That’s going to be a hard one to top for next year. We tried to play some Xbox 360, but the drive on it died and it won’t read discs (games or DVDs) anymore. (I called the support line Sunday morning after we got up and the support person who helped me, Julie, was super nice. As I’m still under warranty, they’re going to send me a box via UPS to send the Xbox back in, then they’ll either repair or replace it and return it in 10 business days. I ended up filling out the extended warranty order form after I hung up with her since I’ve heard some of my friends having mechanical trouble with their 360s, too. Time to get extra coverage.)

A cake so big it's
'ricakeulous.'Sunday we woke up late, cleaned up a bit around the house, then went to the store and got some stuff for an afternoon barbecue. We also went to Rose’s Restaurant and Bakery and picked up a tiramisu cake that was so big it was “ricakeulous.”

Around 2 or so, Tracy, my parents, and Stu came over to enjoy some burgers and hot dogs fresh off the grill. Jenn did a great job cooking that up (and big kudos to her for going out in the heat with a sunburned face and doing that for me). We all had a slice of cake (caketastic!) and sat for a bit in post-cake coma.

I got some nice stuff from folks, too. Stu got me Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter for my Xbox 360 (which we couldn’t play because the drive was out). My parents got me an RC helicopter, which is cool because I’ve been wanting to get into that for a bit, so this entry level one is a good place to start. Jenn got me Fraggle Rock Season 1 on DVD which I can’t wait to watch - I love the Fraggles.

After everyone headed out, I got a call from my sister Tori, who recently got married and moved to Hawaii. It was good to hear from her and see how she’s doing, and it was really cool of her to call.

Once the battery for the helicopter charged up, I took it out for its maiden voyage.

They say that if you can fly an RC helicopter, you can run any RC toy you want. I quickly figured out why.

The model I have has two channels - one for throttle and one for yaw (increasing or decreasing tail rotor power). The thing is, the tail rotor power is proportional to the main propeller throttle - that is, the more power you give the main propeller, the more power the rear propeller has available. The trick is to increase the main throttle while correctly compensating with the rear propeller so the helicopter flies straight.

The description sounds simple. Actual execution is akin to balancing a ten foot pole on the end of your finger. When you start out you kind of have it under control, but once you start losing control it’s pretty much over.

The typical flight goes like this:

First, you place the helicopter in the middle of the driveway because the grass is too long and ends up blocking the rear propeller from spinning. You increase the throttle of the main propeller and the rear starts spinning around, so you jimmy around on the rear propeller to stabilize it. Here’s where it gets tricky. Since you don’t have control over pitch on this model, it automatically flies “forward,” which equates to actually flying sort of generally in a forward direction. I’m gathering it flies sort of at an angle, like about 10:00, not really straight forward.

Anyway, once you sort of get it stabilized, you increase the power to the main throttle, then you run like hell. The reason you run is that you’ve now lost the delicate balance of rear propeller to throttle and the helicopter is undoubtedly chasing you at roughly waist level, set on smacking you square in the nuts with its primary propeller. Barring that, it will fly in an arbitrary direction with the intent to injure or maim as appropriate until you either let off the main throttle (bringing it crashing to the ground) or run it into the neighbor’s bushes (full stop).

I was able to get it to fly in a generally decent controlled fashion and land softly precisely once. That was the point at which my neighbor from two doors down, Tim, came busting over wondering “how I did that” because he’s had a copter for two and a half months now and crashes it every time. He has a more advanced model with throttle, yaw, and pitch, so maybe it’s just that much more complex. You’re supposed to be able to hover those, though, and I would think that’s actually what you’d start trying before moving forward… but he’s started with forward motion and can’t figure out how to hover.

I wonder if the one I got is stereotypical for difficulty or if it’s so entry level that it doesn’t have any of the automatic stabilizer features that more advanced helicopters might have. Not having a frame of reference, I couldn’t say. I ran the battery down fairly quickly and went inside to call my dad and thank him again for the RC hedge trimmer. I think I need a lot more practice.

All in all, a caketastic birthday weekend.

media, movies comments edit

Saw The Devil Wears Prada on Sunday. I had heard it was good from a couple of friends and I wasn’t disappointed.

Normally I’m a summer blockbuster sucker. I saw Pirates of the Caribbean and had a great time with it. This was a fantastic break from overblown special effects and computer imagery.

Anne Hathaway (who is totally on my list) plays Andrea, a new college graduate looking for a job in journalism. She gets a job as the assistant for the ultra-demanding editor-in-chief of a Cosmopolitan-style publication, played by Meryl Streep.

The movie plays out somewhat predictably, but that makes it no less entertaining. Both Hathaway and Streep play their characters wonderfully, and you soon overlook the predictable plot and care about the characters regardless.

The soundtrack is also pretty good. It’s got a peppy, light, jazzy feel to it that makes you feel sort of “summery.” I picked up a copy after the show.

A light, fun movie, it was the perfect distraction on a Sunday afternoon. You don’t have to see it on the big screen, but you won’t feel like you were cheated out of your matinee money if you do.