Canon EOS System Explained and experience with

I’ve completed an article for people who are building a Canon EOS system.  I call it “Canon EOS System Explained”.  One interesting aspect of this article is that I needed to get together data on all the components of the EOS system, i.e., the bodies, lenses, and flashes.  For each item, I needed the full name, the price, and the serial number on (so that people could click through and see reader reviews, buy the item, etc.).  I estimated that it would take me 10 hours to assemble these data by clicking around at Amazon.  It is a bit more involved than you’d think because for many of these items, Amazon requires you to “add item to cart to see price”.  Anyway, I put the project up on and a guy from Pakistan did the job in two days for $10.  He made only a couple of mistakes.

I would appreciate comments/corrections on this draft article.  What is confusing?  What should I say more about?  Where are the typos?

Thanks in advance!

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Summer internship for a young pilot

I’m looking to hire a high school or college student as a summer intern.  The main thing that this young person would get out of the deal is some flight training (otherwise fairly expensive) and an introduction to the world of aviation in and around Hanscom Field.  I’ve drafted an advertisement in and would appreciate comments on the ad and how to make the internship more attractive.  Basically I would treat the person as an apprentice and try to teach him or her whatever I know that he or she wants to learn as well.

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The best review ever?

My friends Paul and Miryam were gracious enough to let me stay in their guest cottage in California a week ago.  Said guest cottage is a former garage, with no insulation and only an electric space heater for warmth.  It was 45 degrees F outside and raining overnight in Berkeley.  Inside the garage, it was a toasty 47 degrees F.  I decided to get them an electric blanket or mattress pad.  In shopping for this item, I found what might well be the best review ever, of any product.  Check

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Sound quality comparison for the voicemail message

I’d appreciate comments on the sound quality of three audio clips, each of which is 30 seconds long, contained in the following directory:

The original file is the .wav.  The other two are MP3s recorded at 128 (actually only 64 kbps for a mono file like this) and 64 kbps.



p.s. None of these audio clips is as funny as the ghetto version of “Who’s on First” that my friend Andrew sent me…

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Why Bill Gates is so interested in HIV and Malaria

It is finally time to share on my Weblog what I’ve been telling friends for the last two years when they ask why Bill Gates is so interested in funding treatments for HIV and Malaria….

“Bill Gates wants to keep Africans alive long enough that they can buy Windows Vista (a.k.a. ‘Longhorn’) when it finally ships.”

(I’d been holding off on this one because it seemed too offensive, but the latest slippage (to January 2007) of this release of the Windows operating system broke down my resistance.)

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Personal solution to traffic jams: Motorhome and Driver

My friends in Cambridge and Berkeley like to complain that the U.S. is a rich man’s world.  A trip out on the highway reveals that in fact it is not.  If the U.S. were a rich man’s world, the rabble would be paid to ride public transit instead of clogging the highways and getting in the way of rich folks’ monster SUVs.  Perhaps every Mercedes would come with an automatic device to fling subway tokens out the sides of the car.  In a rich man’s world, as in London, an electronic toll of $20 would be collected from every driver wishing to enter an already-crowded highway or section of a city.

A lot of rich pilots whom I know don’t own especially fancy cars.  They can’t be bothered to trade in their old Honda Accord for a new $100,000 BMW or Mercedes because the fancy new car won’t get them anywhere any faster than the existing car.  Plenty of rich folks in California, however, do spend more than $100,000 on a car.  And during this past week they get onto the highways blocked off by civil unrest and demonstrations against restrictions on illegal immigration.

What would be an intelligent way to spend serious $$ on ground transportation?  How about a $120,000 diesel-powered 40′ motorhome?  It wouldn’t be as much fun to drive as a BMW M5 and it would certainly be difficult to park in the city.  You solve both problems by hiring an illegal immigrant to act as your driver.  You send him to schoolbus driver school for a few days and let him sleep on the fold-out dinette in the RV at night. Now when you go to the beach, it will still take the same two hours at 5 mph on the clogged freeways that it always took, but you won’t care because you’ll be at home.  You can read in an easy chair.  You can do some writing at the dinette table or refer to your files.  You can make phone calls and take notes.  You can watch TV.  With a mobile phone data connection, you can use the Internet.  You can take a nap in the bedroom in the back.  If you get hungry, you can fix yourself a grilled cheese sandwich in the kitchen.  You’re at home in your second house, so waiting for friends or traffic jams isn’t anywhere near as annoying as it would be if you were in a car.

How about the environmental impact of getting around in 20,000 lb. buses instead of an SUV or a big German sedan?  As it happens, the engineering of SUVs and big German sedans is so spectacularly inefficient that the gas mileage is about the same.  The monster diesel-powered SUVs get as much as 9 miles to the gallon.

New advertising campaign for Winnebago:  “RVs:  They’re not just for camping and traveling anymore” or “Motorhomes for commuting”.

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How do I turn a T-Mobile voicemail into an MP3 file on my computer?


I have a T-Mobile voice message that I would like to save as an MP3 file on my computer (for eventual publication on my Web site).  What’s the best way to do this?  I can forward the voicemail to another T-Mobile customer.  I can play it back from my phone or, with a PIN number, from any phone.

[Problem solved, with free software, thanks to a kind reader’s email: ]

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Dumb towns getting dumber; smart towns getting smarter?

On our trip through Kansas, it was impossible not to notice the difference in average intelligence between Lawrence, the university town, and Liberal, a beef-processing and Walmart town.  In 1900, the costs of moving away from one’s home town were high.  You’d see your family and friends only once every year or two.  You’d talk on the phone or communicate via telegraph only in an emergency.  These costs discouraged enough folks from moving that every town had its intellectuals.  They dreamed of moving to Manhattan, but they never did.  You’d find them at the library, in the local theater company, running a Great Books club, etc.

In 2006, you can move 300 miles away and get back home every weekend on an Interstate highway in a few hours.  You can move 2000 miles away and get back home every month for $300 round-trip on an airliner.  For a fixed $20 per month, you can get a voice-over-IP phone and make unlimited long-distance calls.  For free, you can exchange email and instant messages.  You can get the benefits of moving, associating with other smart interesting people, without many of the costs formerly imposed on those who moved away from their home towns.

What’s the result of all of this investment in transportation and telecommunications infrastructure?  Where formerly intelligent people were more or less randomly distributed and “lay where they fell”, our society is now sorting people by intelligence into smart and dumb towns and regions.

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London, Ontario to Hayward, California in a two-seat airplane

Here’s a report, mostly for friends and family, on a recent trip to California.  I met a guy in Hawaii, “Dr. Doug”, who purchased a two-seat Diamond DA20 airplane.  This is a fast fun easy-to-fly trainer that is certified only for flying in visual conditions.  The plane has instruments, but no lightning protection, and therefore is not legal for flight in the clouds.  Dr. Doug is a Vietnam vet who served two tours in Vietnam flying Hueys and Cobras.  After getting out of the Army, he became an emergency medicine doc and married another physician.  Dr. Doug had three goals on this trip:  (1) become familiar with the DA20 and its avionics, most critically the impossible-to-use Garmin GNS 530 combination communications radio, navigation radio, and GPS receiver, (2) build up his instrument flying proficiency, and (3) get the plane to Hayward, California where it would be prepared for shipping to Hawaii.  A lot of four-seat airplanes are flown 13-17 hours to Hawaii.  You take out the back seats and put in a “ferry tank” full of fuel.  That isn’t possible with a two-seater.

Friday:  Departed the Diamond factory in London, Ontario (CYXU) at 11:30 a.m. after sorting out some last-minute issues with customs, weather, and the GPS database loaded in Dr. Doug’s DA20’s Garmin GNS 530.  Low ceilings and snow showers imposed a somewhat circuitous 2500′ MSL route on us, mostly following the north shore of Lake Ontario.  We landed in Toledo, OH (KTOL) at around 1:15 pm and were greeted by a friendly customs officer.  After an hour of resting and flight planning, we departed for KMLI with a practice ILS 25 approach back into KTOL.  Dr. Doug hadn’t flown an approach for twenty years, but he handled the task well.  It helped that the weather was good VFR and he wasn’t wearing a hood.  We departed the Toledo area after I had showed Dr. Doug how to use the GNS 530 for missed approach guidance.  After about 50 miles, we were having trouble maintaining VFR at 2000′ and there were some radio towers in the area at 2100′.  It was time to give up and turn around.  We advised air traffic control of our situation and they offered an IFR clearance, which we accepted.  It turns out that instrument-rated pilots such as ourselves don’t do that much better than raw Private pilots unless we subject ourselves to the full discipline of IFR flying.  ATC suggested landing at a nearby airport, KGWB, with an ILS.  Another pilot on the frequency then reported the weather at GWB to be 700′ overcast, which wasn’t so bad on an approach where the minimum is 200′.  His next bit of information, that the visibility was down to 1 mile, was much more disturbing.  This is only a tiny bit better than the 1/2 mile of visibility that is the minimum for the ILS.  It didn’t make sense to do an approach down anywhere near minimums when we had plenty of fuel and VFR conditions back towards Toledo.  We said that we’d rather go back to Toledo.  The weather improved with each mile east that we traveled.  Toledo wasn’t even using their instrument approach by default.  They offered visual approaches to the standard IFR arrival.  We shut down at the FBO, rented a car, and drove into town for dinner at Tony Packo’s, made famous by Klinger in the TV series M*A*S*H.  The Hungarian food was reasonably good, but I only finished about half of what I ordered.  There is nothing like being surrounded all day by a tiny two-seat airplane and at your table by 300 lb. Ohioans to encourage moderation.

By 7:30 pm, we were checking into the downtown riverfront Radisson ($65/night, including free high-speed Internet).  The desk staff advised us that there wasn’t a whole lot to do in downtown Toledo, even on a Friday night.  Saturday morning dawned gloomy from the windows of the Radisson.  It looked as though we might be staying in Toledo for at least one more day.  We drove out through the deserted downtown to the Toledo Museum of Art, which I had often seen listed as the source of paintings in traveling exhibitions.  The medium-sized museum is free and filled with one treasure after another from medieval to Old Masters to more modern works.  French paintings are especially well represented, supplemented by a beautiful Barye sculpture of a heron meeting its end in the jaws of a big cat.  The museum is not turning into a fancy club for rich people.  The cafeteria-style restaurant is crummy.  There is no new $100 million soaring glass atrium addition.  They have great art collected when Toledo was getting rich off the American car manufacturers’ success and seemingly a large enough endowment to keep the place going.

By noon, the weather was lifting enough that we thought we might make it out.  The clouds were generally 3000′ above the ground except where scattered rain showers reduced the ceiling and visibility dramatically.  Our plan was to head southwest and divert to the south when we encountered rain in our path.  It was bmpy underneath the clouds and especially near the rain showers, but with our airplane not being certified for instrument flight, we couldn’t climb in hopes of smoother air.   We stopped for fuel in Bloomington, Illinois and talked to a retired guy who is instructing in a Diamond Star DA40 with G1000 cockpit.  Only $110 per hour!

About 30 miles SW of Bloomington, the clouds thinned out and we were able to climb up into smooth clear air at 8500′.  Towards sunset, we got cleared through the Kansas City Class B airspace down into the university town of Lawrence, Kansas (KLWC).  Pam at the airport was kind enough to lend us the courtesy car overnight.  Dr. Doug checked into the downtown riverside Marriott while I went to five chain stores looking for some cushions to provide extra padding and lumbar support in the DA20, whose interior was designed by a short Austrian engineer for 1.5-hour training flights.  All of the clerks working in the shops were Kansas University undergrads.  At elite high-tuition schools such as Harvard, it is tough for a teacher to feel that he or she is making a difference.  And in fact, economists have shown that the Harvard education is NOT making a difference; students who were admitted to Harvard but elected not to attend ended up with the same lifetime earnings as Harvard graduates.  For a lot of students at fancier schools these days, attending college isn’t a material necessity.  Their parents are going to provide them with a house, a car, use of a private aircraft, and a job if they feel like working.  If I teach one of these kids how to use a relational database management system, he might thank for showing him how to do something interesting and challenging, but the skill is certainly not going to enable him to thrive economically; financially, he has already gotten beyond where 95 percent of Americans hope to be.  KU is completely different.  The 20,000+ kids are coming from all over the state and from all kinds of families.  They need the education that they are getting at KU to have a career and move ahead with their lives.

Lawrence, Kansas has a reasonably comprehensive downtown, with at least a few good restaurants (Freestate Brewery is supposed to be the best, but it was packed on a Saturday night and we ended up having barbecue instead).  Unlike Madison, Wisconsin, the town is not home to a massive government bureaucracy as well as the university.  Therefore, the town is a lot more compact.  Within a five minute drive of downtown you are back in farmland or at the airport.  For minimal $$, you could buy a farm right next to the airport and an 1987 Piper Malibu.  This is pretty much smack in the middle of the U.S.  That six-seat Malibu would take you, a dog, and a couple of friends non-stop from Lawrence, Kansas to just about anywhere in North America within 6 hours.  When it was time to return home, the full instrument landing system and reassuringly flat terrain would welcome you back on bad-weather days.  You could have the farm, the Malibu ($350,000), and ten years worth of Avgas (the Malibu carries six people at 200 mph and gets better mileage than an SUV)  for less than the price of a single-family house in Cambridge.

I liked Lawrence so much that I was prepared to stay an extra day, especially after checking the weather forecast and finding out that surface winds were going to be gusting up to 35 knots with the turbulence you’d expect (right up to 18,000′ as soon as one got close to the rRockies).  Dr. Doug wanted to press onward, however, so we departed for Hutchinson, Kansas.  The steakhouse on the field is a popular fly-in destination and the fuel truck guy said that normally 10 or 15 light airplanes would come for Sunday brunch.  How many had braved the winds and turbulence today?  None.

We departed Hutchinson for Liberal, Kansas into a 32-knot surface wind that stiffened into a 50-knot headwind aloft.  We were in time to become the sixth patrons at the Mid-America Air Museum.  Going back to get our bags from the plane, we met Jeff Mawhinney, the aerobatic champion, refueling a Cessna 310 en route to Phoenix.  Asking around for restaurant and hotel recommendations, we discovered that 9 out of 10 Liberal residents don’t know the population of the town, can’t give directions, have no idea which businesses are open on a Sunday, and think that Applebee’s is the best restaurant in town.  We ate a steak dinner at Cattleman’s and came to share their comparatively high opinion of Applebee’s.  County commissioner Joyce Hibler was quoted in the local paper as saying “I think we have a good future in Liberal.  I like the new cotton warehouse. … We have an awesome landfill.”

From Liberal we flew over corners of Oklahoma and Texas into Albuquerque.  I was sorry to get so close to Amarillo without stopping for lunch at the Big Texan, home of the 72 oz. steak dinner (eat within one hour and it is free).  At the Albuquerque airport, we took a tour of Eclipse Aviation, makers of a $1.5 million twin-engine 6-person “very light” jet airplane.  Getting the airplane certified has been a tortuous process and is running some months behind schedule.  What’s holding up the plane right now?  Is it the engines, which are much cheaper and lighter than any jets ever produced?  The robotic friction-stir welding process, which has never been used on an airplane before?  The fire suppression system, which uses a chemical formula that has never been used?  No, no, and no.  It is the code monkeys (local guys at a company called Avidyne) writing the software for the avionics.  They’ve had about five years to catch up to the aeronautical and mechanical engineers, but it hasn’t been enough.  Despite the reliably disappointing performance of the world’s computer nerds, the Eclipse should be shipping in June.  We watched one of the test airplanes taxiing around and taking off.  It is remarkably quiet on the ramp, perhaps 10 dB quieter than a standard business jet.  It is also reasonably quiet on takeoff, probably quiet enough not to annoy neighbors at small airports.  In an Eclipse jet, we could have made the trip that is the subject of this blog entry in one easy day without too much skill or planning.  With de-icing boots on the wings and tail, you can go up into an ice-filled cloud.  With the amazing climb power of the jet engines, you can get above that ice-filled cloud and into clear air 40,000′ above sea level.  Using compressed air from the same jet engines, you will never be breathing air thinner than what you’d get at 8,000′ above sea level.  We might have made one

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