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Just Like Clockwork

So, according to the weather forecast, it would appear that winter will fasten upon us as soon as the calendar flips us into December with cruddy weather and genuinely cold temperatures starting this week.

I swear, it’s like a switch gets flipped somewhere. Maybe it’s Tennessee’s latitude. Maybe it’s sunspots. The change of seasons always seem to coincide with the date change…excepting spring, which always seems to drag its heels emerging from the cold…that could just be an impression due to my impatience for good weather.

I’m always loathe to face the reality of autumn ending in keeping with that love of temperate air. I went out the other morning with the intention of doing some R/C flying even though we were on the ragged edge of chilly. The wind was dead calm right up to the moment I was about to get my Champ airborne, then it sprang right up to a gusty 10 knots, too windy to fly the 1.3 ounce airplane.

It was well worth the trip: as I mentioned earlier I mounted my camera to my newly assembled rig to take it on the nearly two mile round trip to and from my parking lot I use for my aerodrome to shoot some video. It performed as expected and I’m a good way into making Krip Kam Video #3 using that raw footage.

I should have it done by tomorrow, but I confess that I haven’t been in a rush since the video editing process is a lot of fun. Composing the layout for even a simple and straightforward video takes some time to select appropriate music, mesh it with the video, add titles and so on, along with any new techniques I try. One thing I’m doing with #3 is experimenting with speeding up the longer sequences to shorten their length so as not to bore viewers to tears! I think it has a comic look, and as usual Kevin MacLeod and his wonderful Incompetech site offer tons of suitable music. Time will tell if my technique’s improving…

The Breakfast Club

My friend Karen dropped by today for breakfast after my mom taunted her with homemade waffles recently, and the goods were as tasty as promised. Karen’s not only a good friend, she’s familiar with the ins and outs of neurological disorders like mine and autoimmune problems in general. It’s always good to have friends you can really talk with, and while I certainly count myself lucky to have so many online friends, there’s nothing like hanging out with people in the 3-D world!

I went out earlier, well before breakfast with the intention of doing some flying at my usual parking lot. The weather was unseasonably warm and days where I can be out past my block are short, so it was worth a shot. Not too surprisingly, as soon as I got my little Aeronca Champ unpacked, the wind whipped up. It picked the plane up, spun it around and dropped it. No damage, but flying wasn’t going to happen.

It was a worthwhile trip though, I was able to take my camera with me and took a bunch of video while testing my now-complete camera mount. It’s as good and versatile as expected and I plan to have some fun editing my raw footage into a new Krip Kam video. It should be posted within the next couple of days, so be on the lookout!

The Plan Evolves

Yow, yet again I’m going too long between updates.  Nope, that won’t do.

I’m enjoying where this blog’s going, I just need to prioritize my time and assets better. I spend a lot of time thinking about, writing and editing my articles for the Herald, and lo and behold I’ve left myself no energy for blogging at the end of the day.

Blogging is supposed to be about fun, so even though my goal is certainly a serious one, that’s what I’ll concentrate on here. I’ll save the more serious stuff for my online essays…and it’ll be a lot more enjoyable just to relax here!

Speaking of fun, I’m only awaiting one part to make my Krip Kam setup as useful as it’s capable of being, and it should arrive in a very few days. I’m really enjoying the creative process of photography, editing and scoring each project. They’re not terribly demanding of energy and yield a lot of pleasure, so look for a whole lot more as time passes and I gain skill.

I do love a good adventure!

Hey Buddy, How Can I Get This Car Out Of Second Gear?

For those who remember, that’s the punchline of the marvelous comedic song by the Playmates, ‘Beep, Beep (The Little Nash Rambler).’ Give it a listen while you read…if you haven’t heard it before, you need to:

I’ve been a lover of cool old car songs for a long time, but this one really speaks to me these days. At a little more than a week since this blog came into existence, we’re off to a grand start. It’s picked up and is already gaining speed and momentum…much like that little Nash Rambler in the song, it’s surprising just how fast it got moving. That proves my point about the internet’s capability to get a message out there many times faster than the clunky Cadillacs of the old paradigm of the pre-internet days of fundraising. Like the Rambler, we’ve already left that method in the dust!

Now it’s time for the next stage…to harness that power of the internet to get out of second gear and push this thing as far and as fast as I know it can go. While we’ve gotten an awesome start, right now we’re stagnating a bit…stuck in second gear, you might say.

Most if not all of my online pals and friends from friendly sites where I hang out have visited and a lot of you have generously donated. Thanks, friends, you’re a bunch of angels! Some have become regulars, which is mighty gratifying, but for this project to succeed, we’ve gotta reach a whole lot more.

I’ve seen your comments, and those are always welcome, of course. I appreciate the words of support, encouragement and confidence, and now that the preliminaries are past, I need your continuing help to tell me what you want to see, what you like and what I can throw out, to get the message of this blog out.

I’m working on ways to do that at my end to the best of my ability. I’ve talked about my strategy with some of you, and you’ve agreed that my ideas seem to be sound so far, that I need to make this as fun and engaging as I can to attract visitors, balancing that with the need to stay focused on the blog’s primary goal of fundraising.

One way to do that seems obvious to me, trying to get some endorsements in the form of short video dedications that I can link to and feature here from entertainers whose names are known and who also have a convenient YouTube presence.

Approaching folks like that with such a request isn’t as easy as you might think. Every one of us ordinary people has already seen enough scammers, con artists and other assorted creeps online in our time to know that even a whiff of them is enough to make us want to get out of their unsavory reach or evict them from our space, so you can imagine that for anyone who’s achieved even modest success the hazard of these lowlifes is many times worse!

With that in mind, a few days ago I wrote a polite note to Jackie Guthrie, who maintains a YouTube channel to keep the public up to date about her talented family’s doings, especially her husband Arlo and her daughter Sarah Lee. I didn’t include any links and tried to make it clear that I was just a regular guy in unusual circumstances who could really benefit from some help from them in the form of one of these dedication videos.

I haven’t heard back from her yet, but it would be silly to worry or get impatient for a quick response since Arlo and Sarah Lee Guthrie have millions of fans and I imagine the family is swamped with tons of correspondence from all over the place. I just hope my note didn’t get lost in the shuffle!

Today, after much fretting and rewriting, I composed another note requesting a dedication video, this time to Julia Nunes, a YouTube entertainer whose name should be known to you by now if it isn’t already. A recent discovery for me, I’ve been just blown away by Ms. Nunes’ presence, enthusiasm and of course, that strong, clear voice of hers.

Meet her on Lew Rockwell’s blog, the same way that I did.

He adds a bit of background information, and obviously as impressed with her as I was, some good links that I do not doubt will garner her many, many more fans from his readership. See? It’s that crazy old internet synergy in action again, always working and doing good works in new and unexpected ways.

While I’m the Compleat Arlo Guthrie Fanboi, I’m especially excited about the possibility of Julia doing a clip for us. She’s young, net savvy and has not only spirit but a superb grasp of how the internet can work as a communications tool. This makes it clear that she has what it takes as a business person to ensure her own success, but it’s also exactly the sort of mindset that would make her the perfect ally in this adventure…someone who can help get us out of second gear and approach warp speed.


Saturday Mornings, Then And Now

I’ve fallen into a definite routine since the warm weather arrived. The rest of the year, it’s anyone’s guess when I’ll be up…I’ve always had insomnia to deal with to one degree or another, but since multiple sclerosis sank its claws into me it’s gotten much stronger, and much more random. I might wake up at 5 AM one day, be up for 20 or more hours at a time, and find myself getting up in the late afternoon a few days later.

Since late April, even though the weird sleep patterns are always there, my body seems to have learned to arrange things so I return to getting up in the evenings. I’m usually up till 3-4 AM when I grab a nap, then get up at 6 to go out if the weather’s decent, armed with one of my micro radio control airplanes to do some aviating.

These miniscule aircraft are an absolute godsend for me since their compact size makes them easy to transport in my power chair to the largish parking lot of a bowling alley that serves as my aerodrome about a mile away. They’re a very recent addition to the hobby, becoming available as everyday retail items only a couple of years ago. Talk about good timing, huh?

When I was a kid in the ’70s we’d have just about killed to get our hands on something like these aircraft. We built model airplanes to be sure, but they were simple rubber powered free flight planes…the thought of being able to really fly these tiny machines, to go hundreds of feet in the air, cavort in the sky under full control and return safely to earth was pure fantasy at that point.

We had no idea that the marvelous ships we dreamed of would not only exist but become commonplace realities one day; had we known, I suspect a piece of our present time would have lost some of its color and appeal with the knowing we’d have to wait so many years for those dreams to be realized.

I was reflecting upon this as I motored over to my site at daybreak this past Saturday. I’ve always loved Saturday mornings, especially when the weather was fair. There’s something special about a Saturday, an indefinable sense of promise of fun things happening and good times just waiting to be had.

This is a universal phenomenon that’s grabbed kids…and adults with at least a scrap of the kid they’d been left in them…for a long, long time. I can’t tell you how far back the lure of a Saturday has been ingrained in people, but you can find examples going back for hundreds of years if you look.

Mark Twain captured the spirit of the day masterfully in his book Tom Sawyer. I hope you’ve read it before, but if not you owe it to yourself to do so. Tom Sawyer more than deserves its status as a classic in my opinion, and never loses its charm no matter if it’s your first or hundredth time reading it. From the opening of Chapter II, he paints us a scene of the fictional town of St. Petersburg, Tom’s home:

Saturday morning was come, and all the summer world was bright and fresh, and brimming with life. There was a song in every heart; and if the heart was young the music issued at the lips. There was cheer in every face and a spring in every step. The locust-trees were in bloom and the fragrance of the blossoms filled the air. Cardiff Hill, beyond the village and above it, was green with vegetation and it lay just far enough away to seem a Delectable Land, dreamy, reposeful, and inviting.

Man alive, I can relate.

In my own case, kidhood was in the early 1970s. Video games were still a long way off. So were computers for that matter, but kids fooled with their radios, portable phonographs, and if they were among the enviably anointed, a real stereo in exactly the same way they obsess today over their computers, cell phones and PS3s. Obviously nothing has fundamentally changed from one period to another, kind of a comforting thought in some ways.

I rarely watch television these days, but I sure did then. Saturday mornings particularly, if you were lucky and your timing was right, could be a fine time to find really good material on TV.

While the other kids were watching mediocre drek on the major networks, you could find neat stuff to see on the second tier broadcasters like New York’s WPIX, channel 11 or WNEW, channel 5. Old Hal Roach Little Rascals and Our Gang shorts, ancient (to us) Warner Brothers, Fleischer, and TerryToons cartoons, and kids’ shows that were really kids’ shows like Captain Kangaroo and Wonderama rather than glitzy, long animated ads for marketing junk toys you see today. I became a fan of Betty Boop, Popeye, Mighty Mouse and the other icons of classic animation thanks to the willingness of these stations to air them.

Apart from running great late night old movies on both channels, I was especially fond of WPIX for featuring the great Chiller Theater on the weekends, showing cool old horror flicks for our delectation. I ask you: how could any self-respecting kid not love Chiller’s marvelous Claymation intro with the six-fingered hand emerging from a pool of blood to pluck the letters spelling out the show’s name one by one before slowly descending back into the grisly mire, awaiting its time until next week when its time came to rise again???

On Saturday mornings a kid could get fired up with Junior Scientist/Young Adventurer fervor watching reruns of the original Jonny Quest cartoons from the mid ’60s. Jonny and The Gang

This show had one of the coolest theme songs ever…and I’m not the only one that thinks so. Not too long ago a nifty album was released featuring modern artists doing covers of a bunch of theme songs from shows that were on at this time, and my personal favorite is the Reverend Horton Heat’s take on the Jonny Quest theme:

Jonny Quest remains one of my very favorites to this day. The bad guys were often fairly silly rather than menacing and there was a constant annoying undertone reminding us that The Government Is Our Bestest Pal, which time has shown to be a bunch of codswallop.

Who cares? In Jonny Quest the characters themselves were the ones that got things done…they didn’t need super powers or gimmicks, they were just individuals who solved their problems by being smart and resourceful. I have to note that this quality is something that’s conspicuously absent in today’s world with its collectivism, groupthink and political correctness, a sad commentary on the state we’ve reached.

The show sure wasn’t shy about depicting violence; in Jonny’s world, the bad guys might be silly, but they had guns, and when they started shooting, Benton Quest and Race Bannon would grab their own guns without apology and without feeling the need to deliver a lecture about how guns are actually very naughty and only the Proper Authorities should have them. The bad guys often died in these cartoons, too, usually with a loud scream of AIEEEEEE! as they were hit by a flying speedboat or crushed by falling rubble. The artists who created this cartoon made it abundantly clear that death was final.

The message was unsophisticated but crystal clear: if you attack people like the heroes in the show with lethal force, they aren’t going to scatter and hide like frightened bunnies, they’re going to defend themselves with whatever level of force is needed to make you quit it, and if that means your secret laboratory comes down on your head and squishes you in the process, too bad…you started it.

Getting back to the meat of the matter, there were the toys…those wonderful toys, to echo The Joker from the Tim Burton Batman movie. Saturday mornings were a great time to enjoy these…school was out, so you were usually mercifully free for a while of finger-wagging authority figures and assorted busybodies and nannies, with their lectures and platitudes.

There wasn’t some tiresome lesson to go along with your playthings, you just enjoyed them for their own sake. Sure, then as now there was lots of useless junk, but we kids knew the difference. And we knew what to ask for on birthdays and holidays.

The perennial favorites for me always seemed to be made by Mattel. You might get busy turning out bugs, monsters or assorted uglies with your Mattel Thingmaker, baking the liquid Plastigoop into solid, slightly rubbery creations in metal molds using the sinister looking (and smelling) Thingmaker heating device that got blisteringly hot…literally. If you were stupid and/or careless you got a nasty burn for your trouble, and so learned at an early age not to be stupid or careless.

Nowadays, of course, such a device would never come close to passing muster. It and its contemporaries were given the bum’s rush long ago, sacrificed on the altar of the new religion of the quest for perfect safety. Anything that might burn, cut, or cause harm if swallowed has been hustled off into oblivion, replaced by things with soft or round edges, things that could never hurt a child, no matter how badly mishandled.

Therein lies the real tragedy here: by shielding kids from the unpleasant consequences of a minor burn or scratch from their toys, they never learn the valuable life lesson that being stupid and careless can have (surprise!) unpleasant consequences. All too often they grow up into stupid and careless adults who often experience this lesson far too late, when they start messing with adults’ toys that can maim or kill not only themselves, but other people who get in the way.

Sorry to be blunt, but Rainbow Brite, her dimwitted Care Bear cousins, and the rest of the bumbling, ineffectual crowd of popular ‘characters’ representing toys that were thought up by soulless focus groups and committees, whose highest priority wasn’t making things kids would really enjoy, but making a quick buck while shielding their butts from all possible liability can all go straight to Hell.

I want my Thingmaker back.

A fledgling aviator from a very early age, I already had a history of thirsting for anything new and novel that had to do with airplanes. At the age of five or so in the mid 1960s,I remember clearly being thrilled to bits when a cereal company’s promotional toy arrived in the mail in the form of an airplane.

It was a red plastic Cessna 150 that had an electric motor and went round and round from a string suspending it. It didn’t light up or do anything fancier than go around on that string, but I loved it.

And yes, box tops were involved.

The Cessna was made of a crude species of 1960s plastic that couldn’t hold a candle to modern engineering plastics, but was actually not at all a bad representation of a 150…coincidentally the same type of full size aircraft I first flew ten years later!

Early impressions are the strongest ones, I’m sure. That first model was a harbinger of things to come, and was the start of a lifelong love of small flying machines.

A few years later when the 70s were getting into swing, good old Mattel came through with their Vertibird helicopter. I don’t recall when I first became aware of it, but it was just the sort of gizmo that could threaten to make a kid like me spill his bowl of Frankenberry in excitement.

I wasn’t much of a helicopter guy, but the Vertibird was exceptionally cool and I determined to acquire one. I don’t recall whether it took Christmas or a birthday to provide a suitable occasion to justify receiving one, but I eventually got one for my own.

Like my first little Cessna, the Vertibird basically went around in circles, but it was capable of a lot more action while doing so.

The helicopter itself was just a skeletonized plastic frame supporting a semi rigid arm that powered its rotor from a motor in its base and transmitted commands from a control unit to tilt it fore and aft to fly forwards or backwards as well as varying the power to go up or down. Of simple construction, it was brilliant in action, bringing an unheard of level of control to motorized toys.

You didn’t have to pretend to carefully maneuver your rescue helicopter to snag poor stranded people with the machine’s handy grappling hook and whisk them to safety back at the landing pad, you actually did it.

Of course, this taught another important life lesson: the difference between pretending to perform a task, where of course everything always worked just as planned, and having to do it for real, which required patience and finesse if you wanted to succeed. Those little people were hard to pick up…it took careful jockeying and power management to snag one, even though they were helpfully provided with oversize rings held over their heads!

I spent many happy hours on many Saturday mornings zooming around at speed in my helicopter or rescuing those poor hapless people over and again. I missed or dropped them many more times than I was able to pick them up and deposit them safely back at home base, but I learned a lot about the need to spend the time developing the skills required to do the job. Instant gratification? Never heard of it.

The ne plus ultra of toys came out around this time as well, again courtesy of our old friend Mattel.

The Mattel SuperStar was revolutionary in many respects, a free flight airplane with a geared electric motor for a powerplant, powered by small nickel cadmium batteries that could be recharged by simply plugging the included charging unit into a jack in the fuselage. This was the direct precursor to today’s free flight and radio controlled airplanes, and incorporated a lightweight molded foam wing and tail surfaces, mounted to a similarly lightweight fuselage of thin. flexible plastic. It was ready to fly, without any real assembly, right out of the box.

Since tiny micro radio control systems were still decades away and obviously unavailable, Mattel designers did the next best thing. Using a clever mechanism driven by the propeller shaft, a rotating cam could be snapped onto the underside of the plane that would allow a lever connected to the rudder move in and out of the cutouts in the cam, thereby making the plane fly a programmed pattern. As I recall, you also got a couple of uncut blank cams in the box so you could make your own flight programs!

Note done yet, the Mattel engineers went a step further, adding light sprung steel arms, also activated by the cam, that could release little skydivers with thin plastic parachutes in flight.

You don’t often see that kind of thoughtful engineering these days and I truly miss that kind of inspired innovation.

There were too many other fabulous things from those days to list, but I think I made my point…by making toys like I’ve talked about available to the kids of my time, Mattel and other manufacturers laid a solid foundation for us not only to play well, but to learn valuable lessons about the way things really work in the world.

This kind of thinking seems to have taken a back seat to slick marketing, hype, and making a quick buck in recent times…in short, there’s a whole lot more sizzle and a whole lot less steak around today.

The good news is that very thinking is alive and well, at least in my hobbies, even today. The new paradigm fascinates me: though the machines I enjoy may be constructed from inexpensive Chinese components, you can’t miss the signs of American and European ingenuity that put everything together.

Today I’m flying my Parkzone Ultra Micro T-28 Trojan. It is indeed tiny, spanning just under 17 inches and weighing a mere 1.3 ounces, but don’t be fooled by its size, this airplane is capable of almost every flight maneuver the prototype can do.

Though the landing gear is fixed, its low drag assures that it barely detracts from flight performance, but its soft foam wheels and spring steel gear legs handle the pebble strewn asphalt I fly from.

Best of all, if you keep the power around 50%, the plane flies in a realistic, almost stately way. I really need to get one of those inexpensive keychain video cameras to velcro to a hat to catch some of those neat flybys…there’s lots of videos showing the airplane in action, but I’d kinda like to see mine on the screen!

Of course I’m writing this part after the fact, my airplane flew as gracefully as always and returned home with me safely. It was a glorious morning to be out…which is what got me started thinking about Saturday mornings in general.

It was a welcome respite from the usual stresses, worries and pain…once one of these is up in the air, you really can’t focus on anything other than flying the airplane.

Both the kid and the adult in me…both pilots…were mighty happy.