Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas at Casa Collins

Season's Greetings from Minnesota! I am the last person standing. Carolie has gone to bed and the boys have gone back to their respective homes. It was a successful holiday. Sean seems to really enjoy the camera gear. Patrick has a new laptop. I have Guitar Hero World Tour. I gave Carolie a copy of Leif Enger's latest book - So Brave, Young and Handsome.

We got Sean a little r/c helicopter from Brookstone. Here are his early minutes of flight school.

Eventually, he got it working pretty well and was in the process of hovering in an attempt to land on the ceiling fan blades when something went terribly wrong and it crashed head-first into the bowl of sauce for the shrimp. It didn't work after that. Fortunately, Carolie was smart enough to buy a service plan.

I bought Patrick a cookbook (he doesn't cook) called "Beer is not a food group." The word beer was in large letters and as he unwrapped it, he exclaimed, "Coool!" I figured then and there that I was the world's best Christmas shopper. But, alas, he thought it was a cookbook of beer recipes or a book on how to make or drink beer. It wasn't.

Here's some pictures:

Six Degrees of Mary Lucia

A Christmas present to ourselves and a curiosity have led me to invent a new game -- Six Degrees of Mary Lucia.

The 4th Season of Rescue Me -- my wife and I are big fans -- was tucked in between the doors this morning. It must've come yesterday. So we watched the first episode which ended with the song, "Backseat Nothing."

"Who does that?" I asked my wife. "It sounds very Elvis Costelloey."

She didn't know so I logged on and did some research and found it was the Del Fuegos, a Boston-area band in the '80s. Dennis Leary, the Emerson College grad (as am I) is from the area.

Anyway, the description said the Del Fuegos were an up-and-coming alternative band that had garned some celebrity support including Tom Petty and the Replacements.

The Replacements were fronted by Paul Westerberg. Paul Westerberg is the brother of -- wait for it -- Mary Lucia (on whose show I do waht can loosely be called the news in the afternoons).

So to recap

Christmas Day ==> Rescue Me ==> Del Fuegos ==>Replacements ==>Paul Westerberg ==> Mary Lucia.

This game is going places, I tell you.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Christmas miracle

No, not the miracle you think. I am legend in my family for many attempts at projects that collapsed. I was known as the "Scotch Tape kid." Years ago, my attempt to fix a lawnmower didn't go so well, either. I hoped that I wouldn't need the parts that were left over when I rebuilt the engine, but when I started it, it exploded. I guess they were needed.

This is my latest "project," an arctic ice candle. OK, you can't really screw these up, but I've lived out here for 16 years and I've always wanted to make one. Some listeners on The Current gave me some tips which were too hard for me to follow, so I bought a "mold," a simple plastic bucket with an indentation in the bottom (which becomes the top of the candle). Freeze for 12 hours and pop it out. The unfrozen part becomes the part where you put the candle. Even the Scotch Tape Kid couldn't screw it up.

We don't do big holiday lights at our house; it just doesn't seem a wise use of electricity (although I think LEDs change the equation on that). We go for the simple Pagan approach: wreathes and boughs.

So tonight the arctic ice candles lining the driveway fit perfectly. Add -3 degree weather and a ton of fluffy, powdery snow and, well, it doesn't get much better. The only thing missing is Lex Luthor and Superman.

Maybe if you click that and look at the bigger photo it'll make more sense. In the background is the picture window with our illuminated tree. Trust me, the person that brings the morning paper on Christmas morning is going to love it -- and the tip.

(Update 7:47 a.m. 12/15 - I think they look even better just before sunrise. By the way, sunrise this morning is at 7:50 a.m.)

So we're wrapping presents for the kids who will stop by tomorrow. Carolie is showing me a wrapping bag that says "no peeking," when you pick it up, a siren goes off and a voice says "put the present down and back away slowly. Nice.

Some of Sean's presents for us arrived today, but the apartment complex office was closed so he can't get at them. That frustrates him, I assume, as it does all young people.

When we were kids, our parents would always say 'you don't need to get me any presents' and we just figured they were saying that because everyone says that and nobody could possibly mean it. But I'm pretty sure they did. Because I know Carolie and I have everything we need, and when our two kids walk in the door on Christmas Day, they will have given us the best presents ever.... again.

Friday, December 19, 2008

The "for sale" sign

I've put 7 -- almost 8 -- years of work into the RV-7A project and I intend to continue working on it, but I have to prepare for the obvious -- that I'll have to sell it. The economy is bad -- a dozen folks got gassed at my place today and more are due -- my health and that of my wife have been deteriorating to the point where it's obvious my plans for how we'd spend our senior years are not in sync and not really possible, and the economy has pretty much destroyed our retirement funds and although there's enough time before we retire (I hope) to get them back where they were, there's nowhere near enough time for the fund to get anywhere near our being able to live at the level we'd hoped.

I'd hoped to be able to finance the engine purchase but that hasn't worked out well either and this is not a good time to carry debt.

I've sketched out roughly what I've put into it and that's what I'd likely sell it for -- what I put into it. No profit, no charge for the work and no discount.

Here's what I've put into it:

Tru Trak single axis autopilot = $1,500
Icom A210 Radio - $1,200
Artex 406 mxh ELT - $950
Whelen System 6 Strobe package - $950
GRT EIS - $1500
VP-50 - $1,500
Dynon D100 Super Bright pkg - $2500
Garmin 327 Transponder $2,300
Airflow high-performance boost pump - $415
Equipment Subtotal --> $12,815

Seats (Flightline) $507
Hooker harness w/ crotch strap - $750
Oregon aero cushion core -$580
Interior subtotal -->$1,837

Mattituck IO-360 FP engine (but can be a CS) fuel injected with one Lightspeed ignition - $24,500
Engine subtotal --> $24,500

RV-7A project
On landing gear (nosewheel breakout force has not been set), canopy frame is done and the front fairing completed. Tip-up. Tops skins not riveted on (I need access to the tail). 1,800 hours of work invested so far
Total -->$20,000

I get about $60,000 in my calculation and that's about what I'd sell the project for. No tools are included because I need to hang onto the hope that I can build an RV-12 and do the kind of flying that I'm more likely to be doing -- by myself, in the daytime, in the vicinity of the airport.

Alternatively, I'd consider taking on a partner in the plane, although I have to admit I have no idea how such a partnership works. So you'll have to supply the brains.

If you'd like to take a look at things, I would encourage you to plan to come up to the hangar at South St. Paul (KSGS) and assess it for yourself.

Like I said, I'm not anxious to sell it and cash out, but at the moment I'm willing to and I probably should before I absolutely have to.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Don't hit the cow

I'd love to tell you that one of the first things they teach us in flight school is "don't hit the cows." But it's not.

(h/t: Michael Wells)

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Christmas shopping trip

Today was the annual Christmas shopping trip for Carolie and me. We both take the day off and head to the Mall of America for people-watching and gift buying. There weren't, as you might expect, as many people this year as in years passed, but there's still plenty of buying going on.

And we also got the annual goofy picture of Carolie. Check out the sign(click on the image to enlarge it).

Thursday, December 11, 2008

You Are My Sunshine

It was a bittersweet day in my "career." I live-blogged the end of The Morning Show on Minnesota Public Radio. I dare say there was no place else in the galaxy this morning where someone was singing "Getting to Know You" on a live radio broadcast. And there will be no more.

But people started lining up in 9 degree weather at 2:30 in the morning to hear it. And an overflow crowd at the Fitzgerald Theater spilled into the Central Presbyterian Church. It was a remarkable moment in broadcast time and a real highlight of the 35 years I've spent in the business.

At the same time, it was a funeral; a passing of an era. And later in the day we got a budget update. We have millions of dollars to cut like every other media company and I suspect there'll be a layoff for many people in the future. For me? Maybe. Maybe not.

I just know that no matter how bad things get, I'll always be able to hold onto the feeling I had when hundreds of people sang along with Peter Ostroushko on "You Are My Sunshine" in the pre-dawn darkness of Minnesota. A theater full of people were doing more than singing words; they were comforting themselves and others with a reminder that all is not lost as long as get tears in our eyes when someone plucks a mandolin.

Things get bad, life goes on and will get better.

An occasional chill up your spine is a good thing to regain perspective. So here it is. Have a box of Kleenex ready.

Here's the blog:

And here's the entire show.

Monday, December 08, 2008

The health care scam

I've been having a problem with my neck. I think. My neck itself doesn't hurt but the neckbone is connected to the legbone -- OK, it's not, but work with me here. The neck is the spine and something's wrong in there somewhere which has caused my left shoulder to be about as productive as Eddie Guardado's. It also has left two of my fingers numb. I don't know whether they're hot or cold or what. The only thing they seem to tell me is I'm old.

Which, not surprisingly, is what a neurosurgeon told me last week. My spine is shrinking and it's compressed a nerve... or something. I really don't know because after two doctor visits, an MRI, and then a referral to a neurosurgeon, nobody has told me exactly what's wrong with me. And, because I'm a typical health care consumer in the United States, I haven't asked. I just expect them to do something. And they have; they've collected co-pay after co-pay after co-pay.

I'm stuck in co-pay hell; the criminal system that is the American health care system, referred from one person to another, always just a step away from someone who might be able to do something about it.

My MRI was three weeks ago. I never did get the results, just a phone call from the neurosurgeon's office who said I'd been referred there. Fortunately, I only had to wait 10 days for an appointment and, I presumed, relief from "old man hell." I had anticipated I'd get a shot directly into the spinal area. That's what my regular doc had predicted. That would be followed by months of physical therapy, all at $35 a pop.

When I finally got to meet the neurosurgeon on Friday, he asked me in rapid succession, "what is your name, where do you live, do you live with anybody there, what is that person's name?" I figured my diagnosis was going to be worse than I thought.

"There's a 75-percent chance you won't need surgery," he then announced, displaying an uncanny ability to gaze into the inner workings of my spine merely by my identifying the name of the woman I've lived with for 26 years.

He offered several alternatives, suggesting a priority on "the shot." "OK," I said, "let's go with that."

"Fine," he said. "The nurse will be in to set up a referral to one of our pain clinics."

Say what?

The neurosurgeon's office to whom I'd been referred, apparently doesn't actually do anything but tell you pretty much what you already knew, take your $35, and whatever could be billed to the insurance companies. The original doctor, the neurosurgeon, the pain clinic, and the physical therapy center are all owned by the same health group.

How stupid do you have to be to not understand what's happening here and millions of other doctor's offices every day?

Oh, the pain clinic, I've got my appointment and I only have to put up with the pain of a shoulder coming apart for 2 1/2 weeks. I think.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Squirrel patrol

I come from a long line of squirrel haters. If a scientific study were to come out tomorrow that global warming is making squirrels extinct, most everyone in my family, I think, would start every car they own, turn up the thermostat (after changing the heating system from fuel oil to coal... good, dirty coal), light a fire in the fireplace and break into the refrigerator's compressor long enough to release the freon into the atmosphere.

My Dad spent a large chunk of his retirement catching squirrels in the backyard and then hauling them over to Crow Hill to release them. They either found their way back, or there were plenty of ready replacements. He's dead now. The squirrels are still there.

They had a dog, Sam, who loved to run after the squirrels. She, too, is dead.

My mother is still very much alive and chasing squirrels, too, who are also -- it should be pointed out, still very much alive.

Somewhere along the line, there is a genetic disorientation in the Collins clan, because I recently moved the bird feeder in the front yard over to just in front of the window in the family room, so I could watch birds and squirrels. The birds don't seem to mind the squirrels, and neither do I.

I have to go. I have to let the dog out. He wants to chase some squirrels. He thinks they're rabbits that climb trees. Stupid dog.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Dining recommendations

Carolie and I don't dine out a great deal but I'd still have to say the Bayport Cookery, along the St. Croix River just south of Stillwater, is certainly one of our favorites.

So when Carolie's folks, Don and Oralie Thurston, were in town this week, we made sure to make it a stop tonight. Patrick and Sean joined us for a very lovely evening.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Don to the Hall of Fame

Carolie's Dad, Don Thurston, was inducted into the Massachusetts Broadcasters Hall of Fame. He's in bigger "halls" -- the National Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame, for example -- but it's nice tribute anyway.

A story is on the North Adams Transcript Web site.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Fall flight

My 90-day currency was going to expire in the next few weeks, it was a nice day out, and I wanted to get away from the ridiculous campaign nonsense on all sides. The only way to go is up. I rented a Warrior and flew around the southern edges of the Minneapolis St. Paul Class B, landing over at Fleming Field to check in on the RV project and do a few touch and gos. Here's some images.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

It was 23 years ago today...

At 5:38 p.m. on October 18, 1985, Sean Michael Collins was born. The next day, a 5.3 earthquake struck Armonk, New York in Westchester County where we lived. I'm not yet convinced the two are unrelated. Sean entered the world intending to change it, gifted with the abilities to do it.

He arrived early, about a month early. Carolie went into labor several days earlier, and doctors did everything they could to keep his arrival at bay after tests showed his lungs may not have been fully developed. Carolie hung in there, in labor, for more than 36 hours three days.

A few days later after we got home from the hospital, me driving as carefully as I ever have, a box arrived from friends I only thought were acquaintances. The people at WHDH Radio in Boston, from where I was laid off a year or so earlier, sent me a Cleveland Indians outfit for him. Indeed, I said, I will make Sean into my own image.

And so I put the Indians outfit on Sean, and he immediately threw up on it. Thus ended a promising social experiment. He would later become a fan of the New York Yankees, which was enough to make me vomit.

In his first days on the planet, he didn't sleep at all, unless we took him on stroller walks in the cool air. He loved the cold. Years later, when we moved to the Berkshires, he'd go outside just to lay in the snow.

His first years were spent in the Berkshire hills where he enjoyed climbing trees, and following me while mowing the lawn, with his mower that blew bubbles. We;d burn brush and we'd sit in the woods on our property and he'd look at the sky and ask questions about all sorts of things. Between answers, I'd tell him how nice it was to have him in the world and how he shouldn't forget these moments and how much his Dad loved him. But eyes were on the sky, the questions were on his mind and he seemed somewhere else. Then, when it was time to go in, he'd head for the house, turn around and say, "I love you, too."

That's Sean. He absorbs the world in ways few people do. He was reading at 4 years old, an IQ off the charts, and a character that pushed him to hurry up and get to the next thing there was to see. In that latter way, he was like his Dad. He found contentment difficult in the present, because there was always a future to get to; there was always something else.

He started school when we moved to Minnesota. He made such an impression on his first-grade teacher, especially being a kid in new surroundings and all, that one night she brought her dog over to the house, and gave it to Sean. There aren't many teachers who would do that, nor kids worth doing it for. Sean was one of them.

He played baseball and was good at it. He had pinpoint control. He scored the winning run in a championship game. He played the trombone for a time. The first time I saw him as a young man was a band concert in, I think, 4th or 5th grade. There was Sean up there, playing a musical instrument I certainly didn't know how to play, experiencing things I never experienced. That was the moment I realized, he was off on and running on his own.

Sean had some tough times during school, and learned early that evil comes in all sizes and at all ages. He wears his heart where a man should -- on his sleeve -- and a little kid like that made for a big target. He does not suffer fools gladly.

By 17, he was gone. He moved out of the house and into an apartment. He was on his own. I didn't hear from him much, but every night before I went to bed, I walked out on the back deck, looked out in the direction of where he lived, pounded my heart with one fist, and pointed to the stars with the other and said, "I love you, Sean."

Despite my worry, he did fine and taught himself computers, absorbing everything he could in a way that, I'm sure, few do. He ended up working where I work (he got the job on his own), and nearly every morning we have coffee together. The happiest years I've spent in my business, have been the years he's worked at my place.

Like many 23 year olds, he's got more friends than he realizes in a world that's waiting to embrace him.

His future will not be what he sometimes thinks it is. He will change the world for the better, and despite his intelligence, he will probably be the last to realize it.

Happy birthday to my son, in whom I am well pleased.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Live-blogging the Palin-Biden debate

As part of the day job, I'm live-blogging the Palin-Biden debate. Hope you can join me with a few comments.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The new house

After a couple of days of work, the old house is completely resided. Down goes the yellow aluminum, up goes the "aspen" vinyl (I forgot I really don't like the seams that come with vinyl siding). I'm happy to have the work done but I wish the colors available were more risky than variations on suburban beige.

I still have to paint the trim (I elected to do that myself to save a few bucks). The blue is out, we're thinking a charcoal grey at the moment. Also the garage door has to be painted with the new color.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Goodbye yellow

This is the yellow aluminum-sided house I've lived in since 1993. Within a few days it will be a not-yellow, vinyl sided house instead.

While I was in Denver, the workers replaced the 20+-year-old-roof with new shingles and now the rest of the house is getting the makeover.

The workers arrived this morning and set out pulling all the old siding off. In its place will be a more suburban-looking (ain't that great?) light greenish. I'll be be painting the trim when they're done -- exact color to be determined. That big fake vent above the garage is getting tossed. I'm not sure what will replace it.

Most of this is being financed through the insurance company for hail damage, which I still think had more to do with kids throwing tennis balls against the house, but... whatever. With the economy being what it is, I'm feeling pretty panicked about the additional $4,000 it'll cost me.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Why Democrats aren't fit to run the country... and neither are Republicans

I tend to consider myself a person in the middle and, like most elections, the election of 2008 is frustrating to those of us in the middle. Why? Because we're forced to choose between the utter stupidity and hypocrisy of one side (in this case, McCain-Palin) vs. the unbearable arrogance of the other (in this case Obama-Biden).

It would be swell, perhaps, if elections were won and lost on the brilliance of the arguments on specific issues. The problem is, whoever wins: you actually have to live with these people.

I've often said in the years I've covered politics is it's not usually the candidates I hate, it's the people who support them I can't stand.

So maybe I'm wrong, maybe it's the Democrats who are stupid because they keep making this same mistake over and over and over again and it's why they keep losing elections over and over again. If you're too stupid to understand, Democrats, how you constantly look down at other people -- you with your fancy book learnin' and all -- are you really smart enough to run the country?

If the Democrats really were the party of change, then the Obama campaign would tell Hollywood to shut the hell up.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Bob at work: Denver

Just to prove that I am, indeed, at the Democratic National Convention in Denver, I submit this photo. My stuff appears on News Cut. There's a lot of it there -- 28 posts as of this morning -- including the levitating wizard. And last night I met the guy on whom the Radar O'Reilly character is said to be based.

Let's see CNN give you that kind of coverage.

This is the first national political convention I've covered strictly as a print (Web) guy and so far I think it's gone pretty well. I had back-to-back 21-hour days Monday and Tuesday and today I'm hoping to slow down a bit.

I did do a little radio, but that was just me having fun.

This stuff is hard work under occasionally frustrating conditions, but that's part of the fun. You start each day with a blank page. I'm not looking forward to the Republican Convention in St. Paul (I'll take one day off -- Saturday -- maybe), but then again, I never look forward to assignments until they're actually underway.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Day-tripping: Madeline Island

While I'm building my RV airplane, I still need to keep current while I fly. Most of my flying is touch and goes and some local flying. My currency with the FBO I rent from is up next week, so this weekend we decided we needed to go somewhere. Carolie, who has never flown with me for any significant amount of time, was game for a day trip up to Madeline Island on Lake Superior for lunch. So we launched around 10:30 and by a little after noon, we were walking down the road on Madeline Island heading for the ferry.

It's probably somewhat significant that as we took the ferry back to the island later, an RV-6 circled overhead. Another reason to finish up the RV airplane project -- 3.9 hours of rental : $507. Criminy.

(Change the pictures by clicking the arrows --forward or backward -- below the captions. Or just click on the image.)

Related links:
  • Our trip to Madeline Island last year.
  • Sunrise on Lake Superior.
  • Saturday, August 09, 2008

    Bob makes the minors

    I threw out the "first pitch" at tonight's St. Paul Saints - Fort Worth Cats Northern League game (will somebody please tell me what Ft. Worth is doing in the Northern League?)

    Actually, about six of us threw out the first pitch. Here's some pictures.

    Thursday, July 31, 2008

    Oshkosh Diary - Day 6

    I had to leave Oshkosh very early this morning because of a family emergency. Apparently, my youngest son was held up and robbed at gunpoint at his apartment.

    As they say, more as it happens.

    Wednesday, July 30, 2008

    Oshkosh Diary - Day 5

    (Note: Much more is being posted over at Letters from Flyover Country.)

    This was "me" day today at Oshkosh. I've got a few things to do and I didn't have any appointments or "deadline" stories to write, so I did whatever I felt like doing. I was going to go to some of the RV-based forums; I blew them all off.

    I did put together a little slideshow of RV "art" -- both nose and tail. You can find it here. If you're at the show and you shot a picture of some nose or tail art, I'd like to add it to the slideshow. Please send me a copy.

    Many of the things I've been working on, by the way, will be in this week's RV Builder's Hotline, which will probably come out Sunday. I haven't been able to keep up with the various threads online, however. So if you'd like to be 'editor for a week' on the Hotline, all you have to do is send me your five favorite threads of the last two weeks. The Hotline emphasis is on building, so if they could stick to practical building/flying information, that'd be great. It would be a big help to me.

    Reality check

    You can probably tell by the piece I did on aircraft judging that I've been pretty well wow'd by some of the workmanship of RV airplanes here, almost to the point where it feels like I should go home, and leave the airplane building to the people with talent. It's that good. I knew I needed a lift and so I stopped by the Van's tent to look at their demonstrator models, knowing I'd feel better. This -- my airplane -- is, afterall, a "working man's RV."

    Sure enough, the empennage fiberglass tips that the instructions tell you to fill are not filled. That's really all I needed to see, just a confirmation that these planes can fly without a complete investment of my waning years and children's inheritance.

    How to survive in a bad economy

    Customer service! What part of that don't you get, American businesses. I hold a grudge -- a long grudge -- against companies that provide poor basic service. My wife and I walked into a Norwest Bank (now Wells Fargo) when we moved here. We signed our name on the sign-up sheet, sat down and waited for someone to help us open checking and savings accounts. The reps ate their lunch and ignored us and we left, vowing never to do business with Norwest again. And we never have. And we never will.

    You learn a lot about a company by the way they treat you before you've purchased anything. Now, don't get me wrong here, I'm not saying the company I'm about to mention is a bad company; they're not. I'm not saying their product is a bad product; it's decidedly not. In fact, it may be the best value on the market.

    But here's why I'm now going to spend my money on the Grand Rapids Sport EFIS package instead of the Dynon. I was the booth today trying to get the lowdown on Dynon's product. I'm pretty near ready to commit to either it or Grand Rapids (Ideally, I'd probably go with Advanced Flight Systems, but it's pretty far out of my financial league): I was 10 seconds away -- 10 seconds away! -- from saying "I'll take it," when the Dynon rep saw somebody he knew and struck up a conversation with him, leaving me to twiddle my thumbs.

    Guy, did you come here to sell your product or chew the fat?

    A few minutes earlier, I was in the engine monitor-shopping business and had stopped by Grand Rapids' booth. The gentleman who helped me understand their system (and, yes, I know there are more whizbangy systems out there, but this is a really good one) spent about 10 minutes answering my question. If he talked to someone else, it's only because that other person was watching the demonstration and had questions that were valuable to me, too.

    He got about $1,400 of my money today. I already knew Grand Rapids' reputation for customer service; this guy reinforced it and he not only got a customer today, he'll have one when I buy the EFIS.

    As I said, nothing against Dynon, and I know at airshows there's a lot of folks kicking the tires. But I work hard for my money and I demand the attention of salespeople when they want some of it. Perhaps I looked like a tire-kicker and the guy decided his friend was a better customer. If so, he was wrong.

    Composite 101

    Among the more valuable things at AirVenture are the short workshops intended to get you used to a building material, whether it's sheet metal, fabric, or fiberglass. One of my goals this year was to go to the composite workshop. Mission accomplished. We made a little laminated sheet that's along the lines of something we'd have brought home from school as kids. But you know, I think 90% of building an airplane is the confidence to do so and I feel a little better about fiberglass now.

    On the flight line

    I haven't sat down by the side of the flight line along to watch planes go by for years. So I did that today. From my seat I got to see the RV formation flight. It looked pretty bumpy up there and as I've said before I'm not really in to formations, but this was really impressive stuff. Most impressive to me was the overhead break to landing and the sight of four RVs in single file, handling a hellacious cross wind as if it were nothing. And, I'd guess, for these guys, it was nothing. Some of the best pilots in the world are here, and these are a few dozen of them.

    I'm sure the RV groups will be littered with pictures of it, but they do it no justice. Only the naked eye and an appreciation for precision as maneuvers change can provide that.

    Ardy & Ed's Drive in

    Ardy & Ed's drive-in has been ranked as one of America's best. It's not just a throwback to an earlier time -- it has waitresses on roller skates and you can eat in the car if you wish -- it's got great food and it's situation not far from the runway at Oshkosh, you get a steady diet of airplanes while you ruin your diet.

    I'd intended to head there this week to hoist a root beer float in honor of the friends who couldn't make it to Oshkosh this year. And so this afternoon, I did.

    I elected to have mine inside, at the soda fountain...

    The place actually looks really cool at night, all lit up in neon. So, anyway, to all of you who couldn't be here this week, this float's for you.

    Judging an RV

    Homebuilt judges are busy people at Oshkosh. They'll judge an estimated 800 planes in a week, starting at 8 in the morning going until around 3 in the afternoon. They judge in groups of 3, rotating the individuals so a judge isn't with the same 3 each day. They input the data on a PDA and then download it to a computer which does its thing and spits out the results.

    The judges use a point system, awarding a 1-10 score on individual areas such as appearance, fuselage, instrumentation, paint, and power plant and then award an overall score to the airplane.

    Armed with this judging standard, I tried my hand at it, selecting the first RV I could find -- there are 400 of them at Oshkosh -- and giving it a good going over. The result? It's better than what I'm building. Join me for the judging.

    If you can't see this on your browser, go here.

    Tuesday, July 29, 2008

    Oshkosh: Day 4 -- I've been thrown out of worse pan-selling shows than this

    The oddest moment of Oshkosh this year has nothing to do with aviation at all. A lot of AirVenture actually has nothing to do with AirVenture at all, in fact. AeroShell Square, which is show center, surely is about to renamed Ford Square at the rate that company is taking over things here.

    But I was putting together a short multimedia piece, perhaps for my day job, on the sights and sounds of AirVenture, with a perspective on the non-aviation aspects of it. There's people selling ladders, there's Jerry's one-man band, there's the guy with the Flintstone-looking plane that putt-putts around the grounds (the woman who dressed up as a Norse-like cavewoman who would stand on the top and wave is gone, though.

    And then there's the Fly Market, where all sorts of interesting characters hawk their wares. Take this guy, for example, the Healthy Gourmet. Apparently he chose that name because The Paranoid Cook was already taken. He was in the middle of his snake oil sales speech sales presentation for, I think, pots and pans when he saw me standing -- not under his tent but in the walkway between booths, taping his talking snake oil pitch sales presentation to a group of women who looked like they were about ready to buy some snake oil overpriced pots and pans to help burn dinner in.

    "Hey, you can't record, this is a copyright presentation," he said. Apparently, or so I thought initially, there must be a big market in bootleg tapes of snake oil salesmen pots-and-pans salesmen, standing in front of a suckers little old ladies who actually believe the sign at the front of the room that says "As seen on TV" (but, buddy, not on the Internet!).

    I'm used to people not wanting to be taped and so I responded in the way we're taught in obnoxious reporter school. "OK," I said.

    So then I took out my camera and took a picture of him and that got him all flustered. He turned to his security force, pointed to me (still standing outside out on the "sidewalk" and said, "Can you....?" not finishing the sentence but I'm pretty sure it wasn't going to but I'm pretty sure it wasn't going to be "... show this dashing young man how well these pots and pans braze chicken."

    His security force turned out to be, I believe, his wife, who was charming. I showed her the media credentials hanging around my neck and said "I'm a reporter and I'm credentialed by EAA to come in and tell the story of AirVenture and this is a story I'm doing about the sights and sounds of Oshkosh. "Oh, that's fine," she said. "We've had some problems in the past so...."

    Some problems in the past? Hmmmm... is there a Healthy Gourmet competitor out there chasing the guy around from town to town stealing the guy's pitch? Did NBC Dateline catch the guy in some pots-and-pans-salesman sting?

    The jet pack

    There are lots of airplane wannabees here. Business that have come up with some design for some product that's never going to end up on the market, that has enough venture capital money, I guess, to buy nice shirts, slick marketing kits, and afford a nice booth at Oshkosh. Many of them will draw a crowd, but I'm betting they'll never end up in production.

    Here's one. The jet pack. Everyone's talking about. As I understand it you fill it up with gas, strap it on, and fly to work, as long as work is less than a 20-minute jet-pack ride away.

    Everyone wanted to see it perform today and -- as the story goes -- they fired it up after an extensive delay, it lifted the guy off the ground a couple of feet, and then settled back to earth.

    "Thanks for coming," the guy said.

    I'm thinking he and the pots-and-pans guy should meet.

    Coming soon: Judging an RV

    I couldn't get any of the homebuilt judges to talk to me about judging although I went and found Bob Reese, who is in charge of such things. Bob looks about 45. He's 70, he told me. He pointed out his associated who's been judging for 27 years; he looked to be about 35. He's 51. Clearly there's something of a fountain of youth in this homebuilt airplane judging business.

    Bob cleared up for me once and for all, the question of whether covered rivets is a no-no for metal airplanes. It is. If you're going to build a metal airplane, like an RV, and you want to compete for a prize at Oshkosh, do not the rivets. Also, you can't win anything with a great paint scheme. "That doesn't impress us," Bob said.

    And so armed with my trusty tape recorder, a camera, and the judging guidelines from Bob, I picked out an RV and went over it closely. It was a wonderful airplane, the construction is clearly better than mine can every hope to be.

    I gave it a 8. It'd gotten a better score if he hadn't covered the rivets.

    Look for a little multimedia slideshow on the subject soon.


    This is James Clark of South Carolina, one of the really interesting people on Planet RV. I ran into him today as he was preparing for a formation flight over Oshkosh. He's a really good guy and I was pleased he remembered me. We've chatted online before and he was kind enough to come to the BBQ last year. The EAA's magazine, Sport Aviation, just did a large article on him. I'd like to think if I hang around, even for a few seconds, with brilliant people, some of it will rub off. It's obvious already this week that this is a flawed dream, but it's a dream nonetheless. Read the article, his is an amazing story.

    But this picture here, well, this is what we call "the money shot" in the business. The formation group, I guess, had purchased these hats -- probably from a hat salesman who also didn't want to be recorded or photographed. James said he'd probably look pretty silly in it but I asked to take his picture at which point he gave us a sample of some South Carolina stylin'.

    Though the picture is a keeper, it'll grace the top of RV Builder's Hotline this week, I can attest that not only does James' brilliance not rub off on me, neither does his style.

    The story behind the story

    Meet Jack Beck, his wife Marmy Clason, and Jack's sons, Peter and Johnathan. They're from Germantown, Wisconsin. I sat and chatted with them about the 9A they're building and, well, wow. What a heck of a story! It's so good of a story that I'll probably use it on MPR's News Cut, my day job. It's amazing really that behind every interesting person is an interesting story. It's what makes News Cut go. But I'll be putting the story in the RV Builder's Hotline next week. It involves a leap of faith into homebuilding. The bigger story is one fine people they are and the values that the kids have touched lives as
    far away as Nepal.

    Going with Trio

    Who wants to buy my TruTrak wing leveler system? I bought it for something like $1,500 a few years ago. The servo is installed; everything else is still in the box. I'm going to upgrade to the new Trio product that's shipping in September. You know, it looks like a great product, I know they're great people. Why would I not want to do business with them?

    Reamer tips

    I stopped over to the ATS Tool booth to talk to owner, Des, about the proper technique for reaming out holes with a, get this, reamer. For the record, I want to step back a couple of years and ream the holes correctly, which is, as he pointed out, by hand, not in a slow-turning (or any other turning) drill. That is all.

    Mine is smaller than yours...

    I've selected those components I'm willing to pay a premium for, and I'm getting better at putting out of my head, those products that I simply do not need. I do not need to have an IFR capable airplane. I have talked to many IFR pilots here with IFR capable airplanes and the one common theme is, "I don't fly IFR enough to make the investment worth it." Bingo. Anyway, you know those stick grips with the buttons for trim (I have manual trim), autopilot, flaps, DVD, and machine guns that look like the head of one of those jumbo golf clubs? I didn't buy one of those. I bought two grips today with a simple push to talk button. I think even I can install it.

    I did stop by the Dynon booth today and I was about to buy, but decided I want to hit the Grand Rapids Technology booth first. Stay tuned.

    The Mustang accident

    In his very fine Oshkosh daily e-mail yesterday, Bob Miller, who writes a weekly newsletter called Across the Airwaves, talked about going to the NTSB booth to leave some criticism that the NTSB focuses too much on mechanical factors, and not enough about human factors, when issuing reports on accidents.

    The irony here is that the NTSB display at Oshkosh, is all about the human factors that went into one of the most spectacular accidents ever -- the crash of a couple of Mustangs a year ago.

    It's a gripping display that discusses the human factors of the accident; that is, how long does it take for a human to react to events.

    There's a forum on the subject the NTSB is holding, I think Thursday, on the crash. If there are comments left here that expresses a desire for me to go, I will.

    The future of AirVenture

    Today I stopped in to the EAA booth to hear more about the plans for the future of the AirVenture grounds. I believe an RVer -- Dave Klages -- heads this committee.

    I don't envy him and here's why. Something has got to be done about the tremendous vehicle traffic on the grounds. People are walking around looking up of course and sometimes that includes the truck drivers, Gator drivers, and golf cart drivers (of which there are too many). Put bluntly, it stinks. The new plans call for a vehicle-free area (except for golf carts). That's a step in the right direction.

    On the other hand, I worry about what they'll do about Camp Scholler. I think EAA is on thin ice here. Granted Porta-Johns, and taking a shower with a kitchen sink hose isn't all that great, most people will say publicly. But, you know? That's part of the Oshkosh experience and this week I've talked to lots of young adults who say they haven't been here since they were kids and they're trying to recapture that.

    The words I heard too many times on the subject at the booth was this one: luxury. Luxury showers for one. Is a luxury campground far behind? At its essence, it needs to be a campground and while I get the fact that a lot of spouses don't want to come because of that and while I understand the need for more electrical hookups for those who use generators now, it really wouldn't take much to disturb the equilibrium of the Camp Scholler eco-system.

    Aviation is already trying to fight the perception that it's a rich person's game. Even in the RV community, let's admit the obvious: an RV-10 driver really doesn't have that much in common with the RV-12 builder. They're beautiful airplanes that are more Cirrus than Cessna and that's great.

    But if EAA is heading toward, as I think Brad Oliver or Chuck Jensen said tonight, a "NASCAR" vibe in the campground, then I think that would be the end of AirVenture as we -- the working crowd -- know it. Let's hope they'll be able to finesse these improvements while maintaining the attraction.

    There's much, much, much more than airplanes here.

    The following is from earlier today. Let the record show: it didn't rain.

    It's a spiritual experience, some aviators say, about coming to Oshkosh. I'm not ready to quite go that far, but in recognition that, yes, AirVenture is a spiritual experience for some people, let us bow our heads in prayer.

    Dear Lord:

    If I ever start making the old man noises that the guy in the Port-A-Potty next to me is making, please kill me.


    This being Oshkosh and all, let me take a stab at this whole "looking at the sunny side of life" thing. It was cloudy this morning, rain of some sort is due, but at least the early morning sun didn't heat up the tent to ridiculous temperatures. Yeah, great, that certainly changes the possibility of a flood-out.

    Camping at Oshkosh requires -- nay, demands -- that you suffer through at least one interminable night of rain. There are two problems with this: One is the obvious one that everything you own and were too stupid to put in the car is now useless. The other is the next day people in a camper will tell you, "I didn't have a problem. I'm totally dry." I've got your positive thinking right here, Sparky.

    Whether we get that sort of rain today, I don't know. It started out cloudy, the sun has come out, and my wife told me this morning that the weather radio in the Twin Cities went off three times overnight. Maybe -- maybe -- whatever's heading our way went north of us, but that would be very unOshkosh-like.

    These experiences of Oshkosh have prepared me a little more since the days when Patrick and I gave up shoveling towels against the tide and headed off to the Mexican restaurant to await our rain-soaked fate.

    Are you supposed to spray your tent with some sort of water preservative? Every year I tell myself that I'm going to do that -- if you're supposed to do that -- before the next Oshkosh. Most of the incoming flood comes through the zipper on the door. I'm going to duct tape that up tonight (at least the one on the wind side) and see what happens. I'll have Camp Collins looking like the runup to Hurricane Katrina in no time. And, finally, I'm going to put just about everything in the car except for one pillow and one sleeping bag. I'll let you know what happens.

    The other part of the Oshkosh experience is your fellow campers. There's always one guy whose car alarm -- beep.... beep.... beep -- goes off around 5:30 in the morning when he's fishing around for something. Yesterday, I was that guy. I was only good for about 7 beeps, but I was still that guy. Geez.

    I've got the crying baby next to me this year. A young couple (obviously) with full camping gear and a crying kid. They've obviously done this before; it's not like most "crying baby families" where it looks like the couple thought it would be a nice get away so they stopped to pick up the Acme model tent and by the end of the first day, the kid is crying and the parents are yelling. This one isn't so bad. The kid is crying but Mom seems to be handling things well. The most upsetting part is, perhaps, that Dad thinks keeping the kid from crying is Mom's work. I give the marriage 6 years.

    The ultralights are up flying around this morning so you it's not a washout, at least not yet. One of my goals this year is to spend more time over at the ultralight area, watching powered parachutes at dawn or dusk.

    Today's goal is to try to get into one of the composites (fiberglass) workshops just to mess around a little more with the stuff. When Oshkosh is over, I need to tackle the fairing at the front of the canopy. Then I'll go check out some more RVs to see how the smart people do it. My friend, Warren Starkebaum, who camped with me last year and was on the reasons last year was the perfect Oshkosh (except for the rain) was at this stage last year so he shot a bunch of pictures of canopies. You can find the slideshow here.

    There's good news and bad news for the wireless system in the campground. The good news is the signal strength is terrific; it's much better than last year. The bad news is getting onto the system fails about 25% of the time, although judging from the reaction of my neighbors, it's 100% of the time this morning (I'm writing this offline). You're usually greeted with:

    Sorry, but we're currently experiencing technical difficulties. The present error condition is:

    Preparing to reconnect with messaging system.

    For assistance, please contact:


    Additional information:

    AP MAC Address: 00:0e:0c:b9:xx:xx

    I'll bet "unknown" is really busy this week! But despite that minor annoyance, EAA is doing a fabulous job here. As usual I hear the "it's too commercial" complaints. I say "so what?" Open a drink, pull up a chair and have a chat with someone building an experimental airplane, and say a little prayer for the folks who aren't here.

    More as it happens...

    Oh, Ask The Dumb Guy in the Campground has been very light the last couple of days. Are you out there, America? Let's hear from you.

    Monday, July 28, 2008

    Oshkosh Diary - Day 3

    The slideshow
    I transferred some more wealth to the estate of Sam Walton today and bought a power cable which allows the audio cable to work out of my Marantz hard disk recorder. Bottom line? I've been able to add audio to the RV slideshow. Meet four really fabulous people. Now, you may not be able to see this especially if you use Firefox. If not, please go here. You should be able to view it there regardless of what browser you're using. I hope you enjoy it. Please note: It WILL take a long time for the audio to load. So be patient.

    Last night's dinner

    The WiFi in the campground crashed last night (too many people? Maybe) so I couldn't post an update.

    Here's the "trio" from Trio Avionics. We had a very nice dinner down at Wendt's on Lake Winnebago.

    Even if I had decided not to come over for the week, I'd have driven over for the evening to spend some time with Sid Tolchin, Chuck Busch, and Jerry Hansen. They're what makes Oshkosh Oshkosh.

    Some famous aviators stopped by the table while we were there. Mark Scheuer of PS Engineering (I profiled his product years ago in the Hotline) stopped when he saw the Trio Avionics shirt that Sid was wearing.

    And the people from Grove Aircraft stopped over to say "hello" to the guys. Their headquarters is next to Trio's in the San Diego metro.

    Later in the evening, Paul Trotter stopped by for a visit. He and two friends drove straight through from the Westchester County area. Paul was one of the forces behind the RV BBQ and we discussed bringing it back next year.

    Here's the thing: It takes up-front money and I don't have it. So if there is a sense that we should return the BBQ next year, I'll need some help on the initial round of donations.

    But there's more to it than that. The BBQ started as my -- and a few other folks -- desire to be around friends who shared a passion. As it grew, it became great fun, but we also started to lose the friendship part. Without getting too specific, there were a few folks who came to the BBQ and ate the food and drank the beer and then over the winter posted on the RV Yahoogroup that I was out of line for objecting to my treatment in Kitplanes at the hands of another writer "because he had a great Web site and it would be a shame if he got mad and took it down."

    I have to figure out how to tell those people to stay home. I haven't figured that out yet. Shoot, I didn't want to go off on that old wound...

    Happy happy hour

    I struggled about whether to come to Oshkosh this year, as you may know, and I'm glad I did. Some old acquaintances have been stopping by, and some new ones, too. Fine people, all.

    Ben Beard of the great state of Wisconsin, by way of Texas, dropped over. He's a 6A builder and pilot. He gets together over in Eau Claire for pancakes with some of the Minnesota Wing of Van's Air Force. It was great to meet him and have a chat.

    And old friend Bob Kelly of Indiana then stopped by so the three of us had happy hour, accompanied by the next-door camp, led by Steve R. Bob is an RV-9A builder and pilot. Last year at Oshkosh he gave me a DVD he made of building his airplane, which has served to provide occasional inspiration for my project, which -- I've joked this week -- will be on display in the vintage aircraft section here at Oshkosh some year.

    And Doug Reeves of Van's Air Force stopped me as I was wandering aimlessly around the grounds. It's always good to see Doug and thank him for the good work he does. His big news? He's got termites. Always fear the call from home!

    On the air
    If you'd like to listen to the Oshkosh tower live, go here.

    What's hot?

    So what's hot at Oshkosh this year. Hard to say because the show technically doesn't open for 45 minutes. A lot of folks go streaming for the Van's tent but I generally ignore it. I've got my project. Supposedly they're going to announce the RV-12 fuselage is now available (See their Web site).

    But it's amazing how many people are talking about this demonstration coming up later this week with a guy marketing a jetpack. Allegedly it uses gasoline and can last up to 20-30 minutes, plenty of time for my commute to work. We were chatting last night about how the FAA would license such a thing. Is it an ultralight? Is it a light-sport aircraft. If I take off from my backyard, would that violate Woodbury, Minnesota's ban on airports?

    Forum on wiring
    I attended the "aircraft wiring for smart people" forum this morning. That's the first forum I've attended this year and one more than I attended in 2007, and 2006. Greg Richter (above) of Blue Mountain Avionics was the presenter. I've written an article for RV Builder's Hotline which you can find here.


    A quick trip to the SteinAir booth this morning netted a picture of a couple of smart electrical engineer types attempting to smile.

    For you non-aviation Minnesota types who are following along, Jed and Stein are based in Farmington. At least one of 'em, I believe, is a former Northwest employee. Stein made his money in the radio business like everyone else and then, subsequently not needing to work for a living, decided to build instrument panels for homebuilders.

    At least one of those statements is not true.
    More as it happens.

    Oshkosh Diary - Day 2

    Did I mention I'll be updating these daily posts as the day unfolds? I'll be updating these daily posts as the day unfolds, so check back.

    Chad's Compound
    One of the many traditions -- all of two years, I believe -- is Chad Jensen's "compound" just across the creek. He asked me to stake it off and today that was one of my early priorities.

    You can see the ultra luxurious Casa Collins resort in the background.

    The other priority today was picking up my media credentials and that has also been accomplished, as has the first run for ice. The $1.20 price for a bag at WalMart is much better than the campground store, although I notice the price tends to go up later in the week. I'm a one-cooler guy this year so I won't be spending a fortune on ice this year. Of course that also means I only am able to ice 3 or 4 beers at a time so if you're in the campground and you intend to join me for a Happy Hour, get here early.

    Darwin checks in
    Darwin Barrie called an hour or so ago and it was a very nice surprise to hear from him. You want a Mr. Oshkosh (to me)? That's Mr. Oshkosh. I wish he and Glenn Brasch could be here but next year should be quite special. As of 10:30 this morning, Darwin reports it's 91 in Chandler, Arizona. But, you know, it's a dry heat.

    Two items from Darwin: A heat wave is apparently heading for Oshkosh. That speaks for itself.

    And Darwin said he talked to Jeff Point earlier today and the reason the "North 40" is 75% full is about 25% of it is unusable. They had something like 14 inches of rain here in June and some of it is reportedly flooded. I'll have to check that out.

    It appeared there were a substantial number of RV airplanes already in the homebuilt section as of 10 a.m. I'm heading down there now to see some of the RVators. I'm taking a laptop, tape recorder, camera and chair with me. It's been years since I've sat by the side of the runway and watched the Sunday arrival traffic but this is the only plan I have today.

    Formation arrives

    I'm not much of a formation guy. I know it takes a lot of work and a lot of practice but if you don't fly formation and have never practiced it, you have no appreciation for flying formation. To me, one formation looks like the next and I don't mean that at all as a negative. There's a really crappy photo of the RV arrival at Oshkosh, although now that I look at it in its bluriness, I'm not sure it is; but I think it is since it showed up around 1:30, the assigned time, I believe.

    The other thing about pictures of formations? Since you can't shoot anything on the ground, one looks pretty much like the other.

    RV Corral -- The movie

    Not really, but I have been over talking to RV airplane builders and/or pilots in the homebuilt camping area this afternoon and I'll be putting together an audio slideshow this afternoon. I'm not sure I'll have it done by dinner (I'm going out to dinner with the guys from Trio Avionics), but I'll try. I'm in the press headquarters now dumping the images. I have to go to WalMart to get the right audio cable.

    Fingers crossed, but I think you'll enjoy it when it's done.

    I did run into Mark Chamberlain. He's arrived from Arizona, obviously, but the guy with two emergency landings under his belt (he says he's gone a year without one) is shy of cameras and microphones. Great guy.

    RV safety
    Rick Woodall has an interesting thread going on Van's Air Force. While most pilots are safe, you just have to wonder why the FAA doesn't just haul off and pull the certificate of some pilots.

    (Cross posted at Letters From Flyover Country, where you'll find a lot more)

    Saturday, July 26, 2008

    Oshkosh Diary - Day 1

    Son of a gun. It is like coming home.

    I arrived at Oshkosh around 2 -- a 4-hour trip from St. Paul (if you're coming from the Twin Cities, be advised Highway 45 is closed). Using the trusty GPS, I found "my" spot.

    I said yesterday I was getting used to packing light, in anticipation of making this trip in an RV airplane someday. I have a lot more learning to do on the subject.

    In the old days, when my wife and kids came over, this is the part where I'd get all upset about something and Carolie would say, "let me take care of it," and I'd go for a walk and come back and the tent would be up. Those days are gone but over the last few years I've gotten pretty good at it. The tent -- and it's like an old friend that comes here once a year, too -- went up in about a half hour and the big canopy took a little longer, thanks to the typical Oshkosh wind. But in due course, "my spot" was "my home" once again.

    A lot of friends aren't showing up at Oshkosh this year and as I was about finished setting up camp, I was thinking this was the first year in many that someone didn't venture out to the middle of the field to see if I was here. When I turned around, there was Rich Emergy of St. Charles, Mo. (or is it Illinois, anyway it's basically St. Louis), one of the first people to stop by every year (Larry Frey, are you here?). Rich was one of the big organizers and volunteers of the BBQ and it was great to see a friendly face.

    Rich, who is one of the volunteer chairmen here, says there aren't as many airplanes as usual on the field yet. I noticed a very, very quiet sky as I was driving in, and here in the campground, I'm seeing more tents and pop-ups this year, and few of the big land yachts. Take this anecdotal evidence for what it's worth. Since I camp out in the middle of the field at the EAA grounds, I see the campground fill up as people eventually reach my location around Sunday afternoon or evening. I'd say, so far, it's about the same as last year.

    (As I wrote that, three big land yachts just showed up a couple of 'streets' over. They're setting up in a "compound" formation, so it looks like we'll be having some parties nearby. Good.

    Rich, who recently retired and is building an RV-7 airplane, had a nice chat and we engaged in the campground version of watching people land. We watched people struggle putting up tents in the afternoon Oshkosh wind.

    As is the nature of Oshkosh, we eventually helped the poor kid get his rig set up. I give it one good rainstorm before it sees the dumpster.

    The EAA, bless their hearts, has again provided free wiFi, so here I sit in the middle of a field, connected to who knows who, who knows where?

    If you're out there reading this, shoot me a note. I'm playing "Ask Mr. Oshkosh" (link fixed) this year so make it a fun note. Each day I'll be printing a few.

    Rich is camping near one of the homebuilt judges, so I'll try to get introduced to him, perhaps, this evening for a story I'm doing on what makes a well-built RV airplane. We'll try to pick one of the heap that's arriving at Oshkosh tomorrow around 12;30 on a formation flight from Rockford, Illinois.

    As I said before, this year I'll be writing a bit more about the unique experience that is Camp Scholler. For those who've never been here, getting in is easy. There's many volunteers to move what looks at first to be a long line into a short registration process. I was into the front gate and onto my spot (I used the GPS for the exact coordinates) in under 10 minutes.

    For veteran campers, you'll be pleased to know the South Africans are here again. They fly a charter over and set up in a huge area and they do not observe the usual 10 p.m. curfew. They observe the 10 p.m. curfew on South Africa time. They party, bring in bands and booze. We'll be stopping by to say "hello."

    On the other side of the emotional spectrum, I've received this from John Porter:

    Well, it is with deep sadness that I tell you I won't make it to OSH '08. We had three big trees ( two oaks and a hickory) punch holes in our house in a recent storm. We made the cover of the Cherokee Ledger..............big score!! And since my deductible for wind and hail is $4500, we will be laying low for this year. Bob, thanks again for all you do. I really look forward to next year.

    That's a real shame. John was one of the many pleasures of last year's Oshkosh. Veterans RVers will remember him as the brains behind this shirt (and that's John holding it up):

    I had at least one Ask Mr. Oshkosh question this morning but at this hour of the afternoon (sunset), it's nowhere to be found.

    More as it happens... Don't forget to subscribe to the RV Builder's Hotline for a recap of this week with articles from forums etc.

    There's much more that I'm writing from Oshkosh. It's posted on Letters from Flyover Country.

    Friday, July 25, 2008

    Oshkosh Diary -- Friday July 25, 2008

    (Cross posted at Letters from Flyover country)

    Many of you know I wasn't going to go to Oshkosh this year; I just couldn't seem to work up a heck of a lot of enthusiasm for it. If it weren't for a couple of fellow RVers, a crushing amount of pain in my shoulders from crouching over my computer in my day job, and J.W. French, I wouldn't be going. I'd be working on that RV-7A canopy. At the reception for J.W. French the other night, fellow RVer Paul Hove looked at the project and said, "man, you have a long way to go; you haven't even started the systems yet." It was at that moment that I realized that my project is years away from completion and while spending a week working on it is not only necessary, but therapeutic, it was nothing that was going to make a big difference in the big scheme of things. So what, really, do I have to lose by sitting in a field for a week, watching planes and hope people stop by to say "hello."

    This diary has become an annual tradition of the RV Builder's Hotline. I'm starting the writing a day early so that I can talk a little about camping in Camp Scholler. Every year on Van's Air Force, a newbie or two will ask about camping at Camp Scholler. Not many people ever write about it, possibly because it's old hat. So this year I'll write about it and next year -- when my RV-7A project will still have a long way to go -- you can Google it. So if you're reading this in 2009, don't tell me who won the presidential election. Let me surprised.

    Friday July 25, 2008
    Dateline: Woodbury, Minnesota. It's muggy as all getout, some thunderstorms are passing to the north and normally I'd be putting up the tent in a muggy field in Oshkosh. But I decided to wait a day. It's not that important that I stake out my usual spot in Camp Scholler on 12th Street between Lindbergh and Elm, because I'm not doing the RV Builder's BBQ this year (Note: It's been surprising how many e-mails I've received this week from people asking if I'm doing the BBQ. It's a reminder that a lot of folks don't read this blog, get the RV Builder's Hotline, or peruse Van's Air Force or Rivetbangers.).

    Stuffed to the gillsWith the price of gas being close to $4 a gallon (it actually dropped around here to $3.65 today, a day after I filled the tank.), I'm taking the 2004 Cavalier rather than my wife's AWD, but lousy gas mileage, Subaru. This requires me to pack a little light this year. I figure if the RV-7A project ever gets done, I'm going to have to get use to living light, since the baggage payload is only 100 pounds.

    And, guess what, it fits? So what do you need to set up a good campsite at Oshkosh?

    A tent
    One of those bit canopies you get at Fleet Farm
    An air mattress
    A cooler filled with a couple of frozen jugs of water (the ice concession is a rip-off in the campground)
    Shorts and T-shirt
    Tons of bug repellant an sunscreen
    Cooking stove, plates and all that
    The Van's instruction manual
    A GPS if you have it with weather
    A computer, and digital camera (if you have a blog or a newsletter that a lot of people don't read)

    That's pretty much it. What? No food? Pointless if space is at a premium. You'll be spending as much time over at the WalMart across the street. Why carry it over?

    Surprise! It all fit in the car.

    There's free wiFi at the campground but as more people show up, it becomes somewhat problematic. It wouldn't hurt to pick up a $20 Starbuck's card and register for the free 2 hours a day of service at Starbuck's. There's one on the frontage road. Don't bring too much clothing. The Maytag coin-op laundry in Oshkosh also has free wiFi.

    I've been getting e-mail already from companies and such that want to do interviews while I'm there (I'm media). On Saturday, there's a Chevron-sponsored event with Barrington Irving, the first black pilot to fly solo around the world, and someone who tries to encourage young people to strive to achieve their dreams. If that's through aviation, so be it. But that's not the prerequisite. Unfortunately, it's at 11 a.m. and I'm not leaving here until 8, which should put me in a muggy field just in time for the afternoon thunderstorms.

    As always, if you have questions, drop me an e-mail and I'd be happy to answer them for you.

    Off to Oshkosh

    I'm off to Oshkosh.

    As you might've read earlier, I haven't been entirely enthusiastic about the air show this year for reasons I can't quite fathom. But I probably just need to sit an empty field for a few days, watching people walk by and planes fly overhead.

    The trick will be not spending money. A few days ago, a barnstorming pilot stopped at my hangar and I put him up for the night. A few RV builders (the plane I'm building) also stopped by and looked over the project, which I'd pushed over to the side of the hangar for the occasion.

    "You have a lot left to go," one said. "You haven't even started the systems, yet."

    Well, yes, that's exactly what I needed to hear after 7 years and 1,800 of work and a ridiculous amount of money. The sad part is: he's right. So what's stopping me? Money.

    At one time I had enough to finish the plane, but kids needed cars, some computers went on the fritz and there were needs here and there and, voila!

    The engine for the plane is due to be built next month and delivered, I presume in September. $23,000. I'll "home equity" that (that's a verb?) and pay it off as I would a new car.

    But back to Oshkosh. There's a ton of stuff you can buy there; stuff you might even need. But I looked into the cockpit of that biplane that spent the night in my hangar the other day -- altimeter, airspeed indicator, turn indicator. And the guy flew -- solo -- to all 48 states. I'm going to keep that mental picture in mind when I'm walking past the temptation over the next week.

    Mini-news Sean bought a new (used) car last night. A 2005 Cobalt. He got a good deal I think for the car with 40,000 miles. Gone is the car with the breaks that are shot, wires that run everywhere, the button you had to push before you turn the key (assuming you didn't lock the steering wheel because then you can't turn the key without some serious shenaningans) and the ignition key that broke off in the front door lock.

    It'll be another couple hundred dollars a month for the young man, and adding debt is always sobbering and a little maddening, but his mother and I couldn't be happier.