SEIR Building Project

As they built the new Apple Campus in Cupertino, it became a Mecca for drone photographers to document the progress of the construction. At one point Apple security tried to discourage enthusiastic remote pilots but that proved to be a harder task than they thought. With all the new construction on campus, I wanted to emulate the work done in California. The SEIR building broke ground a year ago. After checking local and campus rules, I set a project of myself to document the construction of this new building on the south side of the University of Texas at Arlington campus. When complete it will serve as one pillar of the south entrance to campus for people driving north on Cooper street. My plan is to take pictures and video once a month until the building is complete. After just one month, I’m still on track. You can already see progress between the two videos.
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Penitentiary Hollow

Pictures from and around Penitentiary Hollow at Lake Mineral Wells State Park. This is a nice park for some light hiking. There was a bit of a squall brewing when I was there which made it a bit too windy for flying the drone. Most of these pictures were taken from ground level around Penitentiary Hollow which is a popular rock climbing spot. For $7 and a waiver you can run up and down the cliff. Jada proved herself to be a good climber so long as the rocks were no higher than 6″ tall. Continue reading “Penitentiary Hollow”

Wings Over Dallas

Here are a few pictures from Wings over Dallas 2017 air show featuring the Commemorative Air Force. I was not able to stick around for the flying part of the show. I was able to get in before dawn and have the run of the place for a couple hours to take pictures. I also got some pictures of some non-planes. I used to think that CAF stood for Confederate Air Force which would be a bit of an anachronism. Continue reading “Wings Over Dallas”

Millennium Phenom

At Dallas Executive Airport there is an Embraer jet, tail number N100FZ, painted up with images from Star Wars that made me laugh. On one side of the tail is the Millennium Falcon. On the other is a painting of what looks like an X-Wing with the fuselage of a jet. On the front and back of the plane there are painted-on thrust ports that look like the nose of the Space Shuttle. On one side there is a painted on Flux Capacitor. On the main door there’s a logo that looks like it is from Star Fleet and the engines are painted like warp nacelles. Continue reading “Millennium Phenom”

Plano Balloon Fest 2017

Last Sunday I got up early and drove up to the annual Plano Balloon festival. Being Sunday I was expecting there to be limited events. The morning schedule featured the balloon launch and a inbound contest. At dawn there was only one balloon on the field. This one was tethered to allow $25 vertical rides. At 7:30, more balloons arrived and started to inflate. By then the sun was already rising and the photo opportunities passing. Once those balloon left, they drew a big target on the ground. Balloons launched further to the south then attempted to hit as close to the box target without getting in it. Some of those balloons missed the field entirely. All in all, I need to remember to go on Saturday instead of Sunday if I want to get the full effect of a field of balloons. I have been to this festival 3 times now but never to the Saturday night activities. I’ll need to plan on going to the evening balloon glow next time.


This really goes under the heading, “did not really think this one through”. It all started simple enough. A co-worker is having a milestone birthday. Someone suggested filling cube with a bunch of balloons. It sounded like fun. I recruited a co-conspirator and made a plan. First question is how many balloon? If you assume that a typical 12″ balloon occupies a volume of one cubic foot and a typical cube is 8x8x5, then I would need 320 balloons to fill the space. Next step is to find some balloons. Target has bulk balloons but they only had assorted colors. Next stop was Party City with helium quality (read expensive) bulk balloons in a variety of colors. Given the milestone, black was chosen as appropriate. I decided that two bags of 72 would be sufficiently obnoxious. My plan was to inflate the balloons the night before but I was concerned that they would be all deflated by morning. I did one balloon test that was still full four days later. These are good balloons. The prospect of transporting that many filled balloons meant that I would be filling them in situ. Fortunately I have a little portable air compressor with an attachment for air mattresses. My timing showed it takes about a minute to fill one balloon. Additional time is needed to tie the balloon off. My co-conspirator took care of containment and tying balloons but abandoned me after the first hour. I had it down to about 75 seconds per balloon so that math worked out to 3 hours with the little compressor pumping away. At one point, the cleaning staff came by and just shook her head. It all paid off. When the victim came into work this morning he was properly surprised.

iTunes Movies Now in 4K

under $8

Back in the day I used to have a shelf full of VHS tapes. This shelf contained two copies of the original Star Wars Trilogy because… Star Wars. When widescreen VHS became a thing, I switched to it. When DVD came around, I had to buy Star Wars again. I ended up with a small room lined with VHS tapes on one side and DVDs on the other. Digital video came about at about the same time as Blu-ray. I skipped Blu-ray. I don’t think I’ve ever intentionally bought a Blu-ray disc even though I had a Blu-ray player. At the time it was a pretty easy decision because I did not have a TV that could tell the difference.
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On the 99¢ rack in iTunes this week we have the March 2017 movie called Life. When I saw the trailers this spring I just knew it would be bad. Rotten Tomatoes™ amazingly gave it a 67% fresh rating. That gave me a little hope that they might be some redeeming quality to this Alien rip off. When I saw it in the rental bargain bin, I decided to give it a try. Jake Gyllenhaal and Ryan Reynolds lead a cast of 6 astronauts on board the International Space Station. The plot revolves around the first return sample from the surface of Mars. With a little bit of gloucose and a jolt of electricity, they wake the facehugger up. They then name it Calvin. Calvin then spends the rest of the movie killing off the cast, I mean crew.
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The floodwaters in Houston have not finished rising 250 miles south. The ramifications are starting to be felt across the country in the form of higher gas prices at the pump. Here in Texas we have been enjoying gas prices that hover within 30¢ of the $2 mark. Every once in a while they dip below that mark. With the tragedy of Harvey, the flow of refined gas has been interrupted. The interruptions are caused by a disruption of the flow of crude oil coming in via ports and pipes. Motiva, Exxon Mobil and Valero have shut down refining activities as the storm moves north east. That represents 20 percent of the nation’s refining capacity.  That’s 3.9 million barrels per day. This is why we have reserves. The September futures market is up 6¢. This creates an economic incentive for other refineries to step up their production to make up the difference to bring us back into equilibrium. 

How does all of that map to our experience at the pump? Many busy gas stations rely on daily or more frequent deliveries of gas. The size of their underground storage tanks are optimized to satisfy customer demand while staving of ecological disaster. With a real interuption in that flow of fuel on the market, these companies are looking to buy gas at whatever the price. Gas stations have to choice between buying gas at exorbitante rates or stop selling altogether. A business should not be ablieged to sell gas at a loss. 

This apparent interruption in the flow of fuel causes people to panic. When you hear that they ar running out of gas, the unfortunate response is to go fill up your tank. That’s what we had starting yesterday and today. A run on the gas pumps causes them to actually run out of gas. This is exacerbated by the holiday weekend. By mid day we were seeing station report they were out of unleaded. You are OK if you need diesel or are willing to use E15 gas. Reports are coming in about $5 and $9 gas. By this evening the gas trucks rerouted from around the country are starting to arrive. The panic should be over by the weekend. 

When I was driving home this evening it struck me how fragile our society is. We have a run on the gas pumps and it starts looking like the precredit scroll from a zombie movie. People just need to calm down and it will be OK. The folks in Houston are the ones who really need our help. 

References: Motiva, Exxon Mobil, Valero, Total cease operations
By Jordan Blum Updated 3:54 pm, Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Follow the Geeks

In 2015 I made a trip up to Pentaluma, California to visit the brick TWiT House. The proprietor of this establishment was featured in a chapter of the book, Follow the Geeks by Lyndsey Gilpin and Jason Hiner. I just finished reading this book and enjoyed the stories about people that I have listened to as guests of the TWiT network. If you are a fan of this network then I can recommend the book. Most of the stories were about people I knew from TWiT network. The star of the book is the profile of the amazing Maya Penn. Anyone interested in diversity and women in STEM should read her chapter 10 profile.

Visiting the TWiT brick house was a treat. You get a front row seat to a live production studio. I got to see the recording of MacBreak Weekly and Security Now shows. Leo Laporte took some time between shows for a meet and greet with a photo op.