Monday, April 19, 2021

A brave new world

   Just seconds ago I watched a helicopter fly..... ON MARS!!

   I am sitting in my 'regular' booth at The Parkway Family restaurant on the NE corner of Madison's 'Beltline' (highway). For the first time since having a phone with capabilities beyond being a 'phone', I am the Only person in a busting room that is completely engrossed in my phone! There are about twenty folks here, arranged in six groups 

   The Big Group:

   Ten people; three tables; is *Always* here in some size (+1 new arrival as I write). Age range late sixties to grossly elderly; Successful farmers, business owners, schmoosers, superficially nice. The King of the group send like a big Tool. Judged solely by how he keeps 'Court' but I don't really know him.


  The ball player and Co:

   Three guys, including The Ball Player, who is almost always here. He's the one and only 'regular' here who acknowledges my presence. He's genuinely a good guy, (AFAICT).  He's often met by a pretty daughter, or a nice wife, or both.  He politely interacts with the big group (just like he does with me), but is not a part of it. I long for him to join me someday at my booth, but I don't think the thought will pass through his mind. I'm cool with that. I still hope though.


 The Mature Administrators:

  Two, in the boot almost next to me, to the left; Not regulars; Late sixties; Skinny, short gray (not white) hair;  Self assured, professional demeanor; Posture and body language is Super Relaxed.  They're engaged in a deep, Satisfying conversation that's smoothly rolling from secretive whispers, to loud laughter, with a wonderful range in between, and a smattering of pro lingo and buzzwords.  I think one of them may be faking it though...

   **Correction: The woman who was eclipsed by the back of the booth back, and thus I couldn't see her very well is, thanks to her brief 'parade of review', from their booth to the cashier station,  much younger, and sexier than I thought, possibly mid fifties, definitely sexy. Her short hair is Chestnut collored and is as short and adorable as anyone on a Roman Holiday.  It's what every aging woman who chopps off her hair imagines she looks like..... But doesn't.  She is too skinny though, and her Old Lady pants and fingertip length coat didn't allow me a sight of her Tush (probably too skinny).   However, in the attempt at a glimpse I got a shiver in my timber when I cought sight, for three solid steps, of her buff colored heels, that I, unfortunately, don't know how to describe, gave me the same feeling that's usually reserved for catching a whiff of a proper application of Perfume (of which I also, sadly, lack the vocabulary to describe... Functionally ;)


The Cute, Hungry Girls

  Two; Twenties.  They're all the way across the room, in the center both on the South (opposite to me) wall. I missed their arrival (and while writing, their Departure).  One girl is mostly eclipsed by a member of The ball players group, but I can see she's a vibrant, happy, confident, youthful, sweetie....I think. The other one, the one I have a great view of, is HUNGRY, and cute. Every single time I happen to look, she is either taking a giant bite of whatever (non breakfast) she's eating, or she's wiping her mouth with the ONE napkin this great eatery provides to each patron (Something it's taken me Years to appreciate).

  By now there is only a splinter of the Big group left and all the others are gone. There are a group of young Cops (out of uniform, talking office politics) where the Sexy administrator and her mentor (??) we're at. The Alpha is a douche. I can tell.

  Either way, I'm done describing folks because I want to record my feelings about flying a helicopter ON MARS!!!!.

Fucking MARS.

I flew my first R/C helicopter in the mid mid nineties. It was my first 'hobby/interest' that I was able to not only 'succeed' in, be to simply 'BE' in, exclusivity And Completely thanks to the internet!

  Yesterday, I crashed, and broke, and repaired, and broke again (much better this time) a Chinese made quadcopter that has capabilities, and a ease of operation for the $ that should imply it's fragility, yet it's robustness and resilience is truly spectacular. 

   The most similar experience is the difference between my use of film SLR cameras, and my later usage when I was freed by the transition to digital SLR.  FREEing is an accurate word.

Back in the nineties, the only electronics were the radio receivers and little motors that physically moved things like the throttle for the internal combustion engine breed  buried deep (and upside down) in the heart of the intricate machine, or the various other 'Control' linkages

I could only fantasize about having any sort of 'camera' aboard. Believe me, I did. Plenty.  While it was 'possible' at this time to do it, it was way way way outside of my means. And this is only for still images, and definitely NOT for live viewing (at this point, except for laptops, screens were still tubes, this was the AlphaPager era for me).  The good thing was that I had little interest in seeing what my helicopter saw, except as a novelty. My sole, overriding desire was to Remotely Control a thing, built by me, that has capabilities of which I myself did not. In this case FLIGHT!!


  My quadcopter, ordered from China is the JJRC X17.  It has a 4k video camera that is motion stabilized using dual motors that using information from fast, accurate position orientation sensors, hold the image as if the camera is on a vintage aluminum sturdy tripod, but it's NOT. It's flying around. And it's LIVE!!

LIVE!!!, Stabilized, +HD, video that I can watch...... On my PHONE!!!


  NUTS!!!


The thing is, though.  When that drone flies. It's not ME flying it. Even though I almost always fly it with GPS mode off. Which means that instead of the little computer in the drone that knows Where it is and then telling itself WHERE to fly to, under instructions from me, the operator.  I give the instructions to the thing myself (either using the old school transmitter, or using my phone).  The point is, that there is always a computer that senses it's own position and takes care of the "Flying" under my instruction. In my mind that's vastly different than what I used to do with my R/C Helicopter (my first was the Nexus Raptor 30 in 1997).  The "delegation through technology" had already started in the hobby earlier with the advent of the "yaw gyro" which was a non computerized electro mechanical device that had a physical spinning "gyro" connected to an electronic circuit that would 'alter' the electrical signal going to the tail rotor control linkage actuator in order to 'correct' the signal to 'automatically' counteract whatever current yaw (left\ right rotation) the laws of physics impart on that spinning wheel.  

   Basically, if the gyro senses the helicopter rotating left, it adds it's own 'input'  to the actuator that controls how much force the tail rotor exerts on the airship, thus 'helping' the pilot by removing the need to constantly use their limited processing power to keep the nose of the heli pointed the way they want it to.

  Basically, once that "gyro" was used, the pilot became an operator, or at least a partial operator. Another 'entity' was 'performing' tasks.  That was before my time in the hobby. Without that bit of tech, I'd have never had the resources to even enter the hobby. Big Respect to anyone who's remotely flown, sans trail rotor gyro! Even more respect to those who invented the tech to lower the bar of every. 


That said,  even at the time I everted the hobby, a new (grossly out of my resources) tech was replacing the physical mechanical gyros with what they called "piezoelectric gyros". Which now, is easy to explain because everyone understands how their phone senses it's own position. The piezo gyro did the same thing, without the physical spinning gyro. Just a chip that child sense it (only in the yaw axis though), and in a glimpse of the future.....a computer to control it. As I said, it was easy outta my league. In fact the thing (there was only one for a while) cost more than twice than that of my busted budget quadcopter... Just for the "gyro"!  And that was fifteen years ago!

 The thrill I got came from doing something I was not designed to do. The same reason I was drawn to SCUBA as a teenager.

It was worth the hours of construction, the expense with no expected payback, the incredibly steep and periless learning curve (even though I delegated partial control of one critical aspect to a spinning mass, and a electronic circuit), just to see a thing I made shuck the Earthly bond of gravity at my (mostly) control. I was a God! Almost.

  To tell you the truth, it was worth it, the first time I ran the machine while it was secretly anchored to the Earth. Well before my first 'flight'.

   The assemblege of parts, tech, and me and came together to make a thing that was MORE Capable than I. Even though it hasn't done it yet. It was CAPABLE, and I knew it. It was just doing it that remained.

  Not just enhancing a capability I already have. The way moving via horse is enhanced compared to waking, and a car.....  Or printing is to writing. This was a NEW capability.  Flight! Even if only merely remote controlled (hat tip to the Brothers Wright, or the balloon folks before.. THAT must've felt GOOD!).


Anyway, I sat here watching the folks at the Parkway and through the magic of my Pixel phone I watched a video of a little helicopter, half the size of my first helicopter, FLY ON MARS!!!  I teared up when I watched it, and I'm crying right now reminiscing about the feeling from an hour or so ago.

  As I now fantasize about my trip to Mars. I imagine using all of our tech to make a human scale helicopter that does not fly itself... At all. It's all piloted, not Operated. But no input (or output) into control. That's for the pilot.

   Think bicycles. Except the power source.


Of course, I'd like to do this on Earth first. I'm imagining a super re engineered Bell-47 (ultimate human creation) designed by, me, Trek, Bell, and Tesla!!  Built in my garage.

   Investors needed!

Later, I'll pilot one on Mars if I can.


Okay. That's it. We've / they've flown a drone on MARS.  Everyone knows that tech is cool. But ever since dogs and monkeys became the first spacefareers, we've confused human achievement, with societal achievement. It's a slippery slope. It's HUBRIS! Maybe. AI will win.


 Don't give up too much control to tech.

While my quadcopter is vastly superior in functionality, reliability, expense, ease of operation, capabilities. It does not help me to leverage my own abilities to achieve my goals, it does it for me, cheaply. Or at least changes the goals.

Don't let tech change your goals, use tech to achieve your goals.


Spaghetti Monster

2021 April 19 1127











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