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March 17, 2008

Why I don't *really* need Internet on my phone

Recently I bought an used Blackberry off Ebay. I was planning to use it amongst others for browsing on my At&T generic data plan. But, surprise surprise, Blackberries can go online only through the Blackberry Data Plan, the cheapest variant of which is 30 dollars per month. I was paying at the time only 10 dollars per month for a Media basic plan that included one megabyte of data per month. The browsing I was doing was infrequent and it involved mainly checking the weather, news, occasional frustrating attempts to get maps or directions, and checking my email.


I was really set to get my 7280 to go online, and for a while I was hanging onto threads of hope from  websites like blackberryfaq.com . It seems it is possible to get at least some Crackberries to go online on a generic data plan. But trying out all their tutorials, countless resets and forages into the deepest features under the wrench icon yielded no result. The third party browser Opera mini (the phone's browser icon refused to appear), could not connect to the Internet. I was undecided whether to fork out the extra 20 dollars per month, so I started looking for alternatives. First, checking email via SMS. I found a free service called teleflip.com which, when tied to an email address, will send incoming emails to the phone as text messages. Only mail coming from addresses added to a list is forwarded to the phone, and you can reply via text to these people. The service is fairly easy to set up and overall user friendly. You will need to give them your password. I made an email account just for this purpose, and set up filters in gmail to forward emails coming from certain addresses to the "phone account".

 Encouraged by my success in setting up email exchanges through SMS, I googled a way to get other information services via the same method. And Google itself came to the rescue, with its SMS service.

Most of the information one would need on his or her phone can be accessed by texting a Google number with a query. Weather, directions, dictionary, translation, business listings and much more...Google will text you right back with the answer. The web page shows how to format the outgoing message via examples.

Needless to say I cancelled my media plan and switch to an SMS plan, saving 5 dollars per month in the process  :)


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March 08, 2008

STL to DXF Batch Converter - free software

I created an Excel VBA Macro that converts Stereolitography STL files (ASCII format) into AutoCAD DXF files (again, ASCII format). It can convert multiple files in a single run.

You can find the program in the solvengineer.com Codes page. 

A free and easy way to create STL files is to build a model in Google Sketchup and export it to an STL file via an  STL export plugin.

You can download a free DXF viewer, EDrawings 2008, here



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March 02, 2008

Light Sport Aircraft Entry Cessna 162 Skycatcher versus the Cessna 150/152

I'm really looking forward to this Sport Pilot thing to take off, pun intended. I've always wanted to fly, took lessons numerous times, and in one occasion made it past the solo stage. But lack of money, need to relocate and other issues always thwarted my dream of getting my Private Pilot's License.

But the PPL requires a big commitment in terms of time and money.  And some of the skill sets you are required to demonstrate proficiency in during the check-ride I am confident I wouldn't be applying during the first few years after I get the license. That is, I would be content to, for a while, just fly around in a small airplane sightseeing and landing at airports near my home base.

This kind of flying is what the Sport Pilot license was created to promote. Right now, although there is a healthy variety of aircraft that qualify under the Sport Aircraft rule, not all flight schools are offering this type of training on the menu.


But one can still plan and try to get informed, and knowing as much as possible about the aircraft choices available should one embark on the Sport Pilot journey is of paramount importance. Most offerings come from small and relatively unknown companies, many based in Europe where their products have been flying for a while. That is because operating costs for general aviation are much higher in the Old World than here in the US, which creates a market for cheap, unsophisticated aircraft.

The biggest and most respected manufacturer of trainers in the US, Cessna, has decided to enter what it see as a lucrative market and announced the imminent addition of an LSA aircraft to its stable, the Cessna 162 SkyCatcher. The prototype is slated to fly this year.

In number and looks, the aircraft appears to be an update to the venerable Cessna 152, a widely used trainer in which I had the pleasure of getting about forty hours of dual instruction and solo flying.

I'm going to compare the two aircraft based on the specifications published on the Cessna website and a 1976 Cessna 150 POH that I have around the house. The 150 was the predecessor of the 152, and since it is a more basic aircraft, I believe it is closer to the Sport Pilot limits than the Cessna 152.   

The biggest difference is the Maximum Gross Weight. The 150 comes in at a 'hefty' 1600lb while the 162 weighs only 1320lb...which not coincidentally is the maximum gross weight allowed for Sport Pilot aircraft. While obviously this is just a regulatory number, and it is likely that the 162 can fly at a higher gross weight, it turns out that the SkyCatcher is truthfully about 300 pounds lighter than the 150 Commuter, if we compare the empty weights: 830 pounds versus 1104.


This is definitely good news, since both aircraft use variations of the same engine, the Teledyne O200 rated at 100BHP. In terms of performance, the 162 beats the 150 in both cruise speed and rate of climb. In terms of range, the 162 again beats the 150. The 162 has 24 gallons of usable fuel while the 150 only has 22.5, with the option of adding long range tanks for a total of 35 gallons. At the same time, the useful load of the 162 is only slightly less than that of the 150, 490lbs vs. 496lbs.

The Cessna 162 SkyCatcher is equipped for day and night VFR flying, and sports a glass cockpit with two displays.  No doubt some of the weight savings that allows this airplane to outperform its ancestor came from the instrument panel, and part of that was realized through technological advances, and the rest through sheer simplicity. After all, a Light Sport aircraft does not need to be IFR certified :)


Let's hope that the SkyCatcher is as sturdy as the 152. I've made some pretty bad landings in that little plane, and it stayed in one piece. In fact, there is a version of the 152, called the Aerobat , which has been certified for aerobatic flying.

I'm looking forward to reading the specs on production 162s and I hope they will not change, because right now it seems Cessna has a winner in their stable. 


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