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Comment: Re:Run your own equipment (Score 3, Insightful) 96

I did this quite recently and I couldn't agree more!

After my Linksys started dying on a regular basis, I repurposed an old laptop that had been sitting untouched for years into an OpenBSD router. After fiddling with it for a while to get the settings correct, I switched out my old Linksys and haven't had so much as a hiccup since then. The 26 days uptime is ~19 more than my average with the crappy old Linksys, at the cost of a bit more power consumption. At some point I may upgrade my hardware to something lower-power, but so far I'm calling my experiment a sucess.

Comment: Re:It won't be long (Score 1) 325

by RPI Geek (#48546857) Attached to: Heathrow Plane In Near Miss With Drone

The only thing different about drones is that they are slow and hence easier seen.

No, absolutely not! Motion is much easier to see. Consider a deer; hard to spot when it's standing still, much easier once it starts moving.

The easiest way spot other aircraft when I'm flying (did I mention I'm a student pilot?) is because of their apparent motion against a (usually contrasting) background. When birds or other aircraft are at the same altitude as me they appear just about on the horizon, and they're much harder to spot. Even gliders with 15-18 meter wingspans are tough to spot when they're at the same altitude - in fact, head-on collisions is a big safety issue that can even trip up top glider pilots ( - the description on page 1 is particularly enlightening, and the graphic on page 3 shows the relative size of gliders relative to the time left to react). Drones are small and seeing one directly in front of me would NOT be easy.

There is zero new risk here and history shows that there is zero actual risk in this as nobody ever brought down a commercial airliner with a model airplane or helicopter. AFAIK it has not even been tried, ever.

The problem with this argument is that traditional model aircraft pilots didn't have cameras on their planes/helis. Now that drones come with them pre-installed, their pilots can fly at much longer range and without direct line of sight - traditional model aircraft pilots need to constantly watch their aircraft to keep it under control. Imagine the difficulty of hitting a target when your R/C heli is a few hundred feet away. Then imagine using an onboard camera to watch your target approach.

Now if you'd said that laws wouldn't prevent a terrorist from doing this, I'd agree with you. If you'd said that an outright ban on drones is unreasonable and untenable, I'd agree with you. I'd have even agreed if you'd said that the chances are slim of a terrorist actually using a drone maliciously. Where I strongly disagree is saying that the threat level hasn't changed. Technology has made drones more readily accessible and easier to pilot in a malicious manner, one need only look at the increased reports of near misses to realize that the number of drones being flown recklessly is increasing.

Comment: Re:Birds (Score 1) 115

by RPI Geek (#48485995) Attached to: FAA Report Says Near Collisions With Drones On the Rise
Birds may be heavier, but the various pieces of the many types of drones are harder and sharper; I don't know how you can say with such certainty that birds are more dangerous. Do you have any evidence to back up your claim? I know of no studies regarding drone strikes, let alone comparing them to bird strikes.

Also, birds are animals and can't really be regulated. People are - in theory at least, I'm beginning to doubt the practical applications - smarter and ought to know better.

Comment: Re:Avionics (Score 1) 115

by RPI Geek (#48485929) Attached to: FAA Report Says Near Collisions With Drones On the Rise

I know it would add cost but as someone else said why doesn't the FAA require a license and transponders on drones so that everyone knows what's in the air and who owns it?

With identity information, you're talking about a mode S transponder. These things are more expensive than you probably think.

Also, because the USA is really big, and (lesser, mode C) transponders aren't even required for flying in most airspace: you need one in class A airspace ( > 18,000ft MSL), in or above class B & C airspace (near large airports, with larger radii at higher altitudes), in the mode C veil around class B airports (an even bigger cylinder around the biggest airports), and > 10,000ft MSL unless you're < 2,500ft AGL.

Simple, right?</sarcasm>

So basically, transponders are only currently required at higher altitudes and near large airports. ATC is simply too busy dealing with the current air traffic to handle the rest of the country's airspace.

Comment: Re:How do they define a close call? (Score 4, Informative) 115

by RPI Geek (#48485799) Attached to: FAA Report Says Near Collisions With Drones On the Rise
Background: I am a student pilot, with ~35 hours in power planes and ~20 hours in gliders.

Define a few feet please.

The FAA has this definition which seems especially relevant in this discussion.

And do pilots also report to the FAA everytime they pass "within a few feet" of a bird?

It's quite common for pilots to radio their controller when they encounter a hazard. That's how your pilot knows to turn on the "fasten seatbelt" light when you're approaching turbulence; the same goes for flocks of birds or unidentified aircraft. Even so, it's not really fair to compare birds drones, for the same reason that deer don't get jaywalking tickets.

I can say through personal experience that just seeing other aircraft / birds takes a huge amount of my attention, even when the other gliders have 15-18 meter wingspans. Drones are much smaller than manned aircraft and they tend to move very slowly, making them even harder to see. The problem of seeing other gliders is a big enough issue where someone developed a technology called FLARM to reduce the number of collisions by notifying pilots of other gliders within ~4km; it has already saved many lives despite being only 10 years old.

So when I'm flying, I spend a large amount of my time looking for other aircraft. My eyes have much better resolution and FoV than a drone's camera, and I can swing my head around to look from side to side, and up & down - this gives me a better capability to look for hazards. Birds also tend to have good eyes & ears. There is a very good incentive for us to be vigilant: our lives are at stake.

On the other hand, drone pilots only have a camera, hooked up to a low-resolution video screen, which they would need to aim all around in order to scan for other aircraft. The problem is magnified by the fact that have a poor incentive to look for collision hazards: they have a few hundred dollars at stake, and they're probably already using the same camera to look at something on the ground.

The FAA has been hell bent on gaining government control over drones and they will make up any excuse they can, the scarier the better.

Sorry, I just don't buy the regulatory overreach argument in this case. My life could be put in jeopardy by someone playing with their new toy while I'm already flying low and slow on final approach; the last thing I need is another distraction when I'll be touching down (one way or another) within 15 seconds.

I would wager that most of the people writing the regulations are pilots of some capacity, and those who aren't certainly have ready access to many extremely experienced pilots; these people are just trying to protect the lives of millions of airline passengers, flight crew, and pilots.

Comment: Re:What? (Score 1) 55

by RPI Geek (#48425285) Attached to: Nielsen Will Start Tracking Netflix and Amazon Video
My wife got a Nielsen survey this year. She obliged them by dutifully filling out the book, and near the end of the week I glanced through it. I was surprised that she listed me as having watched TV with her nearly every day, when in truth I had only watched about 1-2 hours of TV in the whole week, and that was on Netflix.

I'm not sure why she lied in the diary, but it certainly cast the Nielsen ratings in a different light for me.

Comment: I'll let you know after a test drive/flight (Score 1) 151

by RPI Geek (#48084331) Attached to: The flying car I'd like in my garage first:
I haven't been keeping up on the latest flying cars, so I would need to do some research before I could even make an educated guess based on the various factors. I'd want to know price, fuel efficiency, insurance cost, payload, safety features, licensing requirements, etc.

Then after that, I'd want to have a test drive/flight in each to get a feel for the myraid non-numerical factors that go into a big purchase like this. How is the visibility, leg room, fit and finish, and the layout of the various instruments needed for flight vs driving. How do the controls work and is one model more intuitive / less intrusive than the other?

To be honest though, these sound expensive. I'll probably just keep my one car and glider club membership and continue saving money for my own sailplane - maybe an electric self-launch motorglider so I don't have to pay for fuel.

Comment: Cooperative board & card games (Score 1) 382

by RPI Geek (#47779129) Attached to: Ask Slashdot: What Are the Best Games To Have In Your Collection?
I find myself strongly favoring the cooperative board and card games I've played in the last few years. Sentinels of the Multiverse, Forbidden Island & Forbidden Desert, Hanabi, and Pandemic are excellent and the experience of working together is something that I never thought I'd find outside of a computer game.

Comment: Wow I was lucky... (Score 1) 293

by RPI Geek (#47248543) Attached to: Average HS Student Given Little Chance of AP CS Success
Holy shit, after reading these comments I feel incredibly lucky.

I graduated HS in 2000, and to make a quick comparison to what I'm reading here:
- I took AP Calc, AP Physics, and AP Comp Sci but my (public) HS offered lots of other AP courses.
- The teachers were made available (my AP Physics class had 8 students - again, in a public school) and they all taught the material instead of the test.
- My AP Comp Science teacher actually knew the material and cared about his students. We had new(ish) computers and a Linux (or Unix - I didn't know the difference at the time) box to log in to.

For taking these 3 exams I got a semester's worth of credits when I went to college. Those 20 credits put me far enough ahead to take classes towards - and eventually earn - a dual degree.

These programs do pay off. I'm glad I had teachers who cared enough to fight for the students, and an administration who listened. To all of the AP teachers out there, thank you for doing what you do. Especially you, Mr Baciewicz.

Comment: Re:Private Aviation is Surprisingly Approachable (Score 1) 269

If you're interested in learning to fly, see if your area has any glider operations. It is usually significantly cheaper to fly a glider than a power plane. The club I joined last fall gets me in the air for less than half the cost of flying a power plane (depending on weather) and in my opinion, I am getting a better education than I did in power planes.

Comment: Re:Ummm, probably not (Score 2) 142

by RPI Geek (#46659983) Attached to: Skydiver's Helmet Cam Captures a Falling Meteor

I could easily see the object being popped of of the top of his chute and then falling past him.

Because everyone knows that parachutes are ejected with explosive charges, or in the more modern versions, a bottle of compressed air.

I have gone skydiving, and the acceleration (or decelaration if you prefer) is rather violent. Without doing the math, I very much doubt that anything would be "popped off the top of the chute".

Another possible explanation is that the object fell from either the plane or another skydiver (as he was first out of the plane). I would deem this unlikely, but far more likely than a meteorite.

A rock of that size does not simply find its way into a plane, or into a skydiver's pocket. Gravel-sized rocks, sure. Something the size of your fist? No, just no.

Comment: Re:They do (Score 1) 406

by RPI Geek (#45610753) Attached to: Why Engineers Must Consider the Ethical Implications of Their Work

A lot of the engineers I've known who worked on military equipment do consider the ethical implications of their work. They feel they are helping protect our troops ...

I graduated with a dual BS in Mechanical Engineering and Computer Science. At graduation time, I very much wanted to be an engineer rather than a programmer, but I also didn't want to contribute to war in any capacity; so I narrowly focused my job search on employers who were NOT in the defense sector. Nearly everyone I told about my decision gave me the very same argument as you. My self-imposed restrictions certainly made my job search harder, so I expanded my search to programming where I found a satisfying career path that has absolutely nothing to do with engineering. Que sera sera.

The joke goes like this: What's the difference between Civil Engineers and Mechanical Engineers? Mechanical Engineers make weapons and Civil Engineers make targets.

"Mr. Watson, come here, I want you." -- Alexander Graham Bell