Sunday, March 9, 2014

Flying Field of Doom

It's embarrassing how obvious something can be once you figure it out. In our neighborhood we have a nice grassy field which hardly anybody ever uses, so it's essentially my own personal RC plane flying field, right at the bottom of our street. However, it has a Bermuda Triangle, a Zone of Doom, an Eater of Planes... and it took me way too long to figure out why.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

One year of RC planes

I just realized it's been a little over a year since I started messing with RC planes. Here's a summary of my experience so far. (Hint: it involves a bunch of foamcore and hot glue, a lot of crashing, and only a little blood.)

Before 2013 I had been flying small RC helicopters on and off for several years, namely the Blade mCX, the Blade mSR, and the Blade mQX. I found I enjoyed tinkering, fixing, and modifying the helis at least as much as flying them, which created a perverse sort of incentive to fly recklessly, since I wasn't particularly worried about the consequences of a crash. (I'd get a strange little thrill after each crash, wondering what I'd get to analyze and fix this time.) For a brief time I was into customizing the mSR with silly aftermarket parts (eg machined aluminum swashplates), but that got old pretty quick--what I really wanted to do was build things from scratch, maybe even things of my own design.

Building helicopters from scratch is a pretty advanced undertaking, and is nearly impossible at the scale I was comfortable flying. (I often need to fly near my kids if I'm going to fly at all, and so larger scale helis scare me.) Thus in early 2013 I decided to try my hand at RC planes.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Re: Counting the Cost of Nuclear ... and Road Traffic Accidents

(This is meant to be a response to Dominic's blog post Counting the Cost of Nuclear ... and Road Traffic Accidents, but his blog didn't let me post a comment of this length.)


I hesitate to respond, since I agree with your basic thesis on the hypocrisy around driving, and that hypocrisy stems in part from people's willingness to condemn anything as long as it doesn't require them to change their own behavior. But as The Internet Is For Disagreeing™, I must be a devil's advocate here.

I disagree with the knee-jerk calls to ban nuclear power, but they do stem from fear. You quote compelling statistics that show why we shouldn’t fear nuclear power--or rather, that if we fear nuclear power, it would be consistent to fear cars much more. You do this because you’re a scientist, and the beauty of science is that, through its discipline, we use measurement to set aside our fears (and our hopes) when deciding what is true. This discipline doesn’t always work, but it’s the best way we have to overcome the frailties of the human mind.

In an ideal world, these statistics would (through the rigor of scientific thought) overcome fear in the public mind. But the problem in this case isn’t ignorance of the statistics, it’s the scale of the fear. Fear of nuclear power is deep and profound, and not just because people are hypocritical and wicked.

Most obviously, there's a strong cultural fear of nuclear power because it was first introduced in the form of doomsday weapons. The public knows that our arsenals of nuclear weapons could Totally End Civilization, and yet somehow nuclear power plants are supposed to be safe. The problem is that the “somehow” is unclear for most people. Though the scale and speed of the reactions are different, though the safeguards and control measures are different, though a nuclear reactor will (as I understand it) never fail in the form of a nuclear explosion, the association is still there in people’s minds.

Even once we accept that controlled nuclear fission is a much less scary beast, there remains the problem that the beast is still genuinely dangerous, and on a very large scale, and is only made safe by harnessing it very, very carefully. We can take comfort in the fact that Fukishima has much stronger safety measures than Chernobyl did, but the fact is, if there weren't brave and brilliant people fighting to restore cooling right now, it would (as I understand) continue to heat up, then melt down, then turn into more than just a regional crisis.

Luckily for us, there are brave and brilliant people stabilizing the situation. But the tendency of a nuclear reactor, left unattended, is to get worse rather than better, and catastrophically so. That kind of failure mode is something new in the world, and it speaks to people’s fears more deeply than the (statistically more significant) threat of auto accidents.

Inside each nuclear reactor is a Fury harnessed. To ask people to accept it is to ask them to believe in the safety measures you've imposed. Because most of us are unlikely to ever understand the safety measures in any great technical depth, trusting in them is an act of faith. Ideally, it should not require faith, but just analysis of statistics. But in this case fear trumps statistics for all but the most scientific minds. Thus, when the safety measures fail publicly, and technicians (the Fury Harnessers themselves) scramble to contain the danger, it's no surprise that many people lose faith.

As for car accidents, the fear there is less because it’s diffuse. When one person dies in a car accident, it’s a catastrophe for a family and heart wrenching for a community. This happens over and over again in our society, but it’s scattered. It’s rare that a single car accident affects an entire city, let alone an entire nation. But when an out-of-control reactor seems to threaten a nation and beyond, people’s fears are aligned in space and time and the response is naturally amplified. Cars are more dangerous in the aggregate but less likely to incite a response for this reason.

My point is not that anti-nuclear sentiments are correct, but that they are natural, and to me it’s clear why people would react this way. We may believe nuclear power is worth the risk, and (armed with favorable statistics) we may be comfortable with our hubris in harnessing the Fury for our own ends. But we shouldn’t be surprised that many people are terrified along the way, particularly when thing go wrong. And if that leads to some inconsistency of thought, we should blame at least some of it on the hubris, and not just on frailty of the human mind.

(If you'd like to comment, please do so on Dom's original blog post.)

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

When You Go

I've recorded a cover of Jonathan Coulton's wonderful song, When You Go (original). My version is based on a piano arrangement by Jarrett Heather.

Here's my version, with my own piano and vocals:

When You Go by tdl

Friday, January 7, 2011


[by Tom Lokovic, circa 2007.]

Two weeks after his twenty-seventh birthday, Mel framed himself for a murder which he didn't commit. He did this to win the favor of the victim's widow. That is, she became a widow in the process, but she wasn't one at the time, and in any case he didn't even know she was married.

This may take a bit to explain.

Mel lived alone in a rent-controlled apartment in Lower-East Side Manhattan. He'd been unemployed for six months now, having found that Loan Officer was a job ill-suited for a man of his ambition. At least, that's how he thought of it. The real problem had been the ambition of Mel's manager, who had orchestrated a certain amount of fraud through the agency. Mel's coworkers were complicit in this, and Mel was thought to be, though in reality he had trouble following all the winking and whiting-out of numbers. The manager had finally let him go, offering a tiny bribe in exchange for Mel's promise of silence. Mel assured him that he couldn't explain what had been going on if his life depended on it.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Spinola's Bake Shop

Our friend Stacey has opened a wonderful bakery in our town, Murrysville PA. Spinola's Bake Shop has cakes, cupcakes, cookies, pastries, candies, and (soon) fresh baked bread.

I'm not unbiased, since I created the website for the bakery. But everything I've eaten there is amazing. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Fix my Flat

Fix my Flat

I'm like George Washington in those old-timey fighter jets he flew
as he fought to shed the imperial yoke of the British in World War Two.
Like me, George knew the painful truth of Power and Oppression
as his musket fire, raining down, taught Tyranny a lesson.
I know today how Georgie felt as he took on the Crown;
I'm stranded in this parking lot so late Starbucks closed down!
George didn't give his life against those Zeppelins on that fateful day
so I could wait an hour and a half tonight for AAA!

--Tom Lokovic