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Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Highest Form of Flattery

Imitation may be the highest form of flattery, but plagiarism irks me a little bit. Look at these pages:

aerodynamics of the autogyro
how autogyros work

Now, look at my autogyro page:
Autogyro History and Theory

Notice anything familiar? (Hint, hint: look at the diagrams that somebody must have spent hours creating, and the text that somebody wrote to explain them.)

Why do people do that? I mean, all they have to do is ask. I've never told anybody that they couldn't use any of the information from this site, just that they give me credit for it and a link. It especially irks me that that the second of those pages is copyrighted. Don't go around copyrighting plagiarism!

Oh well, I sent them an e-mail. Hopefully my name and a link to my site will show up there pretty soon.

Update 2007-08-30
Well, the problem's been taken care of. There's now a note at the top of each of those pages, giving me credit and linking to my site. In response to my original e-mail, I received a reply from someone named John, telling me that a lot of the work on those sites was done as student projects. The students were warned not to plagiarize, but, alas, this seems to have snuck through. I can't say it's the first time. I've run across websites plagiarizing me before, and it usually turns out to be student projects. I wonder, just what type of software is out there for professors to detect plagiarism. Actually, a quick Google search found TurnItIn.com. I guess the challenge now is getting more professors to use it.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Being Happy with When I Am

I've often longed to be able to travel through time. There are so many things I want to know, so many things I want to see. I mean, can you imagine seeing a real live Tyrannosaurus? How about a pterodactyl? But sometimes, I just look around me at the world, and we've got plenty to marvel at now.

I mean, sure, I may never see an allosaurus attacking a brontosaurus (yes, I know, apatosaurs is the proper scientific name, but it'll always be a brontosaurus to me), but I can still watch a group of 7 ton predators attacking 100 ton prey (actually, blue whales can get up to 180 tons, but I'm not sure if orcas will still go after one that big). And I can see various flying animals that spend months, or even years, in the air without ever coming down to land. And how about an animal with a proboscis so well developed that it has around 40,000 individual muscles, sensitive enough to pluck a single blade of grass, but strong enough to rip apart trees.

My longing to visit the past isn't just about natural wonders - there are plenty of human accomplishments I'd like to see, too, like the Hanging Gardens, or to be alive during the golden age of aviation, and to think how exciting it must have been to see that revolutionary technology developing in front of my eyes. But you know what, we have some pretty damned good engineering marvels in the modern world, like the Sydney Opera House, or the Chunnel, or even just about any major sports stadium. I mean, not that I'm a big Dallas fan, but take a look at the new Cowboys Stadium. And you want to talk about living through the emergence of a radical technology - just look at computers and the Internet. When I was a kid, I was shocked to learn that my grandmother grew up without electricity. My grand kids will be just as shocked to learn that I can remember my family's first computer, and that it was years after that before we got Internet (and by modem!). When you look at it that way, these are exciting times we're living in.

And as much as I'd like to travel into the past to learn things, I'd just as much like to go to the future, to learn the answers to the questions I know won't be answered in my lifetime, like if there's any other life out there, and what it might be like. But we know a lot right now. I've read Darwin's Origin of Species, and I'm currently reading The Voyage of the Beagle. And one of the things I think is so fascinating, is to see the questions people had then, the things they would have wanted to travel to the future to learn, and to know that I'm living in the age when they've been answered. Like genetics - Darwin and Mendel knew that there had to be something that passed on traits from organisms to their offspring, but they had no idea what it was. You can tell by reading Origin that Darwin was really groping around in the dark on this. But we've discovered DNA. We know what it is, and the basics of how it works. And every day, we're learning more and more about it. And plate tectonics! That's another one that jumped out at me reading the Voyage of the Beagle. Darwin discussed how he found fossilized sea creatures on land, and how it indicated how the land must have been moving, but he had couldn't have known how it all happened. Now we do.

One of the biggest reasons I'd like to be in the future is space travel. I would absolutely love to be in zero gravity, to see the Earth from that far away, to travel to other planets, but I know it's something that realistically won't happen in my lifetime. But, just 150 years ago, people thought the same thing about flying. I know flying has become so commonplace today, that most people aren't too excited by it, and some people fly so often they even get downright annoyed. But just think about how amazing it is. For thousands of years, probably at least tens of thousands of years, and maybe even hundreds of thousands of thousands of years if earlier hominids were creative enough, we have looked to the skies and dreamt of flying like the birds, to have the freedom to go wherever we wanted. It's been in legends, myths, da Vinci's notebooks, but we'd never been able to accomplish it until just about 100 years ago. And now, I can go to the airport, rent a plane, and for a few hours live out the dreams of all of those ancestors, soar like a bird, and look down at the Earth from above the clouds.

So while I'll keep on wondering about all those things from the past that have been forever lost to time, and dreaming about the future and all the possibilities, I can't help but be awestruck by the world around me in the present, and be happy to be when I am.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Website Update- New Photos from Galveston, Houston, & Natural Bridge Caverns

Well, after nearly 3 months of dormancy for this site before the last update [the main site, not the blog], I've got another one ready to go already. I've added a new page to the Photos section, titled Galveston, Houston, & Natural Bridge Caverns Photos. It's from my family's recent road trip vacation to those areas. I mention this on the page, but it's worth repeating here. Our old digital camera had been stolen a few weeks before, so we went out and bought a new camera just for the trip. It was an 8.1 MP Sony DSC-W90. We were extremely disappointed with the image quality from the camera, and took it back it as soon as we returned from our trip. The images were very grainy, and not even as good as our old 5 MP Sony camera that we'd lost. In fact, they were so grainy (even in decent lighting conditions) that the employees were sure that we had the settings wrong (we didn't). I even tried taking pictures with another W90 to make sure we didn't just have a faulty one, but the other camera didn't work any better. In the end, we exchanged it for the 7.2 MP Sony DSC-W80, which we are much happier with. Who would've thought that 1 MP would make such a big difference?

Friday, August 17, 2007

Website Update- Updated X-Plane Pages, New Links

Man, am I long overdue for some updates to this site. The last one was way back in April, so I completely missed my update per month goal in May, June, and July [on the main website, not on this blog]. I guess I'll try to make up for that with a lot of changes this time around.

Okay, for my biggest update today, I've done some work to the X-Plane, UDP, Visual Basic Tutorial for X-Plane version 8. Thanks to feedback, I've realized that some of the algorithms on that page weren't as good as they could have been, so I've added more efficient algorithms. I've also given the page a clickable table of contents. Also, on the X-Plane, UDP, Visual Basic Tutorial for X-Plane version 6, I already had a small note telling people of the Version 8 tutorial. I updated that note to include mention of the improved algorithms, and made the note bold so it would stand out more.

In the article, X-Plane as an Engineering Tool, I've added an additional paragraph explaining in more detail some of the shortcomings of X-Plane. I also fixed a typo, misidentifying one of the screenshots as from Plane-Maker, instead of from X-Plane.

Okay, now to get into the smaller changes. I get a lot of e-mails from people sending me links to interesting sites. I've received a few that I want to include links to on my site. (Note: This isn't a link exchange, and please don't send me an e-mail asking for a link exchange. If you have a cool site, I'll link to it, but only because the site is worth it, not so that I can get a link back to here.) So, here are the links I added, and the pages where I added them.

BTW, if you're reading this on my blog, and you happen to be aware of my post per week goal, since this entry does link to new content on this site, I'm counting it as this week's post. Yeah, it's kind of cheating, but I don't have time to write a longer post.

Commenting Change

Once again, I'm changing commenting policies. I'm removin the CAPTCHA (one of those pictures of a random string of characters that users have to type in to be able to leave their comment). It wasn't working properly - many people who were typing it in properly were still having their comments tagged as junk. Also, I went through the last 40 junked comments to this site (about 1 day's worth), and only 1 spam comment would have made it through if I didn't have the CAPTCHA. I figure that's not too bad, as long as I keep up with checking the comments a few times a week. And I'd rather have a few spam comments get through, than have a few legitimate comments get junked.

Friday, August 10, 2007

My Favorite Airplanes

Well, I conceived of this blog entry thinking it would be easy - just come up with a list of my top 5 or top 10 favorite aircraft, write a short entry on why I like each one, and put up a few pictures. However, when I got around to trying to figuring out my handful of favorite airplanes, well, it's tough. There are so many cool airplanes, it's tough to narrow it down. I mean, really, I could just about say, go here, and you'll see most of my favorites.

So, first of all, I decided to do just airplanes - no helicopters, autogyros, dirigibles, or any other type of aircraft. It's still not easy, and I'll probably come back and look at this post later, and wonder why I didn't include certain other airplanes, but this is probably a pretty good representation. Second, I didn't include anything from Carter Aviation Technologies. I figure I'm a little biased on that, since I help design them.

Now, to describe my criteria for selecting these planes- there wasn't any. These planes aren't necessarily the best, fastest, prettiest, or most successful. There's just something about them, that for whatever reason, I just find cool. So, if you want to see what they are, just follow the link to below the fold, where they're presented in no particular order.

North American F-86
This airplane is, quite possibly, my favorite looking airplane. There's just something about its lines. It's not too pointy, like a modern supersonic fighter, and with the swept wings, it's just so graceful.

Lancair 320
Lancair 320
Back when I was in college, I was so used to visiting airports, and seeing all the post WWII metal airplanes, when I saw my first picture of this composite beauty, with those sexy curved lines. I remember thinking to myself, "Now this is what a modern airplane should look like."

Consolidated PBY Catalina
PBY Catalina in the water with its crew
PBY Catalina in flight
This plane's so ugly it's cute. I don't know, I've just always had a thing for flying boats, especially big ones with hatches all over the place. I finally got to see one of these in person for the first time last week, and it looks even cooler in person.

Vought-Sikorsky V-173
Vought V-173 Zimmer Skimmer
Affectionately known as the "Flying Pancake," or the "Zimmer Skimmer," in honor of its designer, Charles Zimmerman, this airplane was an attempt to give the U.S. Navy a high speed aircraft with good low speed characteristics to let it land on a carrier. Ultimately, with catapults and arresting wires, it lost out to jets, but it was still a very interesting concept.

1903 Wright Flyer
1903 Wright Flyer
The first truly successful airplane. Sure, there were other people that may have gotten a heavier than air machine to lift off before them (like Hiram Maxim), but nobody that did it in a machine that they could control. Orville and Wilbur really were among the first true aeronautical engineers. Although I could write a lot more about it, there's nothing more to be said on why it belongs in this list.

Sukhoi Su-37
It may not be stealth, but it incorporated thrust vectoring nozzles before any operational U.S. fighter. I remember the first time I watched a video of this airplane maneuverinng. I couldn't believe my eyes. I never thought it was possible for a jet to move through the air like that.

Beech Staggerwing
Beech Staggerwing
It's not just the looks that make me like this plane, although that would probably be enough. I got to see one up close in person, and the interior is so roomy. I'm used to flying Cessna's, and this thing's huge by comparison.

Savoia-Marchetti S.55
Savoia-Marchetti S.55
Another flying boat. This one's completely unorthodox, though. The two huge pontoons are where the passengers ride, and the wing's so thick, that the pilot sits in a cockpit in the center wing section. It's practically a flying with, since the tail is just stuck on with a frame. It just looks cool.

Horten Ho IV
Horton Ho IV on the ground
Horton Ho IV in flight
It's hard to pick a favorite Horton flying wing, but I think this might be it. Now this is one graceful airplane.

Messerschmitt Me-262
Messerschmitt Me-262
Okay, that picture I found above may not have the best paint job, but that's still one heck of a plane. The first operational jet fighter in history, and pretty cool looking, too, with that triangular fuselage (you need a front view to see what I'm talking about). Now, I know you're not supposed to do this, but when I was in the NASM in Washington D.C., I checked to make sure noone was looking, and reached my hand out to touch that plane. Who knows if it would have made a difference during the war - thankfully it didn't last long enough to find out.

Boeing 314 Clipper
Boeing 314 Clipper
What can I say? I like sea planes. And this one was huge - it had two decks. When it was introduced, it was the largest civil airplane in service.

Lockheed Vega
Lockheed Vega
If only for Wiley Post and Amelia Earhart, this airplane would be well remembered. But, it was a very modern design for its time. It had a fully cantilevered wing - no struts or wires bracing it. It was also one of the first airplanes to take advantage of certain NACA research by incorporating the engine cowling and wheel fairings.

Bell Boeing V-22 Osprey
V-22 Osprey
Now, you might think that since I work for a company developing a technology that could compete with tilt-rotors, that I might not like this aircraft. And I realize that this pushes the boundaries of my "airplanes only" rule that I stated above. Plus, I realize all the problems that Bell and Boeing had during the development of this aircraft. But still, it's pretty cool. It's much more practical than any other high speed VTOL aircraft that came before it. And a lot of the problems that Bell and Boeing had were due to trying to conform to, I think, overly stringent and conservative military requirements. They weren't able to build a composite aircraft that really took advantage of the materials. And even with the company I work for, I can see niches for both tilt rotors and slowed rotor compound aircraft in the future. Plus, have you ever seen this thing fold up to fit on a carrier?

Erco Ercoupe
Erco Ercoupe
And finally, the Ercoupe. This is the type of plane I fly, so I may be a little biased. But this was a very innovative aircraft, with many new design features to improve safety. I think it's interesting to note that this airplane was first flown in 1937, the same year as a Piper Cub. To see how much more modern the Ercoupe looks, you know Fred Weick had a design ahead of its time. Plus, it's just so cute.

Okay, I know I left out a lot of cool planes, like the P-51, F-14, the Boeing 747, B-17, B-29, XB-70, Pogo Fighter, X-15.... Well, I think you can see my problem. But I think this list is still pretty good. As cool as so many aircraft are, I think there's just something about the ones I listed here that sets them apart to me.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Letter to Pharmacy about MBT Shoes

Sorry for not making a post last week, but I was on vacation with my family (who am I apologizing to? I don't have any regular readers). So, here's a short post to make up for not having one last week, and I'll try to write up something else before the end of the week.

Actually, this is just quick follow up to the post about Massai Barefoot Technology Shoes. I mentioned in the beginning of that post that it was in a pharmacy where I originally saw those shoes. To be exact, the pharmacy was Harvest Drug & Gift. I'd already intended contacting them about the shoes before visiting their website, but once I did actually visit the site this past Monday, I saw just how prominently they were displaying MBT shoes. So, I sat myself right down and wrote them an e-mail, copied below.

I recently visited your store and saw the MBT shoes you had on display. They piqued my interest, so I did a little research about them. Admittedly, I'm neither a doctor nor a scientist, but from the information I could find, I did have some concerns regarding these shoes. I would assume that as doctors, your primary concern is the well being of your patients, so I thought you might be interested in what I found.

I have a detailed write-up of what I found on my personal website at:
[link - I included the actual url in the letter, but it's so long it screws up the formatting on this page.]

Here are the major points:
  • MBT shoes do show promise, but the studies to date have only been preliminary - more follow up studies are needed to confirm their efficacy.
  • There haven't been enough clinical studies done with these shoes to identify possible negative side effects.
  • Anecdotal evidence suggests that there are serious side effects possible from long term use of these shoes.
  • One study which examined relieving knee pain in patients with knee osteoarthritis did not find a big difference between MBT shoes and "conventional" New Balance sneakers.

In light of the anecdotal evidence suggesting negative side effects, the lack of clinical studies addressing the issue, and considering that at least one study found significantly less expensive shoes accomplishing nearly the same results, I would suggest being very cautious in recommending these shoes to your customers, and possibly even recommending that they only use the shoes under the guidance of a physician or physical therapist (as was suggested by one therapist quoted in one of the articles I found). Perhaps you already do counsel your customers in such a way, or do have some warning signs posted that I missed, in which case this e-mail is completely unnecessary. Or perhaps you know of some studies which do address side effects, in which case I'd be grateful if you could pass them on to me so that I could update the article on my website.

Jeff Lewis

If I hear anything back from the pharmacy, I'll post it on this blog. But seeing as how it's been a couple days already without even an acknowledgement of receipt, I'm not holding my breath. Maybe I'll try snail mail if I don't hear back from them within a couple weeks.

Added 2009-07-08 I realize that I mentioned my original MBT post at the beginning of this entry, but I just want to be sure that readers don't miss it. It contains a much more in depth look at the shoes, and has generated a good discussion in the comments section::
A Skeptical Look at Masai Barefoot Technology Shoes

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