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Squishable Plane

Cynbe has been thinking about learning to fly r/c (radio control) model planes again. He started some years ago, but at that time he gave it up in favor of other more pressing things on his plate. While we’re in Santa Cruz, things are feeling stable enough that he wants to try again — plus, being outside in the Cruz is glorious any time of year (though lots of folks born in Austin said they feel that way, too).

The hardest part of learning to fly r/c is the beginning, when it’s only too easy to crash and destroy your model plane. Cynbe is the methodical one in our marriage, and after carefully researching online, he came up with a model called the Great Planes U-Can-Do EP. This trainer seems to have been around since 2003; the last mention of it on a discussion board is in 2005, but it’s still being manufactured and is in stock at the usual places. Superficially it resembles most trainer foamies — except that, unlike any other plane we’ve seen, it is waaay flexible, even floppy…actually, um, squishy. Literally: this plane is made of such soft foam that you can bend it double. Here’s Cynbe demonstrating by bending a wingtip. Yes, it pops right back when he lets go.

Cynbe bends a wingtip of the U-Can-Do EP
Cynbe bends a wingtip of the U-Can-Do EP

That line down the middle of the cockpit area is a zipper. That’s right, the fuselage is so flexible that it unzips like a purse, and inside are the battery, receiver, and motor control. The wing is not flat; it has a normal airfoil cross-section. It is actually built up just like a balsa wing would be, with longitudinal spars and formers and a skin, but they’re all made of super-flexible foam. You can also bend the fuselage double with no discernible ill effects. Here’s a better view of the squishy wing, from Johan Sundqvist’s page.

Johan Sundqvist's U-Can-Do EP, majorly bent but totally unharmed
Johan Sundqvist’s U-Can-Do EP, majorly bent but totally unharmed

I visited various forums, and found some folks who hated this plane. Their reasons varied from tirades about the control horns breaking at the slightest shock to the engine being hopelessly underpowered to the fuselage ripping apart during normal maneuvers. We’ve adopted Beginner’s Mind for this project; I want to know what’s wrong with the design and what we can do to make it better, because if it does what Great Planes claims it does, it should be a big help indeed for the rank amateurs among us who are willing to learn by doing. So far, we’ve assembled the airframe; in the next few days we’ll populate the electronics. Then we’ll see what this puppy can actually do.

Model Aircraft Videos

We’ve wanted to fly a video camera for a long time, but we settled for watching our friend Knut’s excellent video work. Then we were in Fry’s the other day on a general parts run, and saw what looked like a great camera for initial experiments: the Midland XTC-100. It’s tiny, light, relatively inexpensive, and we felt that we could afford to lose it in a crash, if that’s what was in the cards. This vid is our first attempt, using a Parkmaster 3D lofting the camera, which is simply stuck on the fuselage with duct tape and looking downward between the landing gear. The flying site is Lighthouse Field, Santa Cruz, California. Sorry about the unsteadiness; apparently the camera’s added weight and drag, even if small, makes a noticeable difference in the Parkmaster’s flying characteristics. Those simple-looking foamies must be tuned to a fare-thee-well.

The Midland camera is designed to be a helmet cam; it has a 140 degree field of view, comes with a variety of mounts, and runs on two AAA batteries. I’m lashing up a one-chip 3 volt regulator so I can eliminate the batteries (and their weight) and run the camera from the plane’s LiPo battery. The weight of two AAA batteries isn’t much, but, as I’ve discovered, in the context of a foamie like the Parkmaster it’s considerable.

As the plane flies out over the Monterey National Marine Sanctuary, which includes all of the coastline of Santa Cruz, you’ll see an extensive kelp forest just offshore. This is local to the area. Kelp forests provide shelter and breeding grounds for fish, as well as a cafeteria for sea otters, who love to browse on the abundant marine life and then roll up in the kelp for a nap. The kelp keeps them from drifting while they snooze. Also visible in the water flyover is Steamer Lane, one of Santa Cruz’s well-known surfing sites; kelp also offers protection for surfers, since great white sharks, a rare but not unknown danger along these shores, won’t enter kelp forests.

Flying the Modded XTC-100 Video Camera

I finished the modded XTC-100 this evening, having lopped off the case and batteries and reconfigured the optical block and circuit board. By virtue of the 3 volt regulator, it now gets its DC power by plugging into any unused socket on the receiver. I expected noise on the power bus to be visible in the image, but clearly things are different in the XXIth Century, what with brushless motors and suchlike futuristic tech.

Cynbe thought the most stable platform for making videos would be the Radian Pro, which he loves to fly anyway. We actually tried the unmodified XTC-100 on the Radian and got some decent video, but the graceful Radian was clearly wallowing under the load. Also, there was no good way to mount the camera on the glider’s belly without some serious hacking. So I wound up taping it to the top of the fuselage facing straight forward, which produced videos of less than satisfactory quality. We quickly abandoned that approach.

The modded XTC100, total weight less than 1 ounce. The plastic case is made from the box the camera comes in. The 3-volt regulator, near the top right of the image, is wrapped in blue masking tape. Since the total current draw is roughly 2.5ma, the regulator dissipates negligible heat.
The modded XTC100, total weight less than 1 ounce. The plastic case is made from the box the camera comes in. The 3-volt regulator, near the top right of the image, is wrapped in blue masking tape. Since the total current draw is roughly 2.5ma, the regulator dissipates negligible heat.

And so, on to better things. The completed modded camera weighs less than an ounce. Taped to the wing close to the fuselage, this isn’t even enough weight to disturb the lateral balance. Making videos with extremely light cameras and large, stable foamies like the Radian may be our personal solution to a whole bunch of technical problems for other, larger and more complex projects, for which things like prebuilt foam model aircraft are simple and inexpensive development platforms.

Cynbe with the Radian Pro, showing the modded XTC100 taped to the wing. Duct taping a camera to a wing is uglissimo, but a great way to experiment since it peels off easily.
Cynbe with the Radian Pro, showing the modded XTC100 taped to the wing. Duct taping a camera to a wing is uglissimo, but a great way to experiment since it peels off easily.

If you need more detailed comments on cracking the XTC-100 camera and modding its PCB, drop me a line. Next: The XTC-200, which is HD. (I thought it prudent to destroy a cheaper camera first, to get the bugs ironed out.)

And incidentally: Naio at the SCCMA flying field in Morgan Hill. The first time he's seen Seriously Big Aircraft.
And incidentally: Naio at the SCCMA flying field in Morgan Hill. The first time he’s seen Seriously Big Aircraft.

The Book That Nearly Killed Me

OKAY, I said, taking a deep breath: after thirty-two years, it’s about time. Hell, it’s way past time. Maybe.

The short version is this: Long ago, in a parallel universe that for lack of a better term we’ll call radical lesbian separatism, there lived five young women. These women shared a collective vision, a vision of parthenogenetics — women giving birth to women without sperm, forever — in other words, a world in which men, as they understood the concept, didn’t exist.

Bear with me.

Three of the women began to develop a series of practices designed to facilitate the physiological part of their collective dream. The other two set off on a related quest which they felt was a necessary concomitant. This quest had to do with a greater, overarching dream. It was based on the idea that “men” and “women” were not facets of a race composed of two “sexes”, but were in fact two separate species, who had happened to be thrown together at some time in the distant past and found it possible to breed with each other. The two races had originally had no customs in common, but through various exigencies, one had conquered and enslaved the other. As is frequent in such situations, the one had forced the other to learn their language and erased all evidence of the original one. It was believed that because the slaves had lost all memory of their original language, they had also lost their sense of self, power, and destiny.

So the two young women set out to recover the lost language: the lost, originary language of Women.

And they did.

Are you still with me, you? Yes, I know, sounds like a tired, superannuated scifi plot. And, shit, I wish it were just that, because then the whole thing — passionate, joyous, heartbreaking — could simply fade away. The waters would close over it, and life would just go on. But it hasn’t. It won’t. No matter what I do, the damn thing won’t let go of its hold, precisely because it wasn’t fiction. We lived it. All of it.

As my mother put it so many times: Why couldn’t I have just become a doctor?

Along about 1980, when I couldn’t sleep for all the dreaming, I gathered my journals from the preceding years and wrote them out in the form of a novel. Anyone who writes fiction can tell you that, as a writer, that’s just about the worst thing you can possibly do. Unless you happen to be Marcel Proust or have super powers, you lose all objectivity and control over the material. But I desperately needed to get the accursed thing out of my system, so I did it anyway — except that, in my case, instead of throwing the fucking manuscript in a bottom drawer and sealing it up forever, I made the fatal mistake of stuffing it into an envelope and sending it to — wait for it — DAW Books.

I sent it with no representation, no agent, no credentials, right over the transom. I knew it would end up in the slush pile. And I figured that that would be the end of it. But, oh, no. No such luck. A few weeks later, my phone rings. It is some ungodly hour of the morning. I wake from a deep and troubled slumber, knock the phone off the bed table, fumble around on the floor, and finally get it to my ear. At the other end of the line I hear Betsy Wollheim, DAW’s Editor-In-Chief, say, “I want you to know we think your book is powerful and gripping and important, and when we publish it we’re going to make it a leader.” Dimly I realize what’s going on: it’s nine o’clock in New York, which is six a.m. in my Scotts Valley bedroom, which is why it’s pitch black outside and why there’s a slight aura of unreality to the whole thing. But the conversation goes on for about half an hour, and at the end of it I am left with no doubt that Betsy is perfectly serious.

Wow! Yay! What every young, aspiring writer wants to hear about their first novel! Right?

Wrong. Because, you see, now The Madness sets in, and I discover that I am in Hell. Because what Don Wollheim (who was alive at the time) and Betsy want now — and you knew this was coming, didn’t you? — is the rewrite. And it’s then that I really begin to understand what it means to not be able to sleep for all the dreaming.

Because I can’t rewrite the book.

God knows I tried. I tried so fucking hard to rewrite that book. But I could never manage to tear myself away from the fact that it was a journal. The love, the passion, the sense of limitless possibility and high adventure that I’d shared with these vibrant, engaged friends and companions and lovers would not let go of me long enough for me to take even a single step back, examine the thing as a work of fiction — even with Betsy yelling at me “Even if it’s true, it’s fiction” — and do what any writer needs to do in order to coax fact into fiction and fiction into publishable shape. I simply couldn’t do it. I failed miserably. I took the thing back. I gave up. Finito.

Years passed. Decades. I published loads of other stuff. Some of it was good, I think. Now it’s 2012. Life went on. I’m older. Most of the Five are dead; one is missing and presumed dead. Unless you consider programming, a new language did not change the world. And, as seems somehow fitting, I’m still left with the weight of that exalting, humiliating tale. An originary, empowering language; remembering the future as an act of liberation: many other writers who are far better than I am have tried to tell that story. Maybe now I can tell my version. Maybe now, in the age of self-publishing, the best thing I can do with the accursed manuscript is simply to put it on line. Maybe if I know it’s out there, even if no one reads it, it may help to exorcise the ghosts of those tumultuous years.


Just a few words about the work. Firstly, please forgive the love scenes. That’s what sex was really like for a twenties-something Trans geek– embarrassingly naive, but very much of its time. Secondly, as with any journal, Ktahmet/Remember has no narrative arc, in the customary sense. (On the other hand, it clearly has something rather like a narrative arc, or I doubt that Don would’ve bought it.) Since it’s episodic, and mainly concerned with the interactions of the characters, then it doesn’t really matter in what order I make the chapters available. So let’s start in the middle, and see what happens. I’ll try to post another one every few days.

Sandy’s Rules for Media Interviews

There’s never been a shortage of hate speech about which, from time to time, various trans persons who seem like they’re worth quoting are asked for soundbites.  Now there appears to be another book making the rounds, only this time we can add to the mix cadres of radical trans activists who are fighting back — noisily and insistently.

I’m asked to comment on that sort of thing, and you may be, too; and please notice that it’s easier than ever to be taken out of context, and even bent a bit to favor the agendas of whatever media is doing the story.  So, with the looming teapot of a new radical feminist attack on trans issues in mind, let’s try to keep the tempest as calm, reasonable and orderly as possible.

1.  Even those reporters with the best intentions will, almost reflexively, go for the prurient quote.  ”When did you first realize you were…” is usually first.  ”When did you have (blockers, hormones, surgery, etc., etc.) is usually next.  Or it may alternate with “When did you (transition, de-transition)”, or, in the worst case, “Do you have (a vagina, a penis, breasts, no breasts, muscles, scales, fins, long green sucker-covered tendrils)”.  As people like Janet Mock, who have much more visible speaking positions, are pointing out, when you answer those questions you are merely pandering to the audience’s prurient interests.  It contributes nothing of value to the discussion and distracts from the real and urgent issues, which are about raising the awareness of the general public regarding trans issues, in particular showing that trans people are just people; working toward freedom from oppression, from stereotyping, from bigotry and hate.

2.  Except in the very rare instance that your interviewer is writing a long form piece, you’re going to be soundbyted, so try to think ahead and get everything you’d like to say into your very first sentence.

3.  Except in the very rare instance that the article happens to be about you, what you say will probably be reduced to a few words among many sentences belonging to others, so make every single word count.

4.  Think about how your words can be taken out of context, and do your best to head it off.  Some years back I was asked by a TV reporter when I “first felt that I was a woman”.  I replied that in my specific case, I felt there was something odd going on at around the age of five and that that was more or less classic, but it was important to keep in mind that there are huge variations in individual persons’ senses of themselves and the way they articulate that.  The soundbite they ran had me say, in total:  ”I felt I was a woman at the age of five.”  Epic fail on my part in my attempt to head off that kind of essentializing, but I’ll keep on trying.

I’ll add to this list from time to time, and comments are welcome (on my FB page, please; I don’t have time to moderate this blog.)