Techcon 2007


Last week I went to a very prestigious HP-sponsored technology conference called Techcon. You have to earn your way there by writing a paper that is judged against more than a thousand other papers written by the best technologists in the company. There are only about 120 papers accepted and so we were very honored to get an invitation to present our paper at the conference. The topic of our paper was related to the new HP MediaSmart Servers recently announced at the CES that are expected to ship this fall. There was a lot of interest in our product because it was something that just about everyone needs at home so it was a pleasure to get to talk about it with other technology enthusiasts.

There were a lot of other interesting papers presented at the conference but it was confidential so I can’t discuss it here. In addition to the authors of the papers, there are a number of other people who attended the conference including HP’s CEO and CTO, HP Fellows, and some who had volunteered to review the papers.

One of the chief benefits of the conference is the chance to meet and network with HP engineers from around the company and to talk with leading experts in a number of important fields. It seemed that every time I turned around, I met someone with an impressive background. Even on the overbooked plane ride to the conference, I had a middle seat, but as a result that I got to meet and chat with experts in both image processing and mobile devices who were sitting on either side of me. On the way back, we were delayed for several hours in the San Antonio airport and as a result of that “misfortune” we had dinner with five HP technologists who we would not have had the chance to meet otherwise.

I like conferences with an “immersive” feel where you get to experience something from early in the morning until late in the evening, and Techncon’s schedule is jam packed with activities. I find Airventure to be that way as well as Entconnect, two other conferences which I regularly attend. Only part of the feeling is a result of the activities and presentations. Most of it comes from interacting with like-minded individuals who are enthusiastic about the subject of the conference.

The HP rx5900 Travel Companion


I got an HP rx5900 Travel Companion recently as an award for having a paper accepted at a conference. It’s by far the coolest toy I’ve gotten in a very long time, and that’s saying a lot because I’m a bit of a gadget geek. The HP rx5900 Travel Companion was featured on the OCC-HP Bike that I wrote about earlier. I have desperately wanted one of these since they came out because I need a GPS/moving map for all of my vehicles, my motorcycle, car, and airplane and it looks like this is going to work perfectly. It comes with the GPS and TomTom Navigator software built in and the amount of detail it provides for the roads is incredible. The mounting accessories and charging devices are very cleverly designed. All it needs for charging is a USB cable, so anywhere you have an USB socket, you can charge it up. Even the cigarette lighter and wall plug have a USB socket in them, and this is absolutely brilliant.

I had it up and running in no time, and found that not only is it a great navigation device, but it has a full PocketPC capabilities including the ability to sync with my PC so I can access my contact and task list as well as my schedule while I’m away from the PC. I can add changes and then re-sync with the PC when I return.

I was hoping that it would run aviation navigation software called Anywhere Map and so I visited the website and found that not only would it run the software, but the HP Travel Companion is a recommended system. I had tried using Anywhere Map previously, but found that a Blue Tooth GPS which was separate from the PDA was problematic in the aiplane because the PDA would periodically lose track of the GPS unit. It also meant more devices to charge and keep track of, so the built-in GPS is a welcome addition to this device. Best of all, when I get out of the plane and travel by car or motorcycle, I can just launch TomTom and have a world-class street navigation system. With TomTom, I can get maps for virtually anywhere I want to travel.

I am really looking forward to using this device and will report back more about it later after I’ve had a chance to give it a good workout on all my vehicles.

EntConnect 2007


I attended EntConnect 2007 last weekend in Denver. Previously, the conference was called Entcon and was affiliated with Midnight Engineering magazine. Midnight Engineering was a magazine dedicated to people who were running their own tech ventures, mostly entrepreneurial engineers, and was published for about 8 years. I really enjoyed the magazine and it was what got me to start attending the conference. I have been going for a few years now and it’s starting to get the feeling of a college reunion, as Dave Shaver of Corepoint Health described it. We typically get approximately the same 20 to 30 people showing up each year, although it changes a little bit from year-to-year as some people drop in and out depending on their schedules. Jack has put together a few blog entries of some of the topics discussed. At the end of each conference we always talk about getting some new members to attend. At one point the conference had grown to over 200 attendees when the magazine was still being published, but that was actually too large and the regular attendees would like to keep it small, perhaps to around 50 people or less. Still, even to get to 50 attendees, we’d have to double the traditional attendance from where it has leveled out over the past few years.

My involvement in the conference has been more as an observer since for all the time I’ve been going, I’ve not been making my living as an entrepreneur, but rather as an employee of HP. I’ve presented on a number of products that I worked on during that time since they have all been related to new product categories for HP and my division has had the feeling of an entrepreneurial startup. I also have an unusual method of supporting these products using my personal web site to host the FAQs and I use community forums at Yahoo Groups that are collectively approaching more than 3500 members. John Gaudio who runs the conference has described me as an ‘Intrepreneur’, which I guess puts me somewhere in between an employee and an entrepreneur.

This year I announced my upcoming early retirement from HP which will occur at the end of May. I am hoping to use the time off to engage in some entrepreneurial pursuits, Adaptive Interfaces being one of them. I’ve not had the time to help push that venture much closer to reality, and my business partner, Mark, has been working at day jobs to pay the bills. There will be a lot of curiosity next year as I talk with the group about the transition from being an employee for the past 24 years into the new world of entrepreneurship. A little twist of irony is that several long-time entrepreneurs who regularly attend the conference have migrated into the workplace as employees over the past year. It’s all OK though because even if you have a day job it doesn’t mean you can’t be an entrepreneur and vice-versa. Everyone is welcome at the conference and the people who attend have a wealth of experience that they are willing to share. I have already paid to attend next year’s conference which is scheduled for March 27th through March 30th, 2008.

An engine for the Cozy


One of the biggest expenses of building a plane is the engine. Typically, this can account for up to one third of the cost, especially when you factor in the accessories like the starter, ignition, and fuel injection system. A rebuilt or new aircraft engine can cost between $20,000 to $40,000 depending on where you purchase it. If you can get a ‘run-out’ engine just about ready to be rebuilt, and the main components such as the crankshaft and case are in good condition, you can save about half the cost by just replacing items that wear out such as the cylinders, rings, and bearings.

A few months ago I was reading my email and noticed that someone from a local EAA chapter was interested in selling a Lycoming IO-360 that he was no longer going to use for a kit plane he had decided to sell. I emailed him immediately and told him I’d be interested in the engine because I am getting to the point where I want to start mounting my cowlings on the plane and you really can’t do that until you know which model of engine you’re going to use. In this case, the engine came out of a Mooney and had sat for the past 10 years awaiting a time when it made sense to rebuild it. The price was reasonable for an angle-valve IO-360 which, despite having 20 extra horsepower (200 HP vs. 180 HP), is not as sought-after as the straight-valve models which tend to be about 40 lbs lighter. Of course, I intend to lighten the engine with a lightweight starter, alternator and ignition. The IO-360A1B6D has an odd arrangement of magnetos, using a single shaft to drive a pair of magnetos mounted in a housing, unlike the more common arrangement of one on each side of the engine. This might be a deterrent for some people, but I’m planning on running dual electronic ignitions with a backup electrical system, so it’s not as much of a concern for me as it might be for someone else.

My biggest concern in buying a used engine was that it had a prop strike that was not recorded in the logbook. This would not be the first time a damaged engine was quietly removed and sold to a broker and passed through enough hands that all hope of finding out the origin of the engine is lost. A prop strike generally ruins the crankshaft, the single most expensive part of the engine. But this engine had a logbook with it, along with a tail number of the plane from which it had been removed. So I tracked down the plane in the government database and called the owner and asked if there ever was a prop strike that he knew about because if a gear had collapsed and caused a prop strike, that event would have likely made it into the logbook of the aircraft, even if it was missing from the logbook of the engine. In talking with the owner, he told me that the previous owner decided to go with a factory new engine because he felt it would more than pay for itself with the increased resale value of the airplane. I had to agree with that logic because it also allowed him to get the more convention arrangement of magnetos, which also increases the perceived value of the plane. So the engine logbook history appeared to be legitimate.

I decided to buy the engine. One of the advantages of getting a local engine is that you don’t have to worry about how to get it shipped across the country which on a 300 lb engine that is quite bulky can get very expensive.

The next step was to figure out how to move it to my hangar. I figured it would fit in my Durango, but I didn’t know where I could borrow an engine hoist to lift it and put it in and then remove it when I got it to my hangar. I looked through Harbor Freight’s website and found that they had a lift that was very reasonably priced that appeared to fold up and come apart quite easily. That was important to me because I knew I’d have to put it in the back of the Durango along with the engine. As you can see from the photo, the engine fit nicely into the Durango. That SUV has now transported every large part of the plane to the hangar, including the fuselage, wings, canard, canopy, turtleck and engine. I worried when I sold my truck that I’d really miss it, but the versatility of the Durango continues to impress me.

Here’s the engine sitting in the hangar. The next step is to get the engine mount so that it can be fitted to the firewall and then the cowlings fit around it. I will have some surgery to do on the cowlings because this engine has tuned intake manifolds and they take up more space than ordinary intakes and are largely responsible for that extra 20 HP.