Originally appeared in R/C Report magazine in January 1997
By Robert Osorio, The Flying Penguin
The computer radio thing is really getting out of hand....
What the hell does STRM stand for? I'm standing in the hobby store and I've got one of those fancy computer radios in front of me here, with all the bells and whistles (kazoos and tubas too). It's got a four model memory, three mixes, two alarms, a 25 x 8 LCD display, a partridge in a pear tree, and it makes Julienne Fries (whatever the hell they are). Neither the salesman or I can figure out what the hell STRM stands for. We'd check the manual, but I didn't bring my English-Japanese dictionary of mispelled words with me.
All this technology, and they have yet to come up with a computer radio with labels that make any sense. Here's an example: I press a button and something like WNFR appears on the screen. I can set it from 25 to 75%, reverse the control direction, activate or deactivate it, trigger it from any of four toggle switches on the radio, and slave it to another channel. Great, I just wanna know one thing: WHAT THE HELL DOES IT DO? Better yet: WHAT THE HELL DOES IT STAND FOR? I couldn't care less if I ever figure out how it works. I doubt I need a function I can't pronounce anyway - I'll never miss it - but if I don't find out what it stands for, I'll go to the afterlife unfulfilled!
There used to always be a group of old fellas, you know, "Old Men of the Field" hanging around the shelter talking about engines and such: what's good, what's bad, what not to do, how to get it started, what's the right prop, who's wife is good in bed.... These guys are a cherished resource and have always been a fountain of information to modelers (if you can read between all the B.S.). Pilots would always come up to them for help with bizarre problems because these guys have seen everything (or at least claimed they had). There's always the one guy who claims to know everything that was ever worth knowing about engines. This guy's usually full of informative phrases like "What'dya buy that brand of motor fer young feller? Everybody knows they're crap." or "Forget what the instructions say, I've personally run that model engine with straight Av-Gas and no lubricant - I just spit into every bottle of fuel." Then there's the guy who claims he was there with Marconi on the day they invented the first proportional radio. Or the guy who laments the days when radios weighed more than the planes they flew in: "Yup, had to fly the plane with my youngest son in the cabin to change radio tubes whenever one blew... wife was never too happy about that, though...."
More and more, though, these darlings of the flying field have been replaced by the 90's version. In the revered place of honor previously reserved for the crotchety old Wise-Ones, now sit the club's computer radio gurus. They sit hunched over cross-legged on the picnic tables, surrounded by clouds of incense, and surviving only on potato chips donated by charitable visiting pilgrims. They nod their heads sagely and quietly listen to the questions of the devout, handing out tiny morsels of enlightened information to the desperately confused:
"Master, how do I setup a mix between channel 1 and 6 with reverse servo throw on one channel?"
"Well, my son, the true path to enlightenment comes when you advance to the mixing menu by pressing the down arrow key three times, then selecting the MXCH function..."
Why should you have to be a computer programmer to figure out how to use one of these things? Actually, that's not entirely true. I am a computer programmer, and I still can't figure out some of these radios. It's those damn acronyms I tell you! They could just spell out the name of a function in plain english, you know like: F L A P E R O N - what's the heck's the big deal about that? The damn thing's already got a display screen that's bigger than the one on my laptop computer, so space is no problem. But nooooooo. What do they do? They fill it full of MORE meaningless letters and even harder to comprehend menus. The latest fad is to have the display show you a "Logic Path Tree" (LPT!) to make the function easier to understand - yeah right. I swear, the bridge of the USS Enterprise must be easier to figure out than some of these things. They look something like this:
EPX + MRM ------> SBTRM ----->MIX6----->RUB STOMACH WITH LEFT HAND
The root of most of the problem here is the Military Acronym Maxim (MAM!): "it just doesn't sound really pro unless it's spelled using some obscure collection of letters". The problem is that radio manufacturers have taken this axiom to heart. To complicate matters, these same radio manufacturers (with what must be a certain sadistic gleam in their eyes) also seem to hire Russians to translate Japanese manuals into English. Here's a good one - I just love this one:
"SB MIX MODE: The SB MIX function puts radio into SB MIX mode. SB MIX mode can only used be if SB MIX mode turned on in enabled position."
Okay, sure... we all clear on that? Thats' it! There's nothing else in the manual about the SB MIX mode! What the hell is wrong with these people? Sometimes I think there's some sort of dark conspiracy here involving Japanese electronics manufactures. Maybe it's their way of getting even at us for dropping the bomb on them or something. Code name: DRIVE YANKEES NUTS. I don't know about you folks, but I've got four VCRs in my house (one for each of the X-rated channels) and there's not a one of them that doesn't have a blinking clock display on it. Even when you can figure out how to program one of these things, they're still designed to drive you totally insane. I've got an expensive one that whenever it loses power, it still remembers the programs you want to record after the power comes back on. Good, that's no problem, it was one of it's selling features. The problem is the damn thing always forgets what time it is when the power goes out! (I SWEAR I'M NOT MAKING THIS UP!) What the hell good is that? After the power failure, it still knows I want to record "Lust With Lucy" at 9 pm, but the damn thing thinks the time is 12:00 am.... 12:00 am.... 12:00 am....
I've got a few acronyms for stupid computer radio control functions I'd like to suggest for inclusion in next year's models. Radio manufactures please take note: I want a cut of the profits if you use these.
PPM - Please Press Me
PCM - Please Crash Me
FLPR - Flaps Loose, Prepare for Release
RFL - Rudder Flapping Loose
RGOG - Retract Gear On Ground
EPBBC - Eject Pilot Bust Before Crash
TMGR - This Makes it Go Right
TFMS - Try and Fly Me Stupid
SYTS - So You Think So?
EAM - Erase All Memory
DTOB - Don't Take Out the Battery
WGDM - Wait a God Damn Minute!
TBMC - This Button Makes it Crash
TLS - Turn Left Stupid
GRQM - Get off Runway Quick Mode
MBC - Make a Big Crater
TRTR - Turn Right! Turn Right!
FBBF - Fry Buddy Box Function
SDE - Shoot Down Everybody
TMFE - Too Much Frigging Elevator
DUH - (I think you can figure this one out yourselves....)
Maybe we should all start using acronyms in everyday conversation, huh? What the heck:
"Hi Jimmy, how's TOL (The Old Lady)."
"Okay Bob, but IHTOTM (It's Her Time Of The Month). How's your SLM (Spicy Latin Mama)?"
"Well heck, Jim, you know she can be a real BITCH sometimes..."
I saw someone at the field the other day who had one of those top of the line nine channel computer radios. You know, the one that has every feature in the universe on it, and also cleans you up after you go to the bathroom. It's got a tachometer built in to it, it's frequency synthesized so it can be programmed for any channel, and I suppose it can walk and chew gum at the same time (which is more than I can say for the guy who bought it). This thing cost seventeen-hundred dollars! Jeez, you realize you could buy a couple of nice planes for that price? (gotta get our priorities straight here) He's got this thing in a pattern plane of course, since it wouldn't be fashionable to put it in anything else (just once I'd love to see someone put one of those things in an Ugly Stick!), and the piece of junk plane he's flying isn't even worth half of what he paid for the radio.
This "Bill Gates" of Radio Control doesn't really need any more than five channels, but since he's got the gizmo box to play with, he's got every single control surface on a different one - the rudder and the nose wheel are even on separate channels so he can pretend he's flying the Space Shuttle or something. This guy doesn't even know what flaperons and differential ailerons are for, but he's got them programmed in anyway, 'cause it's cool, dude. He's setup the servos for too much throw, but adjusts them back down with the end-point adjustments and the dual rates, having no concept that he's also reduced his resolution to nearly zero in the process (the control surfaces have just three positions: up, down and centered). He's got one channel setup for fuel mixture adjustment, although he needs to have someone help him adjust the carb on the ground.
Folks, people are like cattle, and sometimes the herd has to be thinned....
I've got a couple of computer radios myself, although I'm embarrassed to admit it. They're both seven channel FM jobs, in the $300 range. These are minimalist computer radios by today's standards and yet, like computer word-processors, I have yet to use a tenth of the features on these things. Servo End-Point Adjustment or ATV (just how in the hell do you get the acronym ATV from Servo End-Point Adjustment anyway?) is nice, but it's only practical on the throttle. This lets you adjust the exact position of both extremes of a servo's throw (you know, so you can make sure that throttle push rod is bent fully in half when you give it full throttle). Dual Rates are nice, but I can get it on a non-computer radio, and I certainly don't need it on the rudder channel (does anyone really use rudder dual rate? I want to know). Flaperons are handy. I have (had) an Ultra Sport 40 that just wouldn't bleed enough airspeed on landing. Put a servo on each aileron and presto! - you have flaps... if you can just figure out how to program it. Differential Ailerons are also handy for those who insist on symmetrical rolls in either direction (my gripe is that despite all the bells and whistles on these things, you can't get both Flaperons and Differential at the same time on my radios - GRRRRRR!). For those with big planes and lazy thumbs, you can mix rudder and ailerons, but again, I've seen this on non-computer radios too.
All the other functions? I've never used them. Oh sure, there's always special applications. Tail-less and V-Tail designs that need Elevon Mixing, and so forth. That's okay, but you see, the radio manufacturers would go broke if only people with special needs (The Aerodynamically Challenged?) bought computer radios. So they make sure that leading competition modelers all use these top of the line computer radios, displaying them with their brand name boldly emblazened across their planes. Then they try and convince us that we aren't really serious about this hobby unless we're spending $700+ on a radio (and the same for an engine, preferably). That's okay, if you want to buy into that nonsense.
Fact of the matter is, as far as that plane out there is concerned (the one plummeting to the ground because you forgot to charge the receiver battery), it can't tell the difference between an inexpensive four-channel radio and a $1,500+ computer job. The ground comes up in an awful big hurry, whichever one is in there.
That's it for me this month kids, time to run this article through the computer's spell checker and watch it barf when it stumbles across all those acronyms - this should be fun to watch....
#10 - Always offer a woman pilot the flight station without the Fire Ant mound.
# 9 - Always inform the other pilots of your intentions, your intention to takeoff, your intention to land, and your intention to make a big crater in the middle of the runway (it's always hard taxiing around those fuselage tails sticking out of theground).
# 8 - When walking up to the runway for a landing, it is impolite to walk between two people using a buddy box.
# 7 - It's considered bad manners to yell at someone who's been tying up the runway, even for a substantial length of time. After all, that's what water balloon bombs are for.
# 6 - It is the ultimate in bad manners to run over someone else's plane when backing out of the parking lot, unless that plane is the only one with half a chance at beating you in the next contest.
# 5 - In Europe, it's considered the height of poor taste to groan, cry out, or make any noise at all when a fellow flier crashes a plane. In the United States, an air-horn blast is just barely considered rude.
# 4 - If a fellow flier should be unfortunate enough to seriously injure himself at the field, common courtesy demands that you should lend any assistance necessary, such as helping him Super Glue the forty-two inch long gash on his forehead together, so he can get back to the serious business of flying.
# 3 - If your aircraft goes out of control, it is polite to warn other pilots of the fact by calling out "HEADS UP!". Diving under a table and yelling "YOU'RE ON YOUR OWN, SUCKERS!" is not considered appropriate behavior.
# 2 - It is not only rude but against club rules to buzz the pits, the road, or the parking lot. On the other hand, the guy mowing the lawn is always fair game.
# 1 - Always be considerate and patient with a beginner pilot who comes to the flying field with a trainer. Someday he'll be a reckless egotistical bastard, just like you.