News and Views from Dave Wilson


DIY Hovercraft Project

by on Mar.21, 2015, under Miscellaneous

It’s Spring Break and, as a result, time for a fun project. After Drew saw a video of a similar project on YouTube, we had to try it so today was our day to build a hovercraft! We’re not talking about a water-going, self-propelled vehicle here, though, but the first step in that direction in the form of a leaf-blower-powered platform that can be pushed around. Think hoverboard or something along the lines of a very large air-hockey puck.

Hovercraft - Getting Ready To StartThe original project we saw on YouTube used a plastic coffee can lid in place of the jam jar lid we used in the instructions below. We started with the plastic lid but discovered that it wasn’t strong enough and ripped off within a few minutes of testing the hovercraft. The metal jam jar lid proved a much more robust alternative.

Without further ado, here are the instructions…

Materials List

  • 1 x 8’x4; sheet of 1/2″ plywood
  • A roll of duct tape (of course!)
  • A 6′ diameter circle of thick (6 or 7mil?) plastic sheet.
  • 12 feet of plastic pipe insulation or pool noodles
  • 1 x plastic garden chair
  • 1 x leaf blower. Gas powered is better but electric would work too.
  • 1 x metal jam jar lid
  • 1 x 2 inch bolt with nut and washers
  • Staples
  • 4 x 3/4″ screws (or any length suitable to join 2 1/2″ ply sheets without protruding)
  • 4 x 1 1/2″ screws (or length suitable to attach chair to ply without protruding)


  • Jigsaw
  • Drill
  • Screwdriver
  • Staple gun
  • Router and/or sander if you have them, sandpaper and elbow-grease otherwise.


  1. Cut the 8’x4′ into two 4’x4′ pieces and stack them on top of each other to form a single 4’x4′, 1 inch thick platform.
  2. Drill a hole through the exact centre of the sheet and use the bolt to hold the pieces together temporarily.
  3. Use the 4 short screws to attach the sheets firmly together. Make sure that you choose screws which are long enough that the sheets are securely joined but do not protrude through the bottom since this could puncture the skirt plastic later.
  4. Attach a 4′ piece of string to the central bolt and tie a pencil to the end then run it around the sheet to draw a 4′ circle within the 4′ square.
  5. Use the jigsaw to cut out the circle.
  6. Round off the edges of the plywood to remove any sharp pieces. We used a router to round off the edges then a sander to finish the process. Make sure that you clean up both the top and bottom edges.
  7. Measure the diameter of the leaf blower output tube and cut a hole the same diameter about half way between the edge of the plywood and the center. The leaf blower tube should fit snugly but be able to be inserted and removed without too much difficulty. We’re not going to permanently attach the leaf blower so this fit is important (though, if you wanted to duct tape the blower to the platform, I’m sure that would work).
  8. Remove the bolt you used to hold the plywood sheets together in step 2. Don’t forget to do this! If you leave it in place, you’ll have to remove the plastic skirt to get it off later and that wouldn’t be good.
  9. Place the plywood over the top of the plastic sheet so that the centres line up. Be careful not to puncture the plastic!
  10. Fold the plastic up over the edge of the wood and attach with staples about 1 inch in from the circumference of the wood, pulling the plastic towards the center between each staple. We used 1 staple every couple of inches around the entire circumference.
  11. Trim the plastic sheet so that about 1 inch remains between the staple line and the center of the plywood. You should end up with about 2 inches of plastic visible around the whole edge of the plywood with a line of staples in the middle.
  12. Cut 6″ pieces of duct tape and use them to seal the plastic to the plywood. Go round the whole circle twice to make sure that all the staples are covered and that you have a good seal.
  13. Turn the whole assembly over and you should have a reasonably tight sheet if plastic covering the bottom of the plywood circle. It shouldn’t be too loose. Don’t worry about the skirt inflating – it should be fine.
  14. Cover the center area of the plastic sheet with a layer of duct tape. You will end up with a 1 foot square of tape centred over the bolt hole you drilled earlier.
  15. Drill a hole in the middle of the jam jar top and use the bolt with washers to attach this to the underside of the skirt. This holds the skirt up in the middle and allows it to form a ring when inflated.Hovercraft - Jam Jar Lid and Air Vents
  16. Cut 6 holes in the duct tape square around the jam jar lid. Each hole should be about 2 inches in diameter and about an inch or so from the jam jar lid. These are the vents through which air will pour to lift the hovercraft.
  17. Cut the pool noodles or pipe insulation along one long edge and slide the cut over the edge of the plywood to form a bumper around the hovercraft. It should cover the duct tape and edge of the skirt. Use staples to hold it in place on the top of the hovercraft. DO NOT staple it underneath.
  18. Depending upon the size of bumper, you may need to cut a piece off on the underside. You don’t want the bumper to be deeper than the inflated skirt. We had to cut about half of the bumper off after our first test because it was dragging on the ground when the skirt inflated. Here’s what the skirt looks like when it’s being inflated. Notice that the inflated skirt is lower than the bottom of the bumpers.
  19. Screw a plastic lawn chair to the top of the hovercraft taking care not to use screws that will protrude through the bottom of the plywood and puncture the plastic skirt.
  20. Fire up the leaf blower, stick it into the hole on the top of the hovercraft and start sliding around!


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United States Grand Prix, 2013

by on Nov.25, 2013, under Miscellaneous

First Lap Procession

First Lap Procession

Another year is nearly over and, with it, Austin’s second Formula 1 United States Grand Prix. From my perspective, this year’s event was every bit as much fun as the 2012 race. With a year of race weekends under their belt, the folks at Circuit of the Americas had ironed out the few kinks that marred last year’s event (and there really were very few considering that the newly built venue was only just usable by the time of the race) and put on a spectacular show – the beer selection was better, the number of food vendors and the variety of food on offer was very much improved and there was even decent cellular data coverage around the track. I was rather amazed to note that there was an AT&T WiFi hotspot up at Turn 11.

The crowds felt larger than last year but perhaps my memory was dulled by the very much smaller crowds for every other race I’ve been to at the track this year. The official gate count put Sunday’s attendance at about 4000 less than last year but, given the huge number of people involved, it certainly didn’t feel significantly less busy this year.

As before, the racing was great but the most spectacular thing about attending a Grand Prix is the amazing atmosphere. 120,000 friendly people gathering from all corners of the globe makes for quite a party.

I’ll be back again next year and will likely book another seat in the Turn 3 bleachers which gave such an excellent view of the S-curve section of the track with its great red, white and blue stripes. If you’re a racing fan and can make it down here, there’s no better place to be than Austin in mid-November!

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New Restaurant Find

by on Aug.23, 2013, under Miscellaneous

If you’ve been reading this blog for any period of time, you will know that it’s not usual to find a restaurant review here (heck, it’s not usual to find a new post here at all these days, it seems). Let me start something new, therefore, and mention a restaurant that Nikki and I stumbled upon in Austin tonight while looking for a new Friday date night venue. Recently, we’ve been making a habit of trying new places and tonight’s choice, courtesy of Apple Maps and Yelp, was a small restaurant on South Lamar by the name of Barley Swine. The name may not be inspiring but the 380, overwhelmingly positive, reviews encouraged us to give it a try and we were most certainly not disappointed.

First off, if you are someone whose impression of a restaurant’s quality is based on the portion size, Barley Swine is probably not for you. This is not your “3 courses, soup, meat vegetable, dessert” kind of place. Individual dishes are small but guests are encouraged to order many and share. Think upscale tapas or the Japanese model.

If, however, you like new culinary experiences and expect a high quality dinner out to challenge your tastebuds and offer new flavour combinations that you’ve never imagined before, you’ll love Barley Swine. Food highlights for us included “Scrambled egg, shiitake dumplings, smoked roe, almond”, “Wagyu flank steak, piquillo pepper, potato, salsa verde” (shown in the photo below) and “Eggplant fritters, grilled okra, feta tofu, sesame, peanut salsa”. Each offered a remarkable texture and taste combination that neither of us had experienced before.

The wine and beer list also challenges convention. My first tipple, for example, seemed rather appropriate but tasted unlike any beer I’ve ever tried before. Excellent and strange:

Real Ale Brewery Scots Gone Wild Sour Ale

As far as price goes, Barley Swine isn’t cheap – our bill came to about $100 for two – but it’s worth every penny for the fascinating diversity offered. If you have a fancy date planned, give this place a try.
Wagyu flank steak, piquillo pepper, potato, salsa verde

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Ultimate Urban Playground – Driving in San Francisco

by on May.11, 2013, under Miscellaneous

I have to wonder how anyone got permission to film this but the driving by Ken Block in this video I stumbled upon today is unbelievable. If you want more, you can find other videos featuring Ken’s stunt driving here.

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It’s Motor Racing Season

by on Mar.17, 2013, under Miscellaneous

Motor racing has been much on my mind recently with the Formula 1 season starting this morning so I wanted to pass on this video that someone pointed me at. I realise it’s more NASCAR related but it’s absolutely priceless….

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US Grand Prix Weekend

by on Nov.18, 2012, under Miscellaneous

I’m just back from a spectacular weekend attending the inaugural United States Grand Prix at the brand new Circuit of the Americas here in Austin. With about 2500 photos to edit, I’m not ready to publish a lot of images from the event but wanted to get a few pictures posted quickly to set the scene. In short, though, the US Grand Prix weekend was an amazing event!

Event organization was superb and, from my perspective at least, everything ran extremely smoothly. My main worry had been that the shuttle bus system would lead to enormous lines at the pick-up and drop-off locations but this didn’t appear to be the case. I parked at the airport and took the shuttle from there to the track, and found the whole system ran beautifully smoothly. My only wait was about 15 minutes after leaving the track this evening following the race. Friends who took the downtown and Travis County Expo Center shuttles reported smooth operation too with waits no longer than 30 minutes at any time during the weekend.

While the focus of the weekend was obviously on motor racing, the aspect that really impressed me was the overall atmosphere and the amazing camaraderie between fans from all over the globe. People were shouting for their favourite team or driver but, in the end, everyone was having a good time, happy to interact with other fans, and extremely friendly. Any rivalries were most definitely of the good-natured variety.

Showing this in pictures is rather tricky but here are a selection that show some of the folks I met. Most of these people, I talked to for several minutes after taking their picture though some were seen and photographed at “long range” during the weekend. Click on any picture for a larger, uncropped version.

Overall, given the predictions of doom and gloom in the local press and remembering that COTA was an undeveloped field a couple of years ago, I’m delighted to report that the first Formula 1 weekend in Austin was a huge success!

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Zumba Flash Mob

by on Oct.14, 2012, under Family, Miscellaneous

As many of you know, my wife, when she’s not writing children’s books, leads a double life as a Zumba fitness instructor at the Town Lake YMCA in Austin. One of her class members works at the world headquarters of Whole Foods Market (which, as an aside, is probably the most amazing supermarket you will ever find anywhere) and she was recently asked to put together a flash mob in the store to celebrate the Austin City Limits music festival that was going on last weekend. All the store staff were taught the dance and many of Nikki’s Zumba class members came along to beef up the numbers. At 4:30 on Saturday, this is what you would have seen had you been doing your weekly shopping at the Lamar Whole Foods store.

Update 10/15/12: The flash mob made it into an article on Huffington Post today. Fame or what?

Whole Foods Market Lamar Store Flash Mob from Laura Benold on Vimeo.

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Pioneer Day at the Pound House

by on Oct.01, 2012, under Miscellaneous, Photography

You’ve no doubt heard me going on about what a wonderful community Dripping Springs, Texas is but, in case you somehow managed to miss it, here are a few snaps from the Pioneer Day Festival which took place a week ago at the Dr. Pound House in Founders’ Park. This is another great example of a fun community event which involved a whole bunch of local groups and organisations.
Drew in Confederate UniformWeaver and his LoomEric Playing ChequersOld-time GamesPioneer BannerBlacksmith and HelperBlacksmithHats Across The Generations

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9th Blog Birthday

by on Jun.10, 2012, under Miscellaneous

Cameron's First Birthday

That’s a picture of my elder son’s first birthday party back in 2000. This blog isn’t quite as old as Cameron but today is its 9th birthday! The first post appeared on June 10th, 2003. Over the years, the focus has shifted somewhat with this blog now essentially acting as a repository for long-form posts and tutorials that wouldn’t fit into the format of my daily photoblog. It’s also a place that I enjoy sharing videos I’ve found (see yesterday’s post for an example) and quick links to other helpful or amusing sites.

Over the 9 years, I’ve written 596 posts and received 487 non-spam comments. On days when I don’t post, the blog doesn’t get a lot of traffic but occasionally a post gets linked from a popular site and I see a huge spike in views. The highest spike to date occurred on January 14th, 2010 when my “Best of 2009” post was linked from DPS and just under 1500 people clicked through the link.

Here are the top 10 posts in terms of views since I moved the blog to the WordPress platform in February 2009:

  1. Best of 2009
  2. Best of 2010
  3. HDR Tip #7 – Magic Blue Sky Halo Removal
  4. Real Photographers Shoot In Manual Mode (or not)
  5. HDR For Real Estate Photography
  6. Shooting Skylines at Night
  7. Cracking the HDR Noise Problem
  8. HDR Tip #1 – HDR From A Single RAW
  9. Hamilton Pool
  10. HDR Notes for PhotoNetCast Listeners

All being well, I have every intention of keeping the blog running for the foreseeable future. Thanks to all of you who take a little time out of your day to read my scribblings!

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Garden of your Mind

by on Jun.09, 2012, under Miscellaneous

I’ve been a fan of John Boswell and “Symphony of Science” since I first heard their “We Are All Connected” video featuring Carl Sagan, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Richard Feynman and Bill Nye. Boswell has now teamed up with PBS to produce this lovely video remixing Mr Rogers.

If you have a few more minutes free, you could do a lot worse than spend it over on the Symphony of Science site where there are several more equally clever videos to watch.

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