Teaching, learning…

So as the gods would have it, I’ve now become a textbook editor and sometimes-author. I’ve been contracted with a large publisher (name withheld) to update their Texas high-school geometry text to national, common-core standards. And I’m having a lot of fun with it!

But I’ve learned a few things. First among them being that books written by committee are rarely good. And usually, barely passable. Yep, of course I’m doing all that I can to change this, but there’s only so much of it that I’m allowed to write. Here are the main reasons that such books go astray:

  • They try to plug companion software and websites to the point of being reliant on them
  • They introduce concepts in strange order, since different chapters are written by different groups
  • The introduction of keywords and definitions is likewise inconsistent
  • Examples and problems are clearly recycled from older texts (how many people can relate to plowing a triangular field?)

As I said, I’m doing my part. But I find myself wishing that I could do more, just for the sake of making the kids’ experience better.

You wanna do what?!

So I have this fun idea. It’s something that can be done for about $10K or so, but I’m having a hard time with one particular aspect of it. Allow me to explain…

Imagine that you have two velocipedes (yes, they have to be velocipedes for… reasons) and you mount them side-by-side and about three feet apart with tubing. In between, you hang a lightweight, but comfortable chair. Perhaps something like a lawn chair. Using the same tubing, you mount four electric motors around the outside in a quadrocopter arrangement, complete with propellers. Electric motors are becoming quite efficient, and you can find some on the order of one HP per pound at reasonable prices.

So far, you have a person-sized, velocipede, steampunk quadrocopter. Which is great, but would be way too heavy to actually lift off. Which is why you need a 30′ helium balloon. This would be attached to the rest via the same tubing and a kevlar fiber net over the top. Internal to the balloon is an electric compressor such that the balloon can be dynamically deflated and inflated. So it can provide just enough lift that the quad motors can lift it the rest of the way. But since they’ll be relying in part on ground-effect, the system is tuned such that you can only get about 10′ high.

I have it all laid out in my head, and trust me, it’s awesome! But now for the hard part. How much trouble would I get in to for this? Technically, it’s a “manned, un-tethered, gas balloon” according to their regulations. But since the balloon is not providing the lift (just weight-offset), it’s also technically an ultralight. But since it relies on ground-effect, it’s also a hovercraft and outside of the FAA’s purview.

So my guess is that the FAA won’t be able to decide between laughing at me and having me shot. Any thoughts?