Addressing the Disc
IEEE Senior Member Dan Olsen remembers the first time he played disc golf, a competitive sport akin to traditional golf but one that uses Frisbee-like discs instead of clubs and balls. It was 1980, and he was a freshman at Oklahoma State University, in Stillwater, when friends took him to a course near Boomer Lake, two miles north of the school.
“I was hooked,” says Olsen, now a power systems engineer with Shermco Industries, an electrical distribution and renewable energy services company, in Tulsa, Okla.
Each player traverses a 9- or 18-“hole” course, throwing a disc toward a hole and then picking it up from where it lands and throwing it farther. The goal is to get the disc into an elevated metal basket at each hole in the fewest throws possible. As with regular golf, the ultimate achievement is an ace, or hole-in-one.
Discs come in multiple styles—the edges are shaped differently to tailor the performance—and weights, mimicking golf’s long-range drivers, midrange clubs, and short-range putters.
Olsen picked up the sport quickly and soon started playing in tournaments. Compared with traditional golf, he says, disc golf is more fun and intuitive. “And with disc golf,” he adds, “the improvement of one’s skills is exponential.”
Elements of physics are involved, he points out. You have to factor in the weight of the disc, the rating factor—which is a measure of the speed, glide, and turn of the disc—and the wind. If you get the wind behind the disc, it tends to dip and head for the ground. But if it heads into the wind, it will lift, he explains, adding, “You don’t want it to lift up too fast or it will end up in a tree.”
In 1996, Olsen joined the Professional Disc Golf Association. He has gone from PDGA novice to Advanced Master, a category for players older than 40. He is now 54 and plays in the Amateur Division. In the three decades since he began, disc golf’s popularity has boomed, especially in Oklahoma and Texas, he says. The PDGA has gone from more than 10,000 members at the time he joined to 60,000-plus.
Olsen plays disc golf with his friends after work for about four hours a week. He plays with his two grown sons when they visit. And he looks for a course wherever he travels for business. “I play whenever I can,” he says. “If I’m not walking the dog, I’m walking the course. That’s my exercise and one of my main stress relievers.”
He competes in six to eight local and national tournaments per year. It costs about US $50 to enter, he says, and winners get cash or merchandise vouchers. A top tournament prize averages $18,000.
His best win was in the Texas State Doubles tournament in 1998, he says. More recently, he finished second in the Seminole Nation Days tournament in September in Wewoka, Okla.
Olsen figures that between gear, participation fees, and travel, he spends a few hundred dollars per year on the sport. “It’s much less expensive than traditional golf,” he says, “even though you end up losing some discs in the ponds and bushes.”
When IEEE Member John Moore was 16, he used The Radio Amateur’s Handbook to make a converter for his aunt’s television that tuned it to channels outside its normal range. His love for such projects stayed with him. Now 71 and semiretired, he is a dedicated member of the Duxford Radio Society—a volunteer association of communications specialists who restore and repair donated radio equipment from both world wars for Duxford’s Imperial War Museum, near Cambridge, England.
Moore, a history buff and born tinkerer, discovered vintage equipment later in life. He was captivated when he visited the museum in 2010 for the first time: “I trotted in one Sunday and said, ‘What can I do to help?’ Someone on staff told me the society just got a radio receiver and asked if I could get it going. I took it away and got it to work.”
He currently is helping to fix an original H2S radar system. Invented by the British during World War II, it was the first airborne ground-scanning radar. He plans to interface it with a computer so that it can be driven by a simulator.
Moore goes to the museum once or twice a month, and he spends about four hours a week in his home workshop fixing receivers and transmitters. “It’s quite a thrill to take home nearly irreplaceable equipment and get it to operate again,” he says. “Finding what’s wrong is like detective work.” Sometimes he rebuilds the donated equipment from scratch. He hunts down obsolete components—like diodes, inductors, capacitors, and tubes—from vintage radio stores, websites, and other radio societies. For repair instructions, he pores through old wartime publications. Wireless for the Warrior, a set of technical reference books for old British Army radio equipment, is his mainstay. He is thinking of replicating hard-to-find items like multipin connectors with a 3-D printer.
Moore considers himself fortunate, he says, that his engineering career links with his passion. He has designed and built computer monitors for International Computers Ltd., a large, now-defunct British manufacturer, as well as TV monitors for Prowest Electronics. In 1987, he helped found a startup, Manitron Displays, which made the first compact radar screens. He left Manitron to start a consultancy in 1989 for flight simulators and 3-D displays.
In 1992, at the age of 48, he earned a Ph.D. in electrical engineering from the University of Cambridge, and he has since worked part time at its Centre for Advanced Photonics and Electronics while continuing his consulting work. The wealth of knowledge shared by the members of the Duxford Radio Society is exhilarating, he says. “You’re forever learning new things,” he adds. But the most rewarding part is demonstrating the radios to visitors. He recalls showing children how to use the radios in a mock-up of a British Lancaster bomber of World War II fame. “You can set the scene for them,” he says. “How cramped it was; how, if you forgot to take your oxygen supply to the plane’s bathroom, you could pass out. It really gives them a big charge.”