Wednesday, December 29, 2004


Introductory Flight Lesson

I had an introductory flight lesson this morning, and it was a blast.

I showed up at the flight school at about 9:15 AM, 15 minutes before my scheduled time. The instructor met with me and we talked about the general process of flight training for a while. Then, when I had no more questions, he explained what we'd be doing in the air. He made it sound very simple; all I had to do was remember three numbers:

  1. 55 knots is the speed at which to start pulling back on the yoke during takeoff
  2. 79 knots is the speed of best climb rate
  3. 65 knots is the speed for approaching the runway for landing

Then we went out to the airplane. We were going to be flying a Piper Warrior II. I had been expecting a Cessna 172, but was happy to be flying a low-wing airplane instead, because it looks a lot cooler.

At first, I was taken aback by how small the Warrior is. It didn't look big enough for two people to sit comfortably side-by-side. Seeing how tight the fit would be, and all the instruments clustered together in such a small space, I started getting a little concerned that this wouldn't be as much fun as I had hoped.

The instructor did the pre-flight check, walking around the plan and checking various things. He went through it without explaining too much - the lesson where a student learns all about the pre-flight check takes a couple of hours, and we didn't have time for that today. Then he told me to climb in. The Warrior only has one door, on the right side of the aircraft, so I had to climb over the right seat to get into the left seat. Then I fastened my seat belt and shoulder belt, and connected the radio/intercom headset. He climbed in on the right, buckled up, and then flipped a bunch of switches and turned a bunch of knobs.

He gave me the key, and told me to start the airplane. That seemed like a lot of responsibility, but it turned out to be just like starting a car. Once the prop was spinning, he flipped a few more switches to get the rest of the instruments to come to life. Then he turned on the radio to listen to the weather forecast. I listened in, and understood some of it due to my last few weeks of studying aviation texts.

He taxied us out of the crowded parking area, then had me do the taxiing to the run-up area. This is a place where we ran the engines up to full speed to get them warmed up. After the run-up, he radioed for clearance, and then we taxied to the runway. One steers an airplane using the rudder pedals, but there were a couple of times I reflexively grabbed the yoke and tried (ineffectually) to steer it like a car.

Once aimed down the runway, he told me to give it full throttle, which I did, and we started rolling down the runway. When we reached an airspeed of a little over 60 knots, I started pulling back on the yoke, and pretty soon we were off the ground. It was all very easy, but the instructor was taking care of the rudder pedals.

I did my best to fly by just looking outside, instead of by looking at the instruments - staying "head down" is a bad habit that people develop by learning on flight simulators, and I wanted to avoid that. We passed through some low-level turbulence, which made it difficult to keep flying straight but wasn't too bad. We climbed to about 3,000 ft, where there was no turbulence, and he had me level off. For the next few minutes, we experimented with the trim control, which is used to relieve pressure on the yoke. He gave it full down trim, and I had to keep the plane level with a lot of back pressure, then he had me turn it to full back trim, requiring a lot of pushing on the yoke to keep the plane level. Then he had be trim it properly, so that I could fly practically hands-off.

Then we did some turns. He asked me to bank 20 degrees, but I was too timid and my banks were really about 10-15 degrees. Then we did a few 30-degree turns, and I got more comfortable with banking. He also had me use the rudder pedals to get nice coordinated turns. I had heard before about the left-turning tendency of airplanes, but this was my first experience of seeing how strong the tendency is.

We had been flying generally north, and were over North Point Mall. He asked me if I wanted to fly over my home in Alpharetta, but I didn't think I'd be able to find it. "Yeah, things look a lot different from the air," he said. We started flying toward Stone Mountain, but there was a lot of haze in that direction, so we turned back south to go back to the airport. The buildings of downtown Atlanta were just barely visible through the haze. As landmarks, I used the Concourse buildings, also known as the "King and Queen" due to the decorative structures on their tops.

I had assumed that as we got back toward the airport, the instructor would take over for the approach and landing. But no, he let me handle the controls for the downwind leg, base leg, and lining up with the runway. The only difficulty here was that I had assumed we'd be landing on the right runway (which is where we had taken off), and so I lined up with that, but he reminded me that he had told me to line up with the left runway, so I had to make a couple of turns. As the runway got bigger and bigger, I kept waiting for him to say "OK, I have the controls," but instead he said "Just watch the far end of the runway, and try to keep us level." Things happened very fast after that, and I don't know to what extent he was guiding the controls for me, but we ended up with a smooth landing.

The whole process of flying was a lot easier than I expected. I was a little nervous when I first got into the plane, but after we started moving, I never felt uncomfortable or overwhelmed. Sure, it helped a lot that the instructor was taking care of all the details, but I was left with the feeling that this flying thing is very do-able.

So I've signed up for the ground school classes, which start next week, and plan to start flying lessons in a few weeks.

Friday, December 24, 2004


"Improper Inflight Decision"

I ran across this interesting NTSB aviation incident report: MIA92FA051. There is some commentary on this incident on the Darwin Awards site.

I don't have any additional comment; I just wanted to save the links.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004


Finally a Vacation!

After a year and a half of work, I finally get to take a vacation. I'll be off until January 4, giving me almost two weeks off.

What will I do with the time? Well, the first few days will be taken up with Christmas activities. I've also scheduled an introductory flying lesson for next week. Other than that, I plan to do nothing.

I really should have taken this entire week off. Our department started moving to a new building last Friday, and the move is still not complete. We finally got some power and limited network access yesterday, but the construction workers are still putting up walls. The constant banging and drilling is pretty distracting. So I've accomplished nothing for the past few days. I hope everything is in good shape when I get back.

To anyone reading this: Happy Holidays!

Sunday, December 19, 2004



I listened to a presentation, Less is More, that was given by Barry Schwartz at Pop!Tech 2004. In the presentation, Schwartz discusses the correlation between increased choice and increased unhappiness. While some choice is preferable to no choice, as the number of choices increases, people are overwhelmed. It becomes difficult to choose between the alternatives, and after the choice is made the chooser will always be disappointed because of uncertainty. Schwartz notes that much of our public policy has as its goal a general increase in wealth, with the idea being that wealthier people have more options open to them and can choose those that make them happy. Schwartz argues that such policies are actually making people miserable, and suggests that as a society we should start pursuing other goals that are directly related to increasing happiness.

In my continuing struggle to decide what to do with my life, I am again at a crossroads. My boss has offered me a promotion. I responded by saying I was planning to quit because I don't like working for this company. We are now in the process of negotiating some sort of role for me that will keep me in the company. He would like to just give me more money to make me happy, but that doesn't work with me.

I don't find that freedom and wealth make me unhappy, but they don't make me happy either. If I was making $40,000/year and raising a family, a 15% raise would be a wonderful thing. But I'm single and already making a six-figure income, so more money doesn't really translate into more of anything I really want. Would I be happier if I were to replace my 57-inch TV with a 72-inch TV? No, there's still nothing worth watching. Would I like a home with more rooms? No, that would just give me more to clean. Would I like a nicer car? Why? Increases in my income just make me wonder what the point of it all is.

The only real benefit to making more money would be that I could put it away, and then retire early. But is that really a good deal? If I retire at 55, will I be satisfied looking back on my "productive years" as a time when I made lots of money but hated every minute of it? I think it's more likely that I will still want to work at 55, and I don't want my career to take a path where there will be no attractive career options open to me.

Even now, the options are limited. As a software developer with 12 years of experience, nobody wants me to hire me as a developer. Anyone with that much experience is supposed to be an "architect", "manager", or "technical lead". I don't want to be any of those things; I just want to write code. I hate the fact that this industry considers somebody with three years of experience to be more valuable than someone with ten years of experience. If I go job hunting, I may have to understate my experience to be taken seriously when applying for jobs that I want.

Maybe going independent is the only refuge for an aging programmer. But if I go independent now, I'll be competing with all the out-of-work dot-bomb people, most of whom have more experience with Java or .NET or Web Services or whatever the hot thing is right now, and who are more desperate for work than I am. When I briefly worked as a contractor, the advice I got from other contractors was that I should lie, cheat, and do whatever it takes to land a contract, and I don't want to live that way.

So maybe I just need to make the best of the situation, accept the offered position with my current employer, and figure out what to do with the extra money.

I wish my Fairy Godmother would appear, tell me what my True Purpose is, and give me a magic artifact to help me achieve it. But I know that won't happen. I have to be my own Fairy Godmother.

Sunday, December 12, 2004


Return to Couch Potatohood

About a year ago, I bought a 57-inch HD-capable TV (although they aren't called "TVs" anymore; they are just called "monitors"). However, I didn't get cable or satellite for it. I've been using it primarily for watching DVDs from Netflix. Over the past twelve months, I've watched very little broadcast television. I watch The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, Meet the Press, The West Wing, and the occasional sitcom, but the poor picture resulting from the rabbit ears on top of my huge TV were a deterrent to watching too much.

However, I've really missed The Daily Show and South Park, so I finally broke down and got DIRECTV. I got their 130-channel basic package, plus local channels, plus their HD package. I'm also getting HBO and Cinemax free for three months.

Here's a feature I'd really like to see in cable and satellite systems: in the online guide, only show me the channels I can actually watch. I've got several hundred channels in my list, but only a fraction of them are really available. Yes, the guide does let me customize the set of channels it shows, but it is a manual process that will require me to step through the channels one by one to see which ones work, then go to a separate settings page to change the lineup. Why can't it be automatic?

My DIRECTV receiver's DVI output supports HDCP, which is some sort of DRM for video. HDCP outputs apparently won't send video signals to non-HDCP devices, if the content provider has enabled protection. My monitor doesn't support HDCP, so I won't be able to view any protected content, unless I switch to a different video output (component video, S-video, etc.). Interestingly, the only HDCP-protected content I've found so far is DIRECTV's channel that tells you how to use DIRECTV. Why are they blocking us non-HDCP "pirates" from getting this content? Are they really concerned that somebody is going to "steal" it?

Of course, my TV-watching time has jumped dramatically since getting the dish. But my outlook has changed after twelve months of watching little TV. The commercials seem a lot more frequent (and annoying) than I remember. There isn't much on that I want to watch. So I hope to get a lot of my free time back after the novelty wears off.

The HD programming is a welcome addition. Discovery HD Channel is well known for its stunning high-definition nature shows. HD sports events are also pretty cool. I thought having The Tonight Show in HD would be overkill, until I saw Heidi Klum walk out on stage.

I've got my TiVo hooked up. I'm completely dependent on it, and really missed it even when I just had the rabbit ears. I can't watch HD through the TiVo, but it otherwise works fine with the satellite system. I considered getting the DIRECTV system with TiVo built in, but I've got the lifetime subscription for my existing TiVo service, and didn't want to pay again.

I used to always find my shoes in the morning in front of the couch. Over the past couple of months, I've noticed that I usually find them in front of the Macintosh. It will be interesting to see whether the couch-TV alliance will be able to regain its dominance.

Sunday, December 05, 2004



After trying the drive from my apartment to Cobb County Airport (KRYY), and finding that it took an hour through heavy traffic each way, I've decided to take lessons at Dekalb-Peachtree Airport (KPDK). This is a busy airport, but the benefit of training there is that I will quickly learn how to deal with all the stuff that happens at a busy airport. Other airports will be easy in comparison.

There is a web site at Of particular interest to me is the business directory, which lists the flight schools.

It's difficult to do good comparison shopping here. The reports I've seen on various bulletin boards all say that all the schools are fine. The problem is that nobody takes flight instruction at multiple schools, so nobody can really say which one is better. The quality of the experience seems to be determined by which individual instructor you end up with, not which school one chooses. So it's a gamble.

I'm basing my comparison on these things:

I'm planning to start lessons in January. Until then, I'm doing as much reading of pilot-training material as I can. I'm also doing a lot of Microsoft Flight Simulator, which is getting me familiar with the geography of the area.

Thursday, December 02, 2004


The Curse of Neophilia

For most of my career, I have worked on "new development", as opposed to "maintenance". I am always asking to be assigned to new projects, and managers have encouraged me to work on new stuff. Whenever I'm on a project for more than about four months, I get sick of it and beg to be re-assigned to something new.

I am always thankful when I get a chance to work on something new. However, an older, wiser co-worker recently noted that this is causing me a lot of stress. New projects often have these attributes:

In contrast, maintenance work, while less interesting, is generally more steady and less frazzled.

So, essentially, I am always asking to do the hard work of getting something off the ground, and after it gets launched, I throw myself into more hard work instead of taking advantage of the calm after the storm. It's no wonder that I'm always tired, that I never feel like I've accomplished anything, and that I can never take a vacation.

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