Wednesday, March 30, 2005


Flying Lesson #12: A New Beginning

Now that I have my student pilot license, I was able to officially enroll in the school's flight training program. The flight training curriculum has a total of 27 units, nine of which are in the pre-solo stage. Today we did units 1 and 2 of the curriculum, which were easy due of the experience I've had up until now. I had an extra-long lesson today, because the instructor's morning lesson was cancelled and he called to ask whether I wanted to show up early.

I almost made two good radio calls today. In the first, I said "nine" instead of "niner", but was otherwise good. On the second, I correctly made a call and then read back the controller's somewhat complex taxi instruction. I was feeling proud of myself, but then noticed my instructor was repeating what I had said. I wondered why for a couple of seconds, then realized that I hadn't pressed the push-to-talk button when I performed my miraculous call. The instructor got a good laugh: "Man, you nailed it, but nobody heard it."

The first part of the lesson was going over the things that I was supposed to learn in flight training units 1 and 2, so I had to demonstrate straight-and-level flight, climbs, descents, medium-bank turns, and other basic maneuvers so that the instructor could grade me. With those out of the way, we practiced flight at minimum controllable airspeed and some stalls. My slow flight still needs work; my reactions are right, but too slow and not aggressive enough to maintain the altitude.

We practiced the engine-out procedure. The instructor cut the throttle, and then let me take things from there, as I assured him I'd memorized the procedure. I established the best-glide speed (which took longer than it should have), then started looking for places to land. We were in an area that had some open fields, so I picked one and started heading for it. Then I started described the things I would do to try to restart the engine and to communicate the situation. Here my memory faltered. I need to study the procedures more.

Then we headed back to the airport for some pattern work. My first landing, with no flaps, went pretty well. This was my first no-flap landing, and I thought it was a lot easier to control the plane at the higher speed. My next landing was the proverbial "greaser:" smooth, straight, soft, and right down the centerline. I thought I'd finally figured this landing thing out, but then my next four landings were all terrible. The pattern and the tower frequency were getting busy, so the instructor decided to cut things off early and called for a full-stop landing. Of course, by the time we landed, the pattern and frequency were clear again.

After the flight, for the first time I got grades on aspects of the flight. The instructor had to reluctantly give me a failing grade for Communications, due to the no-transmit faux pas, but I passed everything else.

For today: 2.2 hours dual in N9103M, including 6 takeoffs and 6 landings. Cost: $380.51.

My next lesson is scheduled for Friday. I've got a double-sized block scheduled, because the instructor's morning student cancelled that one too. The instructor wants us to fly somewhere, take a lunch break, and fly back, hoping to take care of another two or three flight units. Unfortunately, the weather forecast for Friday isn't looking good, so it may end up just being a ground lesson.

Sunday, March 27, 2005


Flying Lesson #11: Actual IMC

I didn't have a lesson scheduled for today, but I did check the airport weather like I do every morning, just for practice. The current conditions were 400-foot ceilings, and the forecast called for afternoon thunderstorms. "I guess nobody's going to be flying today," I thought. Then around 10:00 AM, my instructor called, asking whether I'd be interested in flying through some clouds. Sure! I finished my breakfast, took a quick shower, put on the "nice clothes" I'd need for a family get-together later in the afternoon, and headed for the airport.

Here's a little background info on instrument flight for non-pilots: When an airplane turns, you don't feel yourself tilted from side to side; instead, you just get pushed straight down into the seat. Level flight, a left turn, and a right turn all feel the same. The organs in your ears that sense motion aren't very accurate (for a demonstration, close your eyes, spin yourself in a chair, then try to stand up). Your sense of motion is very helpful when you can also see what's happening, but when you can't see the ground, you can't fly by feel, you have to use the instruments. In fact, your feelings will mislead you, so you have to learn to ignore your instincts and trust the instruments. Studies show that non-instrument-rated pilots who lose their view of the ground will invariably go into a "graveyard spiral" in a matter of minutes, and never know it. The FAA requires a minimal amount of instrument training, so that pilots who inadvertently wander into clouds or fog can safely turn around and get out.

"Instrument Meteorological Conditions" (IMC) refers to weather that requires operation under Instrument Flight Rules (IFR). Pilots usually train using "simulated IMC," meaning that they wear a hood, Foggles, or other device that restricts the view outside the plane but allows viewing of the instruments. Actual IMC experience is a lot more valuable. I know my instructor's ulterior motive for calling me today was to be able to get the experience for himself, but I'm glad he did.

I'll confess that this is the first time I've felt the least hint of danger while flying. I wasn't really worried, but as the ground disappeared completely a few seconds after takeoff, it occurred to me that in the unlikely event that my instructor became incapacitated, I would have no chance of landing the plane safely myself. There was also the possibility that I'd do something stupid that the instructor wouldn't catch soon enough. But these were just passing thoughts. I know my mother reads this blog, so I have to stress that there was nothing dangerous about this. The experience will make me a safer pilot.

At first, it was eerie. I could see the wings of the plane clearly, but there was nothing but a bright white background surrounding us, like being in the center of a ping-pong ball. Believe it or not, you need sunglasses in clouds, as the whiteness can really strain your eyes. At our assigned altitude of 4,000 feet, we were skimming the top of the cloud layer. We'd see up into the sky for a minute or two, then be back in clouds for a few minutes, then out again, and so on. Flying a few feet over the clouds is definitely the coolest thing I've seen so far. Unfortunately, I didn't have much time to enjoy the sights, as my eyes were riveted to the instrument panel.

The instructor had filed a flight plan to perform a hold over a fix about ten miles north of the airport. This means we flew a few laps in a racetrack-style circuit, using VOR/DME equipment to determine our position and distance to the airport, and using a timer to keep our pattern the right size. The instructor told me the headings to fly, when to turn, and so on, while he handled the radio, the navigation equipment, and the timer.

The attitude indicator was acting a little strangely, always showing a bit of a bank even when the other instruments indicated we were level. The instructor declared it "inop" (inoperative) and covered it up. Inoperative instruments get covered up so that they won't confuse the pilot.

I did a pretty good job of holding altitude, but wasn't so good on holding the headings. With the attitude indicator gone, I had to rely on the turn coordinator to maintain wings-level. When the turn coordinator shows a slight bank, I often make the wrong correction: the reason is that the instrument shows the plane tilting, but I sometimes think of it as the horizon tilting (like the attitude indicator), so I start banking the wrong way until I notice that the bank is getting worse or that the heading indicator is spinning in the wrong direction. Aside from that, I did better than I have before at continuously scanning all the instruments, including an occasional glance at the outlying instruments that aren't part of the "six-pack" of primary instruments. It's a lot easier to keep track of everything going on in the plane in actual IMC than it is one's peripheral vision is obscured by a hood or Foggles in simulated IMC.

We were tuned to Atlanta Approach control throughout the flight. There was continuous conversation, which was very different from the silence I'm used to when flying in the local practice area. It was difficult to communicate with the instructor with all that other chatter going on. I'll get more experience with this when I do my cross-country flights.

After a few laps, we flew the ILS (Instrument Landing System) approach. I didn't know much about this, so the instructor did most of the flying, letting me have the controls every once in a while when things were stable. When making an instrument landing, there is a "decision height" at which you have to be able to see the runway, or you must abandon the landing. It was spooky seeing nothing but whiteness all around, watching the altimeter drop, not knowing when or if we'd see the airport, but eventually the ground appeared, and we had the runway in sight just about 100 feet above the decision height.

So, it was a great experience. I know I probably won't get another chance to fly in actual IMC until some time in the future when I go for an instrument rating. Many private pilot students never get such a chance.

For today: 1.0 hours dual in N4332L, including 0.8 hours of actual instrument flight. No takeoffs or landings for me. Cost: $197.83.


Career Outlook

For the past three weeks, I've only been working three days a week. This has been great. I work Mondays, Tuesday, and Thursdays. I find that I'm not as pissed off when I go home as I was when I was working five days per week.

The flying lessons help a lot. Work seems trivial in comparison to the effort needed to learn to fly. I now see my job as just a source of income needed to support my dream of becoming a pilot, so all the frustrations associated with work just don't bother me much. I'm working just to pay for the flying lessons.

I know that someday I'll need to go back to full-time work. probably after the flying lessons are complete and I decide I need to buy my own airplane. I haven't really figured out yet what I want from a full-time job. It would be nice if all the improvements my boss promises come true, so that I can stay with my current employer, but I'm considering the possibility that I'll need to move on. I need a job where I can feel I'm being productive, and where I can feel like I'm involved in the decisions being made. Right now, I feel very unproductive, and I had to remove myself from the decision-making processes to maintain my sanity.

The boss is happy to leave me with a three-day-per-week schedule for a few months, so I've got some time to figure out what I really want to do. In some ways, this is the best job I've ever had. However, I know I'll eventually want to get back into the thick of things, which will both increase my unhappiness but build my motivation. I don't like being a "part-time" employee, and I know going back to full-time will make me feel more "complete," but I also know full-time work will increase the frustrations. I want more work, but I know more work will drive me crazy. I don't want to be "just a programmer," but I know that more responsibility will make me unhappy. I don't know how to resolve these contradictions.

Maybe a oouple more glasses of bourbon will help.

Saturday, March 26, 2005


Sold the Mustang

Today I finally sold my 1994 Mustang. Selling a car to CarMax was, as expected, not quite as easy as buying a car from CarMax, but was still pretty painless. The appraisal took about half an hour, then it took about forty-five minutes for them to go over the paperwork, do a check on the title and the car's history, "secure the car" (whatever that means), get me to sign some documents, and then give me a bank draft. So, the total time in the store was less than 90 minutes, but I was able to stretch it out for four weeks by not having all my stuff (title, registration, valid driver's license) ready back when I bought the Protegé.

The Mustang was my first brand-new car, paid for entirely by myself without any parental help, so in that way it was special. The problem with new cars is that they don't stay new for very long. I liked it when I bought it, but a few months later the shine had worn off and I realized I'd bought a car I couldn't really afford. The car payment, insurance, gas, and maintenance cost me over $700 per month, and that was back when I was only making about $28K/year. But I made the payments, helped by a steep increase in salary during the late 90's, and after it was paid off I decided I'd keep it until it fell apart.

My parents ask me if I'll miss it. I don't have any emotional attachment to it; it's just a vehicle. It's been pretty reliable over the years, but I suspected it was nearing the point where stuff was going to be continually breaking. A ten-year-old dented "redneck car" wasn't really the image that I wanted to portray, so I'm glad to be rid of it.

Friday, March 25, 2005


iMac G5 Information

While researching the capabilities of the iMac G5 audio hardware, I ran across Apple's iMac G5 Developer Note, which has details of the hardware architecture. I'm saving the link here.

I also ran across an entire blog devoted to Living With An Apple iMac G5.


iMac G5 Audio Inadequacies

One of the things that attracted me to the Mac was GarageBand. I've played around with Cakewalk's recording products on Windows, and I was looking forward to similar audio/music experiments on the Mac. I assumed the Mac would make it easier.

My rants about the iMac G5's "audio capabilities:"

So for now, it's back to the Windows world for my audio experiments. I've ordered an M-Audio Fast Track USB interface to make up for the iMac's deficiencies.


Flying Lesson #10

Today we did ground-reference maneuvers: maneuvers done at low altitude (1,000 feet above ground level) where you try to maintain a particular track along the ground, correcting for wind as necessary. The winds were light and variable, so I didn't really get to practice the wind-correction aspect of the maneuvers. We did many of the maneuvers near my apartment, so I got to look down on familiar territory.

When practicing these maneuvers, you want to use straight roadways and intersections as your ground references. It's difficult to do this in Georgia, as the roadways generally follow terrain, so you don't have more than a half mile of straight roadway anywhere, and you never find the nice roadway grids needed for a rectangular course. We made due by flying a rectangular course around a private runway, doing turns around a cell tower, and doing S-turns over a stretch of Georgia SR 400.

I did fairly well on these maneuvers in calm conditions, but we'll have to see how it goes when I have to contend with wind.

After the ground reference maneuvers, we practiced some steep turns and then headed back to the airport. As we were approaching, they "turned the airport around," meaning that due to changing wind direction they decided to start having aircraft take off and land to the south instead of to the north. On my first touch-and-go, there was a jet landing on a parallel runway going in the opposite direction, thus seemingly coming straight at us.

We did three touch-and-goes before the final full-stop landing. I did poorly, considering the practice I had with touch-and-goes on Wednesday. It felt a lot different without the strong crosswind. I'm still coming out of the base leg onto final approach too high, so I'll have to work on keeping the nose down on the base leg. On the plus side, my takeoffs were really smooth: I've finally got the hang of the pitch and back-pressure needed for takeoff and climb.

For today: 1.7 hours dual in N4332L, with 4 takeoffs and 4 landings. Cost: $292.99.

When I got home, I found my student pilot certificate in the mailbox. It's about time - I had the exam February 4, so it took a total of seven weeks to receive it. I'm a little disppointed with the document itself: it's just black ink on plain white paper, easily forgeable, and doesn't seem worth the effort required to obtain it.

Thursday, March 24, 2005


The Office

The BBC series "The Office" is one of those wonderful things you only run across once a decade or so. NBC's version of the series premiered tonight, and looks like it will be a pretty faithful rendition of it. They didn't American-ize it too much. I was afraid NBC would add a laugh track and fill it with perky celebrities, but instead they kept the low-key dry humor that makes the British series so great.

The NBC show has the same characters (with different names) that the BBC show has, but the American actors aren't mimicking the performances of the British actors. Steve Carell of "The Daily Show" captures the essence of Ricky Gervais's insensitive arrogant "David Brent" character but does it in his own way. With luck, the producers will duplicate the chemistry of the original series without making it just a remake.

The original BBC series is airing on BBC America this weekend. If you've never seen it, do. If you just watch a couple episodes, you'll have to watch the rest of the series. Ricky Gervais, star and co-writer of the BBC show, is a friggin' genius.

Unfortunately, I don't have high hopes for the NBC series. If they do it right, the ratings will suck, and if they change it to get better ratings, it won't be worth watching.


Your Papers Are Not In Order

I finally received the replacement title for my old Mustang, so I went back to CarMax to try to get them to buy it. I waited 30 minutes while they re-appraised it (the original appraisal was only good for seven days), and they came back with the same offer they gave me before. So then I waited another 30 minutes while the business manager went over the paperwork.

He came out and said, "Mr. Johnson, there are a couple of red flags here that I need to discuss with you." OK. "First, this title was issued just a week ago. That's a little suspicious; what's the deal?" I explained that I couldn't find the title, so I ordered a replacement title so that I could sell the car. "OK. The other thing is that your driver's license is expired. We can't accept invalid ID."

Huh? I whipped out my wallet and looked at my driver's license. Sure enough, it expired back in January. Oops. I told the manager I'd be back in a couple of days with a valid license.

I renewed it this morning, so I'm "legal" again. I'm a little surprised that nobody else noticed the expiration date. During the time that my ID was not valid, I was able to present it to accomplish the following:

I'm sure I'll forget to renew it again the next time it expires, in 2009. Maybe licenses should have embedded alert lights that flash when they expire, like those palm lights in Logan's Run.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005


Harrison Ford: Just Another Pilot

One of the coolest guys in the world talks about being a pilot: (Quicktime video).


Respect for Web Developers

Jeremy Zawodny has a post about the lack of proper respect given to web developers. I admit I'm an anti-web-developer bigot myself. I wrote a few simple web apps myself a few years ago and decided "This is no big deal." I did a few more a couple years ago while studying for the .NET certification exams, and decided "Geez, with all these tools, now any idiot can do this stuff." But when I look at something like Google Maps, I know there are web developers who are out of my league. I also have to accept that I'll never catch up with them.

Maybe someday we'll even come to respect Visual Basic developers. (OK, probably not, but I have to end with a surprising statement.)


Flying Lesson #9

The weather was iffy as I arrived at the airport. Observations in the area were for scattered clouds at 2,500 ft. AGL (above ground level), and a broken cloud layer at 4,000 ft. AGL. That's flyable, but pretty low and in danger of getting worse. The instructor had to cancel a flight earlier in the day due to the weather, so he was predisposed to file an instrument flight plan and let me get some hood time in actual IMC (instrument meteorological conditions). But while we were talking and while he was putting together his flight plan, the sun came out and conditions looked like they would be improving, so we decided to fly VFR (visual flight rules instead of instrument flight rules) and concentrate on "traffic pattern work," meaning that we would do a bunch of touch-and-go landings at the airport.

The last time I did touch-and-goes (see Flying Lesson #3), I was pretty overwhelmed with all the stuff I had to do. This time was a lot easier. Everything seemed less rushed and I was always able to predict what would happen next.

This is the first time I've noticed the scenery around the airport. I usually only see the airport from the air for a few seconds after takeoff and for a minute or so while going in to land. I never really noticed the tall trees around the southern end of the runways, or the radio towers a few miles south. Now I've got a few landmarks picked out that I can use as points of reference when flying the traffic pattern.

We had a pretty strong crosswind, meaning that the wind was blowing across the runway (ideally, you want the wind coming straight down the runway). There are two techniques involved in handling a crosswind landing. First, there is the "crab," where you aim the nose of the plane into the wind, causing you to fly a little sideways in relation to the ground. Second is the "wing low" technique, where you bank the plane's wings toward the wind to prevent drift and use opposite-side rudder to keep you pointed straight down the runway instead of turning. Both of these techniques are needed: you use the crab to line up on the final approach, but then you have to straighten out and go to a wing-low attitude before touchdown because landing sideways would stress the landing gear (and the passengers).

I've got the crab thing down pretty well, but the transition to wing-low is something I need to work on. I'd have a nice stable approach in a crab, then everything would go screwy when I tried to straighten out. I was using too much rudder, and not enough bank. My problems were compounded by the fact that runway 20R at PDK has a large "pit" in front of it that causes a downdraft right at the point where I was starting the transition. In the future, I'll go wing-low a lot sooner so that I have time to stablize.

After five touch-and-goes, and two go-arounds (one by the instructor, one by me) the weather was getting pretty nice, so we headed up to the practice area for some slow-flight practice. I'm getting better at this, but the instructor keeps making it more difficult by making me do more turns and more speed transitions. The big challenge here is that any small change made to pitch attitude or throttle power doesn't have a noticeable effect for several seconds, so I have a tendency to overcontrol instead of waiting to see what the effect is. I am getting better at using visual references (that is, looking outside) instead of chasing the instrument needles while trying to stablize level flight.

While flying back to the airport, a jet passed a few hundred feet below us. This is the third time that a jet has passed a little too close for comfort. It's not really scary - I'm pretty sure the jet pilots know what they're doing - but it's always surprising. That's part of the excitement of training at an airport with a lot of executive jet traffic.

For today: 1.6 hours dual in N4363D with 6 takeoffs and 6 landings. Cost: $294.87.

Next lesson: Friday. I still haven't received my student pilot certificate in the mail, but if I'm lucky I'll get it tomorrow. The instructor will be around for a few more weeks, and I'm hoping I can get to the solo stage before he leaves.


Widescreen NetNewsWire

A few months ago, when I was first looking at Mac apps, I chose Shrook over the other aggregators because of its panel layout. the three columns make much better use of the wide iMac G5 display.

I found an article describing how to hack NetNewsWire so that it has the same layout:

So, I'm giving NetNewsWire a try. Actually, I'm giving NetNewsWire Lite a try; I can't use the NetNewsWire demo anymore because I tried it a few months ago and now the demo period is expired. It would be nice if perishable demos like this would automatically reset their timers after a few weeks/months of inactivity, so that people like me can give rejected software another chance.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005


Lost My Feeds

Well, my feed aggregator lost my channel list. Congratulations, Aviatrix: Cockpit Conversation is now the only feed Shrook shows me. I don't know where to find the old list, and of course I don't have an OPML backup.

I guess this is a good opportunity for spring cleaning. Recently I've noticed that I'm using the Mark All Articles As Read feature a lot; many of the feeds I've subscribed to really aren't providing anything I want. And it's a good opportunity to look at aggregators other than Shrook.


Becoming a Pilot

Some of my readers may be interested in knowing what is required to become a Private Pilot, so that they'll know where I am in the process. The FAA has the following requirements:

There are other requirements for age, health, etc., and a lot of specifics I've left out, but the above summarizes the hurdles I have in front of me.

Flight training can be roughly broken down into these stages:

So, with the 11 hours of training I currently have logged, I've got a way to go. I have several firsts to look forward to: first unassisted landing, first solo, first solo cross-country, first night flight, and eventually, first pilot certificate. There will probably be some less celebratory firsts, like first time getting lost, first time being chewed out by air traffic control or an instructor for doing something wrong, first time an important flight is cancelled due to weather or maintenance, first time getting ramp-checked by an FAA inspector, and so on, but that's all part of the experience.

As long as the money doesn't run out, I have a lot of learning ahead of me. With luck, I'll be soloing in a month or so, and will pass the checkride in five or six months.

Monday, March 21, 2005


Searching My Blog

Note that there is a search field in the upper left-hand corner of this page. It triggers a Google search for the specified terms on the site ""

Unfortunately, it doesn't work very well. I can find posts for the last month or so, but older posts don't get found. I suspect this has something to do with Google filtering out blog entries, or not following links into the Archives. The fact that Blogger is owned by Google makes these restrictions seem especially stupid. It's silly that I have to use the Technorati search engine instead of Google to search my blog.

I've added the Technorati searchlet over on the right side. Now I'd like to get rid of that useless Google box in the upper left, but it's provided by Blogger and I don't know how to eliminate it.

Friday, March 18, 2005


Big-Text Spam

I saw a new kind of spam message today. Maybe others have seen it before, but it was new to me (you may need to adjust your browser's text-size to read it):

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It's an interesting idea, but spam filters could easily catch this kind of thing. A more subtle approach would be to use fewer space characters, but use the varying "darknesses" of different characters to spell out the message or display an image.


Flying Lesson #8

I'm going to be losing my flight instructor. He received a letter from Delta informing him he's been accepted into their training program. So that's good news for him, but bad news for me and his other students. The school doesn't have any instructors with open schedules, so it will be interesting to see how long it takes to get another instructor hired. My current instructor will be around for another week, and I wish him the best.

After doing the pre-flight and starting the engine, I made the radio call to ground control. For the first time, I did it all perfectly. It felt good. The instructor also let me taxi the plane through the tight area between the school's other planes. That went smoothly as well.

The instructor had me focus on more "hood work" (simulated instrument flight). That was a bit of a shame, as it was a beautiful day, but it was a good thing for me to work on. I put the Foggles on right after takeoff (before we even got to cruise altitude), and for almost an hour he had me practice level flight, climbs and descents, turns, and slow flight on instruments.

The first half hour was really shaky; I kept chasing the airspeed indicator and altimeter, and didn't pay enough attention to the other instruments. For some reason, I had it in my head that I wasn't supposed to use the attitude indicator (popularly known as the "artificial horizon"). Once I did start using it, everything got a lot easier. The last fifteen minutes or so under the hood, I was doing pretty well. The only remaining problem is that I need to incorporate the magnetic compass and engine gauges into my scan of the instruments. I also need to pay attention to the clock to remember to switch tanks and do a cruise checklist once in a while.

After I took off the Foggles, the instructor said, "OK, get out your chart and tell me where we are." I looked around for landmarks. I couldn't see the buildings of Atlanta, or any large bodies of water, but I could see an airport. By comparing that with our current heading, I determined that the runway direction was roughly east-west. There are two airports in the area like that, so I looked around for other landmarks to figure out which one we were near. I looked for Lake Lanier, which should have been nearby if it was Lawrenceville (LZU), but didn't see it. So then I looked for the runway of Dobbins Air Reserve Base (MGE) which should have been nearby if the runway I was looking at was Cobb County/McCollum Field (RYY), but I couldn't find that either. After a couple of minutes, I had to tell the instructor that I was stumped. He was disappointed: Stone Mountain was in clear sight, meaning we were near LZU, but I totally missed it. Lake Lanier actually was in sight, but it was very hazy in the distance.

We flew back to the airport. While on the base leg for landing on runway two-right, ATC suddenly asked us to land on two-left instead. A few weeks ago, I probably wouldn't even have heard that on the radio, and if I had I would have been rattled by the sudden change, but today it was no big deal. Maybe I really am getting better at this after all.

The instructor wants me to verbalize what I'm doing and why while flying, so that it will be easier for him figure out what I'm thinking and to correct my mistakes. I'm trying to do that, but it is difficult for me to think and speak at the same time. I clam up when I'm concentrating or when I'm under stress, not because I don't want to be communicative but because I can't hear myself think if I'm talking or listening. It's something I'll have to work on. Telling the examiner what I'm doing and why will be important on the checkride.

For today: 1.4 hours dual, including 0.9 hours simulated instrument time, in N4363D. Cost: $275.82.

When I got home, I called the FAA to check on the status of my student pilot certificate. They said that I'm certified, and will be receiving the certificate in the mail. So I'll finally have the certificate, just as the instructor is leaving, but maybe that works out for the best. I'll have a fresh start with a new instructor, but with a big head start.


The Glamour of Being a Pilot

We've all seen those romantic images of The Pilot: a square-jawed broad-shouldered guy stands tall, gazing up into the sky with a determined look on his face. He's wearing a leather jacket with a silk scarf blowing in the wind, or wearing a crisp military-style uniform. The standard images are of tall strong men, but there are also beautiful female pilots with form-hugging uniforms. In fictional settings, pilots always look cool.

The reality is a lot different. While wearing a radio headset, a pilot looks a little like Princess Leia. While wearing a full helmet, a military pilot looks like a bobble-head doll. Notice that when George W. Bush landed on that aircraft carrier, he took off the helmet as soon as possible - he didn't want to look like Dukakis did in that tank.

Then there are the sunglasses. All pilots wear sunglasses, for good reason, and a lot of pilots think they look good in them. I think people usually look ridiculous in sunglasses. Sure, they look good on Val Kilmer and Peta Wilson in the Serengeti ads, but most of us just look like bug-eyed aliens. I went for practical sunglasses that are large, so they look extra ridiculous but give me a good field of view. Many other pilots, particularly the younger ones, wear those narrow Neo-in-the-Matrix styles, which I don't think are any good except for looking cool. Young professional pilots all complain about living in poverty, but they've all got a couple of hundred-dollar pairs of sunglasses.

Pilots of big jets get fairly comfortable surroundings, but the average small-plane cockpit is worse than a seat in the Coach section. With feet squeezed into the tiny area where the rudder pedals are, and knees up around the chin, a pilot enjoys all the glamour of a gynecological exam.

If anyone can tell me a graceful way to get into or out of a Piper Warrior, I'd appreciate it. Imagine Bo and Luke Duke both entering or exiting the General Lee through the passenger-side window.

So being a pilot makes you uncomfortable and makes you look stupid. Let's keep that our little secret - I'm still hoping to impress attractive members of the opposite sex with the mystique of saying "Yeah, I'm a pilot."

Wednesday, March 16, 2005


Ground Lesson #2

We had rain, fog, mist, and low ceilings in Atlanta today, so I had a ground lesson instead of a flying lesson.

Driving into the airport was interesting: all the jets were flying very low in directions I'd never seen them fly before. The flight school staff was talking about it as I walked in. Due to the weather, ATC had the planes traveling perpendicular to the runway and making 270-degree turns to and from the departure and approach legs, instead of flying the normal rectangular pattern. I'll have to ask more about this before my next lesson.

The instructor and I spent the next couple of hours talking about weather and airspace. I've already covered weather in my formal ground-school classes, but airspace is something I've just started studying. I knew the rules for class A, B, C, D, E, and G airspace pretty well, but had not studied the types of special-use airspace and the cleverly-named "other airspace," so we discussed those in detail.

After going through the general discussion, the instructor showed me some weird stuff on the Jacksonville sectional chart. He did his flight training in northern Florida, so he wanted to torture me with some of the questions his instructors had used to torture him.

First, he pointed at an airport and asked "What kind of airspace is that?" Seeing the dotted-blue line circling it, I answered "class D, of course." "OK, does it have a tower?" he asked. I looked, and saw that the airport symbol was magenta, meaning it's a non-towered airport. "So, how can an airport be controlled airspace, but have no control tower?" I was stumped. I checked the airport directory, and it gave a control-tower frequency, so there must be a tower, but the chart marks it as non-towered. After letting me flail around with guesses for a couple of minutes, the instructor gave me the answer: this particular tower is only open on certain days, when a NOTAM (Notice to Airmen) is issued stating that it is open. An airport might also be marked this way if a tower is under construction when the chart is made.

Then he pointed out another airport. This one had a tower (blue symbol), but was not marked as controlled airspace. So what are the rules that apply to trying to land at an airport that is not class B, C, or D airspace, but has an operating control tower? I didn't know; I thought all towered airports would be B, C, or D. So he pointed out the regs that say in class E and G airspace with an operating control tower, one must establish two-way communications with the tower before entering the area with a 4-nautical-mile radius around the airport and below 2,500 feet above ground level.

We had talked about controlled firing areas (a type of special-use airspace), and he asked me if such areas are ever on the chart. The naive answer would be "No," as the Aeronautical Information Manual says such areas need not be charted, but I knew he wouldn't be asking if that answer was correct. He showed me a route marked across Florida, starting in the Atlantic and terminating in the Gulf of Mexico. It is marked as a military training route, but instead of just being a line it had borders several miles north and south of it. There was a label that said something about "special military operations." What was it? The Navy test-fires Tomahawk cruise missiles from the Atlantic to the Gulf through this area.

Another trick question: are Temporary Flight Restrictions ever depicted on a chart? "No," I said, "you wouldn't put something temporary on a chart." Wrong. He showed me an area around a nuclear submarine base, marked with a label saying "Temporary Flight Restriction." That temporary restriction has been there for many years, and will probably be there for as long as there is a submarine base there. Why don't they just mark it as "prohibited?" Nobody seems to know.

I felt pretty worn out at the end of the two-hour ground session, but it was very helpful in absorbing all the details of airspace. My next lesson is scheduled for Friday, and the weather forecast looks good, so I'm hopeful I'll be in the air in a couple of days.


Google Goes X

The Google blog entry gives you no clue about what Google X is, but it is a Google home page interface inspired by the the Mac OS X Dock. It's kinda cool, but everyone knows that the really cool Mac people have their docks oriented vertically, not horizontally.


The FAA Continues to Spin Its Wheels

Complaining about bureaucratic inaction is like complaining about the weather: it has no effect on the problem. I'm blogging my experiences with the FAA primarily just to keep a record of when conversations occurred and what the outcome was. If you don't care to read more rants about the FAA, you can stop reading here.

I called the FAA again today to check on the status of my medical certificate. This time, the person I talked to said he couldn't determine its status. He could see that somebody looked at it since the last time I called, but that's all the information he had. He's going to print something out and send it to a supervisor for review. He recommended that I give them a call toward the end of next week.

Whenever I call the FAA, images and music from the movie Brazil go through my mind.

It's been five and a half weeks since I had the exam, and I still have no idea when I'll get the certificate. I'm considering suspending my lessons until this gets resolved, as the school isn't letting me progress without it. I don't want to put things on hold, but my budget won't allow for burning through an extra couple grand while waiting. I'll talk to the instructor about it today.

[Update 2005/3/18: The FAA says I'm certified, and my certificate is in the mail.]

Tuesday, March 15, 2005


I Do Like My Flight Instructor

My mother asked me whether I am still thinking about getting another flight instructor, or if I am getting along better with my current instructor. I didn't understand this question, because I'm very happy with my flight instructor and have not had any misgivings about him. When I asked Mom why she thought I didn't like the instructor, she said she read it in my blog.

Hmmm. I never intended to express any dissatisfaction with the instructor, and re-reading my old entries, I can't find anything that I think could be interpreted that way. When I pressed Mom, she couldn't point out anything in particular; she's using some sort of magical female reading-between-the-lines ability to judge my true feelings.

So, anyway, I'd appreciate it if somebody else can tell me if they got that same impression, and what I wrote that created the impression. Maybe it's poor writing, or maybe I really hate my instructor but am in denial.

(BTW, my mother and my boss read my blog. That's probably the ultimate nightmare for a lot of bloggers, but since my name is on this thing, I'm careful not to write anything that I wouldn't be willing to say to anybody I know.)

Monday, March 14, 2005


Ground School Midterm Exam

We had a midterm exam in our ground school tonight, using questions from the FAA Knowledge Exam covering the areas that have been covered in class. My grade on this exam doesn't officially "count" toward anything, but I can't take the real FAA exam without approval from the ground-school instructor.

I scored 96%, missing two of the 50 questions. Both of my incorrect answers were due to carelessness. On one question, involving a graph, I looked at the 35-degree line instead of the 25-degree line, so I got the wrong answer. On the other, I read the words "decrease by 10%" but I increased the calculated value instead.

I'm glad that I didn't miss anything due to lack of study, but it bugs me that I made stupid mistakes. My perfectionism makes me obsessive over the two missed questions, but it was a lack of perfection that caused me to miss them. 96% is a lot better than what is needed to pass the FAA exam, but I want 100%.

Sunday, March 13, 2005


Cooking at Home

When I took my year off from work, one of my resolutions was to eat out at most once per week. This was primarily a money-saving strategy, but after losing 20 pounds in a couple of months I decided it would be a good lifestyle change. I kept it up during my time off, but the habit disappeared when I started working again. I put that 20 pounds back on in less than a month.

Now that I am again at a reduced salary, and have those pilot-training expenses, I have additional motivation to get back into the eating-at-home habit. I currently spend over $10 per day on fast-food and restaurant meals, so making my own meals should save me a few hundred bucks a month.

I have two grocery stores within a mile of my apartment, so I don't stock up much. I stop at the grocery store every couple of days and pick up the fixings for two or three meals. My cupboards stay almost bare, and the fridge contains just a gallon of milk and a lot of condiments, so visitors find it hard to believe that I ever cook anything.

I'm not really much of a cook. When I'm bored and have some time to kill, I'll make spaghetti or a hot-dish and freeze the excess portions, but usually I just heat up a "TV dinner"-style meal and quickly toss a little salad. It doesn't take any more time than stopping at a drive-thru. The only downside is that I have to clean dishes, pots, and pans instead of just throwing away a bunch of paper bags and wrappers.

There are a lot of pretty good pre-packaged meals available at the grocery store, but there are a few things that I really have to make from scratch or buy from a restaurant to get them right:

I notice that most of the items on this list are not really good for me, so I should probably learn to do without them.

Saturday, March 12, 2005


The Relief of Leaving a Job

Jeremy Zawodny has a link to an article I want to read when I have time: On the surface, it looks like just another variation of the "Do what you love" career philosophy, but maybe there is more to it.

A few weeks ago when I quit my job (before un-quitting), I wrote this sentence:

The two happiest days associated with any job are the day you are offered the job, and the day you quit.

I deleted that line before publishing the blog entry. It wasn't a thought I wanted associated with me. It expressed my relief at putting an end to an unpleasant job, but It makes me sound like a life-long job-hopper. That's not what I want to be. I really do want to find a job where I'll be happy for a few decades. I don't want the happiest day of my life to be the day when I retire; I want it to be the day when I realize that I've finally made the right choice of career.


Productivity as a Game

Steven Frank has an interesting idea for motivating oneself to do the things one really needs to do.

Most of the people I work with spend a lot of time playing MMORPGs. Maybe we can start offering experience points for writing unit tests, doing code reviews, refactoring bloated code, etc.


Met Sean O'Leary

As Sean writes in his blog, we met last week for dinner. We've been in touch with one another in various online forums for a few years, but this was our first "meatspace" meeting. He was almost exactly like I expected him to be, except taller.

I'm always a little embarrassed when out-of-town guests ask me where we should go or what we should do. I don't know the cool places to go in Atlanta. I've lived here for practically my entire life, but I still don't know a really good restaurant or an interesting place to take tourists. During high school and college I was more in touch with the big city, but my dinner with Sean was my first meal downtown since the 1996 Olympics.

There is an Irish pub in Buckhead I thought about suggesting, but I quickly realized a guy named O'Leary from Chicago would probably laugh at Atlanta's rendition.

I'm glad I finally shamed him into updating his blog, after a few months of inactivity. Sean's blog was the primary inspiration for my own blog. I wish I had something as good as his monkey picture to put on my page. He told me a couple of stories that he's thinking about putting in his blog, so I look forward to seeing how those get written up.

Friday, March 11, 2005


I'm Officially a Student Pilot

Unfortunately, I didn't get home in time today to call the FAA aeromedical branch to ask whether my student pilot certificate has been granted yet. They keep bankers' hours, in the Central time zone, so the only time I can call them is around lunchtime, and today I was flying then. So I can't try to contact them until Monday.

However, I did receive a privacy notice from the FAA Airmen Certification Branch, with the greeting "Dear Certificate Holder", so I suspected that the certificate may have been granted. I went to the FAA Civil Aviation Registry web site, and sure enough, I am listed there with "Medical Class: Third" and the certificate "STUDENT PILOT," issued 02/11/2005. So I guess I was accepted.

I wonder why I had to do so much digging on my own to find this out. Maybe somebody can tell the FAA about this new "electronic mail" thing that all the kids are talking about. I'm sure the FAA aeromedical staff must have a few 300-baud modems lying around they could use to get on the Internet.

Unfortunately, the airmen registry won't reveal my certificate number, so I'll have to wait for the physical certificate to arrive before I can make use of DUATS and other services that require a certificate number for registration. And of course, I'll need the physical certificate before my flight school will treat me as a real student pilot, so I hope it arrives before my next lesson on Wednesday.

BTW, privacy advocates would be interested to know that the names, addresses, and ratings of all certificated pilots are made public by default, but pilots may request that their addresses not be made public. See the FAA web site for more details. According to the FAA, if I choose not to have my address made public, I "may not receive important aviation information from aviation associations and industry concerning safety, flying techniques, new products, legislative and regulatory positions, or aviation-related events." I'll need to do some research to figure out whether I want my information to be public or not - I lean toward not, but if that means nobody can verify that I am a certificated pilot, maybe that would cause problems somewhere down the road.

[UPDATE: 2004/3/14: Called the FAA today, and they say my application is now in the "final stages of review," whatever that means. They suggested that I call back in a few more days, which is what they always suggest.]


Flying Lesson #7

Today was windy with a lot of turbulence. I know it is good to get experience in adverse conditions, but it was very frustrating. At the end of the flight, the instructor asked what I'd learned today. When I answered "That I suck," he laughed and said that I did fine considering the conditions.

We took off to the south today. This is the first time I've taken off in that direction, and the different view confused me a little. This is also the first time I've needed to take crosswind into account. I don't know why, but I pitched back way too far on takeoff - the instructor yelled "get the nose down," just as the stall warning horn sounded. I recovered fine, but I don't remember exactly how I got into that attitude or what I was thinking.

I got some more hood time today. Trying to fly by instruments while the plane is bumping around and hitting updrafts and downdrafts is very challenging. I'd just about have everything level, trimmed, and stable when suddenly the plane would bounce, my hand would bump the throttle, and then I'd have to start all over again.

We practiced a few stalls and some slow flight. I was doing the maneuvers better on Wednesday than today. The bumpiness frazzled me a bit, and the time under the hood led me to stay fixated on the instruments during the maneuvers instead of using visual references like I should have been. As I was driving home, it occurred to me that I couldn't remember how good the visibility was today, so I must not have been looking outside at all.

As we returned to the airport, ATIS was reporting 15-knot winds with 30-knot gusts. That's beyond my skill level, so the instructor handled the approach and landing. A gust of wind hit us just before touchdown, causing the plane to land a little sideways. As we rolled onto the taxiway, we noticed some strange sounds and the instructor noticed some sluggishness in the steering, so he feared that he'd blown a tire. After parking at the ramp we saw everything was fine; the noise and control problems were due to the high winds against the fuselage.

Speaking of landings: my biggest fear when I started taking flying lessons was that landings would be difficult and that any little mistake on my part could lead to fatalities. Now I've seen a few "bad" landings, both from inside the plane and from the sidelines watching other planes on the field. While some were a little scary, no damage has been done and nobody had gotten hurt. These little planes are pretty tolerant of bad landing technique. That doesn't mean I'm not going to be careful when landing, but I'm less worried.

I feel like I'm getting worse with each lesson. I was most comfortable with the first couple of lessons, but now everything seems difficult, almost overwhelmingly so. Of course, I know that's not really true: on the first couple of lessons, the instructor was assisting a lot, and now I am doing more myself. So I need to learn from the mistakes, work on my weak spots, and otherwise just try to enjoy it. Here are the major lessons for today:

For today: 1.5 hours dual instruction, including 0.5 hours hood time, in N4332L. Cost: $285.35.

Thursday, March 10, 2005


The Need for Achievement

The TrueTalk blog has the best description I've seen of what motivates me to work:

I'm constantly amazed to find that there are people who do not share this motivation. I can't imagine how horrible life would be if the only thing I wanted for my efforts was a paycheck.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005


Thin Mints

Girl Scouts' Thin Mint cookies are the best food in the world.

A guy at work bought a dozen boxes. At first I laughed, but now I realize he is a visionary.


Flying Lesson #6

I hate to say it, but I really wasn't looking forward to today's lesson. I've hit a phase where driving to the airport seems like a chore, not the beginning of an adventure, and where I'm not sure I'll ever be able to do all the things a pilot has to do. I enjoyed the time in the air, and there are some interesting things to look forward to, so I hope these doubts are temporary.

I still don't have my medical certificate, so I still can't take the "real lessons." Today we practiced slow flight some more, and did some power-on and power-off stalls. The power-on stall was fun: you slow down to takeoff speed, then give it full throttle while also raising the nose as high as possible. When it stalls, all you really have to do is drop the nose a little to recover.

Next we did some steep turns (45-degree bank). I lost a couple hundred feet of altitude on each attempt, and couldn't maintain a steady bank. We'll be working on this more.

The instructor gave me the Foggles so I could try some instrument-only flight. He had me close my eyes and look down, then put the plane into unusual attitudes and have me recover without looking out the window. I don't know why, but my instinct was to always bank in the direction the turn indicator showed I was already banked, thus steepening my bank, rather than leveling the wings like I was supposed to do.

After the hood time, the instructor asked me to use the VOR to point us back at the airport. I got the needle centered, then turned toward the appropriate heading, but the airport was not in front of me. It only took me a couple of seconds to glance at the magnetic compass and note that the heading indicator was way off - the instructor had deliberately misadjusted it while my eyes were closed during the unusual attitudes. I couldn't tell whether he was pleased or disappointed that I had figured it out so quickly.

My landing sucked. I didn't descend enough before turning onto final, so I had a steep and fast descent, and flew over half the runway before touching down. The good news is that I stayed aligned with the centerline pretty well.

After we went inside, the instructor had a lot of pointers for me. I'll study them and try to remember them during my next lesson:

Logged today: 1.5 hours dual, including 0.3 hours hood time. 1 takeoff, 1 landing. Cost: $295.35.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005


Why Won't the Modem Dial?

Fun time: for several weeks, I've been working on functionality that lets our terminal application dial in to a modem bank to upload its data and download software updates. Pressure is on to get this functionality into the field as quickly as possible. Unit tests ran fine, but when I put the whole system together, the modem wouldn't dial out. I can see lights flickering on the modem, but it never goes off-hook. Great.

We are using a communications library provided by another vendor. When it doesn't work, figuring out why can be a daunting task. Its log file indicated Dial-Up Networking error 630, which means "the modem was disconnected due to hardware failure." The modem works fine outside of our application, so I knew it wasn't really a hardware failure. The developer of the library didn't provide much help, saying only "It works in other applications."

We've had several updates to this library over the past few weeks, so I decided to roll back to an older version of the library that I was using the last time the application worked. No good: still not working. So it must be something else that changed recently.

I went back to square one, writing a simple test program that just invoked the library's functions with appropriate data. Yes, that works, so I know the hardware is good and that it is possible to get the library to do its thing. Then I run my unit tests, and those work, so I know my classes are good, but somehow I've put them together in a way that doesn't work.

So I start hacking on the application. I gradually strip functionality out of it, hoping that I'll eventually find the thing that is interfering with the modem dialing. As I do so, I am constantly asking myself "Is it a race condition?," "Is there a DLL issue?," "Is memory being corrupted somewhere?," and all the other typical questions that I ask myself when all the code looks right but it doesn't work.

Eventually I figure it out. The modem on this machine has been mapped to com port 5. Another part of the application expects to find another piece of hardware connected to com port 5, so it opened the port before the modem-dialing part of the application got to it. That error code 630 really means "cannot open the modem port because something already has it open." This explains why the unit tests work, but the whole application does not. It also explains why I saw lights flickering on the modem when the dial-out stuff wasn't working: the app was sending commands intended for another device.

I didn't find this problem earlier in development because I usually have mock objects in place of the real hardware devices. When using the mock hardware, nothing tries to open the COM5 port, so the modem works fine. I've even been using a mock modem for the past few weeks, concentrating on the higher-level communication logic rather than the nuts and bolts of making a real modem connection, because the system I'm dialing into has reliability issues.

So, I guess the lesson here is that one should not rely too much on mock objects. I need to test with the full hardware configuration more often. I knew that before, but this is not the first time I've had to re-learn a lesson.

My neighbors in cubicleland will be happy to know that I can turn off the modem speaker now.

Friday, March 04, 2005


The iMac Is Back

The replacement midplane board arrived today. Following Apple's simple 82-step procedure, I replaced it and now the iMac is working again.

The process took about 90 minutes (plus two weeks waiting for delivery of the part). One step that took a very long time was reconnection of the "black inverter cable", a small cable with a very small connector that is underneath another component in the midplane board. You need needle-nose pliers and a penlight to get it reconnected. Apple's documentation notes "Move the hard drive out of the way if you can't get the connector in place." Well, I did have to detach and move the hard drive out of the way, which made me wonder why the procedure made me put the hard drive in place before putting this connector in place. And then I had to move the hard drive again when the cable got pulled out as I was putting the inverter back in place. My advice to anyone performing this procedure is to reconnect the hard drive after getting the inverter and inverter cover back in place.

The replacement midplane board has a different Ethernet MAC address than my original board, so iTunes and other programs that use the MAC address to uniquely identify a computer think that I now have a new machine. Apple supposedly provides some sort of mechanism for getting iTunes to recognize the new MAC as my One True Computer; I hope the other affected programs will make the transfer easy.

When I choose "About This Mac" from the Apple menu and then click the "More Info..." button, the Serial Number line is now blank. That's annoying; that's where I'd like to look when I call AppleCare and they ask for my serial number. I'll hate lifting the unit up to read the microscopic serial number on the bottom of the foot, but I guess that's what I'll have to do.

Thursday, March 03, 2005


Still Without iMac

I called AppleCare today to find out why I haven't received my replacement midplane board. I was on hold for ten minutes, but just as I was about to hang up, a person finally answered.

She said she knew the midplane boards were back-ordered, and so it would probably be mid-March before I'd get it. Then she noticed something in the comments area of my record, saying that the part would be available 3/3/2005 (today). After a little more digging, she was able to give me a DHL tracking number for the shipment.

I checked the tracking number on DHL's website, but they have no record of it. I'll check again tomorrow.

My iMac has become a coat rack - it's near my front door, so jackets are naturally collecting on it. I hope I get the replacement part before the iMac becomes a door stop.


Flying Lesson #5

Today's was a long lesson. During most of my other lessons I've felt that just I was getting comfortable in the airplane, it was time to head back for landing. So I decided to sign up for a double-length lesson slot. The instructor was a little concerned that I might get worn out (I was concerned too), but was open to giving it a try.

We took N4332L, so now I've flown three of the school's four Warriors. Three-two-lima didn't feel any different from the others, except that its clock was inoperative and I had to look at my watch more often. We paid particular attention to the locking of the primer knob, in light of yesterday's incident.

We were in the air for over two hours. The weather was nice: light winds, high pressure, and cool temperatures. My previous lessons were all at 3,500-4,000 feet, but today the instructor had me go to 6,500 feet to see the differences in performance and in the sight pictures. The view was incredible; I could see Lake Lanier, Lake Allatoona, and downtown Atlanta all at the same time. We happened to keep flying over my apartment as we went back and forth in the practice area, so I got to see the area from several angles. I also saw the office where I work, and thought about the poor saps who had to work today.

Because of the lesson yesterday, I got the feel of the plane quicker today and felt in control during almost all of the flight today. The only shaky parts were the takeoff (it takes me too long to get into a stable climb) and the landing (which was terrible). It's unfortunate that my flights always have to end with a humilating attempt at a landing, but there's no other way to learn.

Yesterday I told the instructor I wanted to work on coordinating the yoke and rudder, so I spent much of the time just doing doing S-turns. At this stage, I have to use the inclinometer (a ball rolling back and forth in a curved tube) to see if I'm yawing correctly, but I'm getting a better sense for it. An experienced pilot can feel it in the seat.

We also did a lot of slow flight. It's interesting to fly at 50 knots for ten minutes or so, and then look down at the ground and see that you've barely moved. The stall warning horn was blaring for almost the entire flight. My instructor recited the entire "I've got tone" scene from Top Gun to keep us from getting bored.

About halfway through the flight, the instructor and I took off our headsets for a couple of minutes. He wanted to show me how loud a small plane cabin is. I can't believe some people use cabin speakers and hand mikes instead of headsets. One of the students in my ground school got most of his training like this. I can't imagine how hard it must be to be learn to fly while constantly screaming to be heard over the engine noise.

The instructor demonstrated VOR navigation. I've played with this in MS Flight Simulator a few times, but my mind went blank when I tried to use the real thing. More reading required.

After a couple of hours, there wasn't much more to do, so we decided to go back. I really didn't feel very tired, but I'm glad we stopped when we did.

I've set up a regular lesson schedule. I'll be flying every Wednesday and Friday afternoon from now on, with modifications as necessary for cross-country flights and night flights.

For today: 2.5 hours dual instruction in N4332L, with 1 takeoff and 1 landing. Cost: $409.08.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005


I Bought a Car

I am now the proud owner of a burgundy 2002 Mazda Protegé ES. It has manual transmission, a sunroof, ABS brakes, power windows/locks, AM/FM/CD, and other stuff that I forget.

I bought the car from CarMax. I found it on their web site last weekend. The only problem was that it was at their Knoxville location, so I had to get it transferred to Norcross, GA to take a look at it. The transfer fee was $150, which was applied to my purchase.

I didn't expect it to be here until next week, so it was a pleasant surprise to get a call early this afternoon saying that it was here. I quickly cleaned all the junk out of my old car, gave the interior a quick dusting, and ran it through the car wash at the gas station. Due to horrible traffic, it took me 90 minutes to drive the 20 miles to the Norcross CarMax location.

The CarMax car-buying experience was painless. The salesman who handled the transfer for me wasn't working today, so one of his partners handled me. I test-drove the car and inspected it for any problems, and was very satisfied with its condition. When we got back, we had to wait just a few minutes for the appraisal of my trade-in to be finished, then we started doing all the paperwork. I made things difficult by forgetting to bring my insurance information, but we called Progressive and they immediately faxed over copies of my proof-of-insurance cards. I also had to have a brief conversation with Bank of America to tell them it was OK to let CarMax know that I had sufficient funds to cover the check I was writing.

One nifty thing about CarMax's setup is that a salesman can walk into any open office, log in to the computer on that desk, and access all the data pertaining to a particular customer. Over the course of the next 90 minutes, we used three different offices, each of which just happened to be close to one of the other places we had to visit (parking lot, business manager office, service center). Each office had some personal effects in it, so I guess each salesman has a home base of sorts, but it looks like anyone can use any office to do their job.

Unfortunately, I am also still the not-so-proud owner of a 1994 Ford Mustang. Idiot that I am, I forgot to take the title and registration with me to CarMax, so I couldn't sell it. I couldn't drive home two cars, so the 'stang will be sitting in CarMax's parking lot for a couple of days. They appraised it at $1300, which was better than I expected. So I just need to get my paperwork together, go back, and collect. If anyone else would like to buy the car for $1300, just let me know - I'm just glad I don't have to pay anyone to dispose of it for me.

It was after sunset by the time I left, so I had an experience equivalent to that of picking up a rental car at an airport and driving to a hotel at night. I didn't know where any of the right buttons or levers were. At one point, I accidentally turned on the windshield wipers, and it took me a minute or so to figure out how to turn them off.

So far, I'm happy with the car. It has a stiff suspension, like a sports car, and the engine is peppy enough. I've heard the Protegé described as a small, cheap BMW, and I'll second that.

I'm sure there will be readers of this blog who will have an urge to inform me of how stupid it was to buy a Mazda, or to buy anything from CarMax, or to not get a better price for my old car. Please resist that urge. Car-buying is an activity that I don't want to revisit.


Flying Lesson #4

When I arrived for the lesson, the instructor and mechanic talked about which airplane I'd be using (the school has four Warriors to choose from). They found that N4363D could fly one more time before it needed its 100-hour inspection, so we decided to use that one. "She's got one more flight left in her" sounded like good candidates for Famous Last Words, but I wasn't worried.

Today was my first flight with my new Serengeti Aviator sunglasses and David Clark 10-13.4 headset. I don't think I've ever had $400 worth of stuff on my head before. The headset worked pretty well, although I still don't understand half of what ATC is saying. The instructor asked me to make the initial call to ground control: "Peachtree Ground, Cherokee 4363D, student pilot, at American Air with Foxtrot, VFR northwest." He kidded me a little about including "student pilot," which means "Controllers, please be nice to me," but I don't care. The instructor didn't have his kneeboard, so he was counting on me to write down the ATIS information and our clearances. I got most of it, although I had to listen to ATIS twice to get the wind speed and direction.

It's been a week and a half since my last lesson, so I was a little rusty today. We also had a lot of turbulence, making it difficult to trim the airplane properly. I hope conditions will be better tomorrow.

My medical certificate's status has changed from "waiting on paperwork" to "under review," but I still don't know when that will be resolved. So we still can't work through the official curriculum, but the instructor made some lesson plans. Aside from the things I've done before (level flight, turns), we practiced slow flight. We also did a power-off stall, which was pretty anti-climactic; the flight instructor commented that most people ask "So, that's all there is to it?"

The PDK tower was having some radio problems today. They could hear some planes but not others, and there was confusion about handoffs to/from Atlanta Approach. I'm glad my instructor was handling the comms.

As we returned to the airport, the engine was running very rough, and got rougher as we reduced power. The instructor decided to take care of the landing himself, to get us on the ground as quickly as possible. When we got to the ramp, I tried to shut the engine down by setting the mixture to idle cutoff, but the engine kept running. We had to turn the magnetos off to get the engine to stop.

At that point, the instructor noticed that the primer knob had come unlocked, which could explain the problems with the engine. I know I checked the knob after priming, and again just before takeoff, so it must have come loose at some point during flight. My instructor blames me, but I'll just chalk it up to poor instruction. It was a good lesson: that's something I'll know to check if I ever have a rough engine again.

For today: 1.3 hours dual received, bringing me to 4.9 hours total. Cost of airplane and instructor: $260.60. Next lesson: tomorrow!

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