Thursday, June 30, 2005


Flight Assist Recording

I ran across this recording of a pilot in distress receiving assistance from a Flight Service Specialist:

It starts out sounding pretty scary, but don't worry, the pilot made it out OK. But the Flight Service people weren't able to keep their jobs from being contracted out to Lockheed Martin.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005


Flying Lesson #33

Today we did short-field and soft-field takeoffs and landings. All the flying books and lesson plans lump these subjects together, but they really don't have much in common except that they are not "normal" takeoffs and landings. My advice to flying instructors everywhere would be to treat them as totally different subjects, not to be covered at the same time.

Short-field takeoffs and landings are, as the name implies, for runways that are too short to allow normal takeoffs and landings. In the short-field landing technique, precision is important: one must try to land at the minimum possible speed at a precise location on the runway. After touching down, the pilot immediately retracts the flaps (to put as much weight on the main gear as possible) and uses the brakes to come to a stop in as short a distance as possible while remaining under control. A short-field takeoff is much like a normal takeoff except that flaps are extended and lift-off is made at a lower-than-normal speed.

Soft-field takeoffs and landings are for operations on grass strips and other runways that are not nicely paved. The basic principle here is to keep as much weight on the wings and off the ground as possible. In a short-field landing, the pilot flies onto the runway while still under power and gradually reduces the power while the plane slows down, keeping the nose wheel off the ground as long as possible to avoid having it get stuck in a rut. The short-field takeoff reverses this, getting the weight off the nose and getting the plane up into ground effect before accelerating to the full speed needed to climb.

For all these kinds of takeoffs and landings, one also practices clearing tall imaginary obstacles at the ends of the runways. I suppose there are fields somewhere where the obstacles are not imaginary, but I have yet to see them myself. If I do ever see tall trees at the end of a really short runway, I'm just going to turn around and go home; I'm not going to test my technique.

Landing practice is discouraged at PDK, so we flew up to Cherokee Country airport (47A). Visibility wasn't very good today (about 7 miles), and the PDK VOR was inoperative, so finding our way to 47A was a little more challenging than usual, but we did find it. I've done touch-and-goes before, but today was the first time I've done stop-and-goes—making a short-field landing to a complete stop, then performing a short-field takeoff on the remaining runway. So now I know the runways I've been using are about twice as long as I really need.

I didn't do so well on the soft-field landing attempts. Having that little bit of extra power caused me to balloon up in the flare. I'm sure I'll do better after a little more practice. For the other types of landings, I think I did OK for a first-timer. Next time, we're going to be landing at an actual grass field, which will make things interesting.

Logged today: 1.5 hours dual in N4363D, with 5 takeoffs and 5 landings.

Sunday, June 26, 2005


Ground Lesson #9: Stage Check

I have finished the "pre-solo" part of the flight school's curriculum. Before moving on to the next stage (solos, cross-country, and night flying) I have to pass a "stage check." The stage check has a few purposes. The first, obviously, is to verify that I have received and retained the knowledge and skills necessary to safely fly solo away from the airport. Next, it gives the chief instructor an opportunity to judge how well my flight instructor is doing his job. Finally, it serves as practice for the checkride I will need to pass to get my private pilot certificate.

The school's stage checks are structured much like a checkride. It begins with review of paperwork, then there is an oral exam, and finally a practical test of skills in the air. Going through a few of these simulated checkrides during training is intended to get the student comfortable with the process, making it less likely that the student will freak out on the actual checkride.

Stage checks are carried out by the chief flight instructor. Other instructors and students have provided many warnings about his examination methods. His usual strategy is to ask a question, and if you get it right, ask a more difficult question, and keep going until you feel like an idiot. He is very good at zeroing in on someone's weak areas, so it can be a humiliating experience for people with big egos. That approach doesn't bother me, and I no illusions about the extent of my aviation knowledge, so I wasn't too worried about the stage check. But still, I wanted to make a good impression.

The chief flight instructor invited me into his office and explained what we would be doing. The weather didn't look promising, but he wanted to at least get the oral portion out of the way, and hope for a miraculous clearing of the skies. He checked all my paperwork (log book, training records, medical certificate, etc.), then started the oral examination. The areas covered were regulations (in particular, those related to the privileges of student pilots), emergency procedures, V-speeds, noise abatement procedures, VOR and ADF navigation, and radar vectors.

After the warnings I'd received earlier, I was surprised at how gentle the questioning was. I was confident in most of my answers, and he didn't do anything to increase the difficulty or to raise the pressure. The questioning lasted about 30 minutes. Then he said he would go and get my flight instructor so that we could all review the results together. I had a few minutes alone in his office to wonder how well I'd done.

When he returned with my instructor, the first thing he said was "This will go pretty quick, because Kris did very well." Phew. My only weak areas were that I didn't remember a couple of the steps for handling an alternator failure, I forgot one of the details of the spin-recovery procedure, and I had no idea what the procedure was for starting a flooded engine ("I'd read the checklist," was all I could say). I was also unfamiliar with noise abatement procedures at PDK, but my instructor took the blame for that.

Due to the weather, we had to reschedule the flight portion of the stage check for later in the week. In the wonderful world of 14 CFR Part 141, I can't go on to the next lesson until I pass the stage check, so I really hope this doesn't get postponed again.

Cost: $80.10 (for 0.9 hours of chief-instructor time).

Friday, June 24, 2005


Flying Lesson #32

Today was just another day of reviewing maneuvers, including stalls and steep turns. We also did some hood work and a couple of engine-outs.

Logged today: 1.9 hours dual in N4363D, with 0.3 hours simulated instrument flight, one takeoff, and one landing. Cost $341.73.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005


Flying Lesson #31

It's been four weeks since the last time I performed a stall, a steep turn, or slow flight, so I wanted to practice those maneuvers before my stage check.

Everything went pretty well. I had trouble keeping altitude during slow flight, but the instructor said that was due to weather conditions, not me. The only real problem I had was with right steep turns. The left steep turn was almost perfect, but my turns to the right just weren't working.

The instructor thinks I'll do fine on the stage check, which will be this weekend if the chief instructor and I can arrange a time. My instructor gave me the option of skipping my normal Friday lesson this week, as we can't go forward in the curriculum until after the stage check, but I have nothing else to do on Friday, so I figure a little more practice can't hurt.

By the way, somebody else experienced a problem with the push-to-talk button on N9103M earlier this week, so my difficulty with it last time was not just idiocy on my part. There is a loose wire. It was working fine today, but I was continuously prepared to due some wire jiggling.

For today: 1.6 hours dual in N9103M, with one takeoff and one landing. Cost: $298.88.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005


Book Watch

When I buy books, I put them on the coffee table when I get home, intending to pick them up whenever I'm on the couch with nothing better to do. And there they sit, often for months, gathering dust as new purchases are added on top of the stack. When the pile of books on the coffee table gets too high, I move a few to the Shelves of Books I'll Never Read. They sit in the Shelves until the next time I move, when they go to Goodwill. I think I only read about a third of the books I buy.

To curb this progression, I'm going to periodically list the books that are on my coffee table, and will try to get them off the list by reading them instead of by merely cleaning house.

On the coffee table right now:

Sunday, June 19, 2005


jwz's Experiences with the Mac

Jamie Zawinski, an open-source hacker of some renown, recently switched to a Mac. He finally got fed up with all the annoyances of dealing with Linux.

Here are links to the Mac-related postings on his blog:

My favorite quote: Dear Slashdot: please don't post about this. Screw you guys.

(But of course, Slashdot did post about it.)

Friday, June 17, 2005


Flying Lesson #30: Second Solo

Winds were calm today, so the instructor suggested that we first head out to the practice area to do a few stalls, steep turns, and other maneuvers in preparation for the stage check, then we'd go back to the airport and I'd do another thirty minutes of solo flight. I did the preflight checks and got into the plane. I was expecting the instructor to join me, but he just stuck his head in, asked me if I was ready to solo, and then closed the door and left when I told him I was.

I started the engine, listened to the ATIS broadcast, and then made my call: "Peachtree Ground, Cherokee Niner-one-zero-three-mike at the ramp with Juliet, closed pattern, student pilot."

I waited for the response, but got none. That's not unusual—controllers often miss ground calls when they are busy talking to pilots in the air—so I waited for a few seconds and tried again. Again, no response, nor did I get any response after a couple more attempts.

So I started troubleshooting. I checked all the radio controls, suspecting that my instructor had intentionally messed something up to test me. Everything looked like it was set correctly. I could hear my voice amplified in my headset, so I was pretty sure my microphone, my headphones, and all the electronics in between were working. I could hear the ATIS broadcast, so the receiver must be working. I couldn't hear any other ground traffic, but I looked out and saw nobody on any of the taxiways or runways, so there was nobody to listen to.

I rechecked the ground frequency, then tried a different call: "Peachtree Ground, Cherokee Niner-one-zero-three-mike, radio check." Still no response. I switched over to the second radio and tried again. Still nothing. I looked around hoping that maybe my instructor might be watching from a distance, but I was all alone.

Dammit, this is like being at work, I thought as I looked at a bunch of electronic equipment trying to figure out why the hell it wasn't doing what I wanted. It seemed that either both radios were unable to transmit, or something between my microphone and the transmitter wasn't working. I hadn't completely ruled out the Kris-is-an-idiot possibility, but I was confident in my ability to operate a pushbutton.

Finally, I unplugged my headset from the left-seat outlets, and plugged it into the right seat's outlets. "Peachtree Ground, Cherokee Niner-one-zero-three-mike, radio check," and this time, I heard "Niner-one-zero-three-mike, loud and clear," in response. OK, that's progress. The transmitter works.

I plugged back into the left-seat, tried a radio check again, and got no response. I jiggled the plugs, I tried wiping invisible grit from the plugs, but nothing got it to work. So I concluded there must be something wrong with either the push-to-talk switch on the left side, or a problem specific to the left-side circuitry. I considered plugging back into the right-side and making the flight, but I decided I really didn't want to fly with the headphone cord draped over the throttle and flap controls.

So I shut down the engine, tied down the airplane, and made the long walk back to the flight school office. I fully expected that they would find that I'd done something stupid. They would laugh at me, and I'd hear about it again every time I rented an airplane. They'd tell everyone a story about a dumb pilot who had to cancel his second solo because he couldn't figure out how to turn on the radio.

They assigned me another airplane, and the instructor and I walked back to the ramp. I started preflighting N4332L while he went to check out N9103M. As expected, the radio worked fine when he tried it, but I decided to continue with the other plane. N4332L has only has one radio, and everybody sounds a little like Charlie Brown's teacher, but I'd flown that plane on Wednesday and knew that it worked fine then.

After that point, the solo flight in the pattern went smoothly. I had to make one go-around when I ballooned a bit much on one landing attempt. I've noticed that I'm consistently landing a little right of the centerline, with the nose pointed a little left of straight down the runway. Winds were slightly from the left today, so a leftward crab might be expected, but I've been landing the same way with crosswinds from the right. I'll need to work on that sight picture during the flare.

For today: 0.6 hours solo/PIC with 3 takeoffs and 3 landings in N4332L. Cost: $68 (cheapest lesson yet—short flight and no instructor fees).

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Thursday, June 16, 2005


New Look for the Blog

I've selected a new template from Blogger's collection of page layouts. The old layout had a fixed horizontal width, which caused code listings to get cut off on the right side. (Maybe one of you web designers out there can tell me why you think non-resizable layouts are a good idea.) The old one had the sidebar on the right, causing long lines in blog entries to run over into the sidebar. The old one relied on some bitmap images, which sometimes took a noticeable amount of time to load. Finally, I didn't really like the font sizes on the old layout, but I didn't want to muck around with the CSS to try to fix them.

The new look fixes those issues. I don't know what new issues will arise, but so far, I think it's an improvement.

It's almost 2:00 AM. Time to stop messing around with the blog and go to bed. Right after I tweak just a few more things.


Fear of Flying?

I added Google Ads to this site a while back, because I was interested to see what kind of ads Google would think appropriate for my blog. You won't see the same ads I just saw, but here were the five ads I saw when I wrote this entry:

Google thinks I'm a nervous wreck. Since Google knows everything, maybe I should seek counseling...

Wednesday, June 15, 2005


The Perl Adventure

After reading just chapter 1 and part of chapter 2 of Programming Perl (also known as The Camel Book) I re-learned enough Perl to do what I needed to do.

What follows is a description of a simple problem I solved using Perl. It may be useful for somebody wondering what Perl is or how to use it.

Here's the problem I needed to solve: I have dozens of megabytes of log files, which are plain old ASCII text files with contents like this:

20050612 06:14:43 Product Loaded, id '686', pack '11298', dispenser '17'
20050612 07:14:44 Daily sales report printed
20050612 07:14:54 Weekly sales report printed
20050612 11:23:07 Product Sold, reg '3', id '686', pack '11298', dispenser '17', status 'Success'
20050612 12:00:00 System reset
20050612 12:45:05 Product Sold, reg '3', id '602', pack '14146', dispenser '20', status 'Success'
20050612 13:16:10 Product Sold, reg '1', id '604', pack '690', dispenser '1', status 'Success'
20050612 13:25:43 Dispenser communication error, dispenser '12'
20050612 21:16:06 Product Sold, reg '3', id '686', pack '11298', dispenser '17', status 'Success'
20050612 22:14:03 Technician login

(By the way, I apologize that my blog layout doesn't show data and code examples very well. I'll have to work on that someday.)

What I needed to do was get a list of all the "Product Sold" lines from all the log files and transform them into a tabular format that would be easy to load into a spreadsheet or database for further analysis. For example, given the above example log I'd want to generate this:

2005/06/12 11:23:07   3   686   11298   17   Success
2005/06/12 12:45:05   3   602   14146   20   Success
2005/06/12 13:16:10   1   604   690     1    Success
2005/06/12 21:16:06   3   686   11298   17   Success

We could have just asked some unpaid interns to go through all the log files and manually copy the data, but then they wouldn't have time to make our coffee or retrieve our paper airplanes from the rafters. An automated solution is preferable. This is not a particularly difficult problem for a programmer to solve, but Perl makes this a lot easier than most programming languages. Here is the complete Perl program that does it:

while (<>) {
  if (/(\d{4})(\d{2})(\d{2}) (/S+) Product Sold, reg '(\d+)', id '(\d+)', pack '(\d+)', dispenser '(\d+)', status '([^']+)'/){
    print "$1/$2/$3 $4\t$5\t$6\t$7\t$8\t$9\n";

OK, so that's probably gibberish to most people, but that gives an idea of what you can accomplish with a few lines of Perl. Here are the details of what the lines mean:

Many Perl programs are a lot more complicated than this one. I don't use Perl for complicated programs, but I think it's great for little tasks like this. Write the pattern, write the output format, then fill in a couple of keywords and punctuation marks, and you're done. There are no classes to define, no variables to declare, and no external libraries to import, If you try to port this application to another programming language, you'll probably need to write a lot more code to accomplish the same thing, unless you are using a very specialized text-processing language.

My many megabytes of data have been massaged into the form I need for more-detailed analysis. That's pretty cool, but now I have to figure out exactly what to do with all that data.


Flying Lesson #29

The crosswind today was too strong for me to fly solo, so the instructor and I flew to the practice area to work on ground reference maneuvers. I haven't been out of the traffic pattern for three weeks, so it was good to get some practice on something other than landings.

For you non-pilots: ground reference maneuvers are maneuvers where a pilot flies over a certain path on the ground. For example, one can fly a perfect circle around a point on the ground, or make S-turns back and forth over a road. What makes ground reference maneuvers challenging is the wind. One must adjust the angles of bank appropriately to correct for wind drift. In general, you have to turn with a steeper bank when turning downwind, and with a shallower bank when turning upwind, to maintain the desired ground track.

(I thought about making some diagrams, but I'm not feeling industrious today. See this page if you want to see some illustrations of the maneuvers. That page is written for helicopter pilots, but the principles are the same for airplanes.)

I've done ground reference maneuvers before, but this was the first time I've done it with a strong wind. This was good, in that I found out how bad my technique is. I know the theory behind how to do all the maneuvers, but I don't have the "feel" for it yet. We worked on it, and I'll do better next time.

We headed back to the airport a little early, hoping that the winds would have died down enough for some soloing, but they just got worse. So it ended up being a short lesson. Frankly, I was so tired after the ground ref workout that I don't think I would have wanted to solo today even if it was allowed. With luck, winds will be favorable on Friday.

The instructor said he thought it was a good thing that I was struggling a bit today, and I agree. The past few weeks have gone so smoothly that I'd started getting overconfident and complacent. Now it's clear that I've got a lot of work to do when get to fly solo in the practice areas.

Logged today: 1.4 hours dual in N4332L, with one takeoff and one landing. Cost: $260.

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Tuesday, June 14, 2005


Learning Perl, Again

I've got six months' worth of text log files to analyze. We need to verify that all the things happening in our machine are reflected in the printed reports that we generate. We need to extract the necessary data from all the old logs and compare it to the report's data. This looks like a job for Perl.

For you non-programmers: "Perl" is the name of a programming language that was designed to make it easy to extract data from files or to convert it to another form. You've probably never heard of it, but a lot of the web pages you view are generated by Perl programs.

For you programmers: Geez, I hate Perl. It's the only widely used programming language that is uglier than C++. It's just enough like C++ and the Bourne shell that it will trick me into trying things that won't work. However, for what it is good at, it is very good, so that's why I put up with it when necessary.

Unfortunately, I haven't used Perl for a few years, so I have to re-learn it. This will be the third time I've learned Perl—I learned it in college, then again after a couple of years of work, and now again. I'll have to stay up into the wee hours the next couple of nights reading my yellowed copy of the Camel Book, and then a few days struggling with syntax and library documentation until I get back into the flow.

I considered using the Python language instead, but Perl is a little better for this ripping-through-text-files kind of application. Also, I was concerned that if I used a "good language," I'd spend too much time making the code pretty. Since I barely know Perl, I'll keep it a lot simpler, focusing on just getting the job done as quickly as possible.

So, for the next couple of weeks, I'll be a Perl expert. Then I'll stop using it, and the knowledge will fade until I need Perl again. I hope it won't be soon.

Sunday, June 12, 2005


Annoying Mac OS X Tiger Finder Sounds

I usually have the volume on my Mac turned down pretty low, so it took me a while to notice the new sound effects that Tiger plays when you move files. I decided to re-organize and clean out all the old files in my home folder, and was alarmed to hear the jarring noises, which sound more like errors than confirmations. I can't imagine that any user testing showed that these sounds were preferable to how Panther worked; I suspect Apple chose these sounds to dazzle potential customers at the Apple Store.

The sounds can be turned off in System Preferences. Unfortunately, Apple doesn't provide a way to turn off individual sounds or to replace them with more pleasant sounds—it's all or none. There are ways to do it with shareware or by messing around with the sound files.

Friday, June 10, 2005


Flying Lesson #28

According to the flight school's lesson plan, I need to get another half-hour of solo flight in the traffic pattern, for a total of one hour, then I'll get to do a stage check with the chief flight instructor. If I prove myself proficient to his satisfaction, then I'll get to start making solo flights to the local practice areas and start the cross-country portion of the curriculum.

There were thunderstorms moving in when I got to the airport today, so we did some ground work, practicing procedures in the simulator in preparation for the stage check.

After an hour of that, the thunderstorms had passed, so we were hoping I'd get to do my remaining solo half hour. Unfortunately, there was a gusty crosswind, so the instructor flew with me. I got a half hour of flying, with three landings, but they weren't solo. The irony is that these landings were better than the ones I did in calm winds on Wednesday. I would have done fine on my own, but there's nothing wrong with being cautious.

Logged today: 0.5 hours dual in N9103M, with three takeoffs and three landings. Along with ground and simulator time, the cost was $226.01.

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Wednesday, June 08, 2005


Flying Lesson #27: First Solo

The weather forecast called for scattered thunderstorms and heavy rains, so I was really expecting another ground lesson as I drove to the airport. But radar was clear, and the flight briefer said convective activity wouldn't be building for at least an hour, so the instructor and I got in the plane to fly around the pattern while watching the weather.

I haven't flown the Warrior for two weeks, so my first couple of landings were pretty shaky. The weather was warmer and more humid than I've flown in before, so the plane climbed slower and descended faster than I was used to. The landings got better. After five landings, the instructor called the tower to request a full-stop landing with a short approach. Then he pulled the power and watched me make a power-off landing. That went pretty well.

On the ground, the instructor radioed the tower to indicate we would make a brief stop at the ramp for a "pilot change." He asked for my student pilot certificate and logbook, and endorsed them as required. He told me to do two touch-and-goes followed by full-stop landing. He told me to end my initial call to the tower with "student pilot, first solo" to let ATC know what was going on. After a few you'll-do-fines and good-lucks, he got out of the plane and closed the door behind him.

I called the tower, then went to runway 20-Right. I didn't have to do a full run-up, but did go over the checklist to verify that I'd turned on everything that needed to be on (fuel pump, anti-collision lights, transponder mode C). I stopped at the hold-short line and waited. They gave me a position-and-hold instruction, then just as I'd started moving they gave me takeoff clearance. So I took off.

I was expecting the plane to climb better than usual, due to the missing weight of the instructor, but I didn't notice a difference. The upwind and crosswind legs went as expected. I had to extend my downwind leg a long way to accommodate other traffic. The controller had told me she would tell me when to turn base, but as I passed a point about four miles from the airport, I wondered if she'd forgotten about me. I was just about to call to ask when she told me to turn base. I had a four-mile final for my first solo landing.

The next two landings went fine. After my last landing, the controller told me to turn onto the taxiway and contact ground, then concluded with "Great job." Thus ended my first flight as Pilot-In-Command.

I taxied back to the ramp. My instructor and another instructor who had been watching directed me through the tight spaces between the parked airplanes. As I was shutting down, the instructor got in the plane and noticed that I had all the electrical switches in the On position, not Off like I thought they were. (I wonder if I had the switches backwards for the whole flight, with just my pitot heat turned on, and lights and fuel pump turned off.)

After parking the plane, there was a lot of handshaking, a picture of me and my instructor in front of the plane, and my shirttail was cut off.

I know this is a milestone, but it was really no big whoop. There was nothing difficult, nothing surprising, nothing I haven't done dozens of times already. But I'm still going to brag about it. w00t!

Logged today: 1.6 hours total, with 1.1 hours dual and 0.5 hours solo/PIC, 9 takeoffs and 9 landings, in N4363D. Cost: $304.58.

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Sunday, June 05, 2005


Mac OS X on Intel, and Emulation

The Internet is abuzz with "confirmations" that Apple will announce tomorrow that it is dropping IBM's PowerPC chips and switching to Intel's x86 chip family. The theories about the reasons for switching are that Intel can get them a better price than IBM, IBM has a history of not delivering chips on time, and Intel's chips are getting faster than IBM's.

Something I haven't seen anyone address is the possibility that moving to an x86 processor would make it possible to run Windows applications at near-full speed within OS X. Right now, we have Virtual PC and VMWare, two emulators that let you run Windows on a Mac, The emulators work, but they are very slow because they must translate x86 code to PowerPC code. If a Mac had an x86 under the hood, then the emulators could run substantially faster.

So maybe this is Apple's real goal: create machines that can run OS X and Windows applications side by side. This would eliminate one of the big two reasons consumers cite for not switching to Macs: lack of software. I'm not sure that it does anything for the other big reason—Macs are more expensive than commodity PCs—but switchers may be willing to pay more for a better machine.

This was just a stray thought I had while driving home from the grocery store. But if it turns out I'm right, you can tell everyone you read it here first.

Saturday, June 04, 2005


Legalities of Agile Methodologies

Francis Hwang asks "Is an Agile methodology going to stand up in court?" With large software projects increasingly becoming the subjects of litigation, it is increasingly becoming necessary for software developers to cover their asses by creating lots of useless documentation and performing activities that are ineffective in developing software but which will sound good in court.

If we reach the point where every web site must be designed with the same level of documentation as was used to design the Space Shuttle, software development will come to an end. Unfortunately, there are a lot of people out there who think they know the One True Way to develop all software, and promote a set of very-specific "best practices" that any True Professional must follow. If we gather all the "best practices" from all the experts and follow them all, we'll never get anything done.

We don't yet know how the courts are going to be deciding these issues, or if legislatures will start mandating particular practices. Ideally, I hope that instead of promoting particular practices or methodologies, a set of ethical principles will arise. When judging a developer's competence and the degree of care they gave to their work, I'd like courts to ask questions such as the following:

With principles like these, I think an Agile methodology could stand up in court. Unfortunately, I think the non-Agile methodologists will eventually win and make us do things their way. The legal system values documentation over progress.

Friday, June 03, 2005


Gauge-Reading Problems

David Megginson's recent Analog Flying post reminded me of a problem I had during the first few hours of flight instruction: I would often read the gauges incorrectly. For example, the instructor would ask "Check your airspeed," I'd say "I'm at 65," he'd say "Check again," and I'd say "Oh, I'm at 55—I'd better speed up." This happened repeatedly.

There is nothing wrong with my eyesight, and I don't suffer from dyslexia or reading disabilities, so I was stumped as to why I was always misreading the gauges. One day while driving home, I figured it out. Automobile speedometers and tachometers generally have zero in the lower-left quadrant, so the needle moves up and then to the right as the reading increases. That's what I've been seeing on gauges for the last twenty-something years: up and to the right means an increase. (Anyone who has sat through a sales pitch or read an investment prospectus is familiar with this pattern.)

Airplane gauges are oriented differently. They have zero at the top of the gauge, and the needle is generally in or near the lower-right quadrant of the gauge, so the needle is usually moving down and to the left as the reading increases.

This is why, as in the example given in the first paragraph, if I saw the needle "above" the 60 mark, I'd think the airspeed was sixty-something, when in fact it was fifty-something. It's oriented the same way as a clock, so it shouldn't be too hard to get used to it, but for me it was. Maybe it's easier for people who haven't been driving cars for a couple of decades.

This is usually not a problem for me anymore. I still occasionally misread the gauges when I want to read an exact number, but I'm usually just looking at the angle of the needle, as described in Analog Flying, or checking whether the needle is within one of the color-coded arcs. I'm trying to get used to thinking of the needle moving clockwise (increase) or counter-clockwise (decrease) instead of up/down/left/right.

I have nothing against the "steam-gauge" cockpit instruments, but I think a little digital LED/LCD display in the center of each gauge would be a helpful feature.



Ground Lesson #8

As expected, the weather didn't allow flying today. So we reviewed weather theory.

Thursday, June 02, 2005


Solo Fears

As I approach my first solo flight, I am not concerned about my flying abilities. My only concern is that the control tower will give me an instruction that I don't understand. For example:

Tower: Six-Three-Delta, perform a right kwyjibo without delay.

Me: Say again for Six-Three-Delta.

Tower: Six-Three-Delta, immediate right kwyjibo.

Me: Unable. I do not understand the term "kwyjibo.". Six-Three-Delta

Tower: Six-Three-Delta, "kwyjibo" is a perfectly cromulent instruction.

I hope I'll hear nothing but "Four-Three-Six-Three-Delta, cleared for the option, runway Two-Left," during my first solo flight. I know I can respond to that with "Cleared for the option, Two-Left, Four-Three-Six-Three-Delta." With any other transmission, I'll have to think. Thinking is bad.


IM With Mom

I've reached that age where everything my parents told me actually makes sense. Still, I'm always a little leery when my parents try to give me advice. The advice my parents give me sometimes comes across as "orders" which I must obey or disobey. There is still a little kid in me that needs to resist that advice. As somebody said, "Of course your parents know how to push your buttons - they are the ones who installed the buttons."

It's fun when I chat with my Mom via IM at 2:00 AM. It's easier to see her as "Marsha," not as "Mom." She's just a person, facing the same problems that I do. Her bosses make unreasonable demands, her co-workers look to her for leadership, and she's just doing the best she can. We can trade our complaints as equals.

It's weird to think that when my parents were my age, they had three kids in high school, with one (me) about to enter college. I can barely handle the responsibilities of renting an apartment and owning a car; I can't imagine the responsibilities of taking care of three kids and owning a house. Then again, I'm almost at the age that my grandmothers were when they became grandmothers. I guess things happened more quickly back in the old days.

I barely feel like I'm grown-up, but I'm entering the age of that "older generation." Younger people at work look to me to be a mentor or leader. I try to convince them that I'm not useful in those capacities, but they ignore my objections. "Marsha" has the same problems I do: she has a lot of experience, and her younger co-workers look to her to give them advice. She's not totally comfortable giving that advice, but the recipients seem happy to receive it.

Maybe it's genetic. My mom and I are both considered to be "good listeners," which means we are too polite to tell people to shut up and leave us alone. We don't tell people how trivial their problems are; we don't note how stupid their reactions to their problems are; we just say "Yes, I understand' repeatedly and then agree when the speaker says "I guess what I really should do is ...."

Mom's pretty cool. So is Dad, but he doesn't go online as often. I guess I should talk to them face-to-face more often, but 2:00 AM seems to be the perfect time for serious interaction, and we're all too old to stay up that late.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005


Ground Lesson #7

We had an 800-foot ceiling today (meaning the lowest unbroken layer of clouds was 800 feet off the ground), so didn't fly. We spent some time with the simulator reviewing procedures. We also reviewed weight-and-balance stuff.

The forecast for Friday looks bad, so it looks like this will be a complete week of not flying. Bummer.

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