April 28, 2006

Night Flight Training Completed

Last night I took advantage of the fairly clear skies and warm weather to compete my required night flying. In order to apply for a Private Pilot Certificate (Single Engine Land), one needs 10 nighttime full-stop landings, 3 hours of night flight, and a night cross country flight with one leg of at least 50 nautical miles.

We started with landings. My first two landings were on Reid-Hillview's runway 13 Left. The runway lights and VASI were on, as was my landing light. The fist landing was a bit of bounce because I flared too late. It was hard to tell exactly how far off the ground I was!

On the second one, Jim reminded me to focus my attention on the far end of the runway. That helped a lot and resulting in a much smoother runway.

With the easy stuff out of the way, my next few landings were with the landing light off. It wasn't a very big deal, since there was more than adequate lighting on the runway itself.

Then the real fun began. We asked the tower to let us use Runway 13 Right, which is unlit. I performed several takeoffs and landings with nothing more than my landing light to illuminate the path. There's no VASI on 13 Right either. Luckily I had the lights of the mall at the end of the runway to focus on during the flare.

For my second to last landing, the tower noted that the winds were calm and cleared us to use 31 Left if we wanted. (It was 10pm, so the tower then shut down for the night.) We took advantage of that and I got to land with the aid of a VASI but no dominant lights at the far end of the runway to focus on. My first attempt resulted in a go-around, because I was a little fast and seemed to float quite a ways down the runway. Worst of all, it was difficult to judge how far away the end of the runway actually was.

Coming around for another attempt, I controlled my speed better and steepened up the glide. We made it down just fine. At the end of the runway, we spun around, took off on 13 Right, and made one last landing before hitting the fuel island.

Cross Country to Oakdale

After gassing up we headed for Oakdale. I took off on runway 31 Right and made a shallow right turn to head toward Mission Peak. We wanted to fly toward Calaveras Reservoir, keeping Mission Peak just to our left.

Jim wanted me to get us to Oakdale without the use of GPS or any VORs. Since there was no moon to light the terrain, I had to use the city lights and compass as my navigation aids.

I kept track of our time along the course I had plotted out on my map, complete with 10 mile markers. That gave me a decent idea of where we should be (within a mile or two). I cross-checked that with the city lights and other airports along the way. We say Byron, Livermore, Tracy, and Modesto along the way.

Before long, we were coming up on the town of Oakdale and I was scanning the area for the airport. I thought I had it in sight, but was looking about 15 degrees left of where it actually was. Once Jim gave me a hint, it was easy to pick out.

I triggered the pilot controlled lighting (7 clicks on the CTAF frequency) and circled the airport while descending to look at the wind sock. There appeared to be a very light wind from the east, so I setup for a downwind entry to the pattern for runway 10.

Runway 10 sloped uphill slightly, and the causes a bit of an illusion at night (and in the day too). That resulted in me touching down sooner than expected, bouncing a bit. But I recovered from that and made a rather smooth landing.

I found the turnoff and taxied back to fly a pattern and land once more. After the second landing, I took off again and headed home.

Once we were stabilized at 6,500 feet and headed in roughly the right direction, Jim put me under the hood for about 30 minutes. That gave me a chance to practice flying blind at night. I maintained course while holding altitude, made a few 90 degree turns, and a 180 degree turn. He'd also tell me what he saw out the window and I'd cross check that with my chart to get an idea of where we were. Later on, I got to use the VOR to help with the cross-checking.

Before long, we were back over the hill and I got to take the hood off. Once I found the airport (which was pretty easy), I headed home, dropped some altitude, and flew a large pattern to land on runway 31 Right.

We landed just before 1am, tied down the plane, and updated log books. I now have my insurance company mandated 25 landings and 10 hours dual in the Citabria 7KCAB, including the solo endorsement in my log book.


Posted by jzawodn at 08:43 AM

April 27, 2006

Spring Has Finally Sprung

I never thought the weather around here would let up. For as long as I can remember (okay, that's a bit of exaggeration), it's been cloudy and raining during at least half the week. Every week.

But now we've had our second day in a row of nice, warm, calm, Bay Area spring weather. So I checked the Weather Underground to find that this stuff is gonna continue for the next 5 days or so.

Kick Ass!

Posted by jzawodn at 02:30 PM

Rethinking the Web OS from a user's point of view

When Tim O'Reilly and others began using the term "Web OS" (or sometimes Internet Operating System) to talk about the evolving landscape of companies and web services, I was skeptical. I've been skeptical for a long time and convinced that it's not going to happen on anywhere near the time scale that many people seem to think it will.

But I recently came across something that completely changed the way I think about the idea of a Web OS. Over on the Flickr Ideas forum, I came across a posting titled Flickr is NOT MySpace compatible... please make a javascript free "Badge".

Take a minute and think about the language that Daniel used there. It the exact same sort of complaint you might have heard 5 or 10 years ago about a desktop application. "Is CoolNewGame compatible with my Mac?"

That's what opened my eyes. I had always been thinking about a Web OS from the point of view of a software developer--someone who sees many of the problems inherent in making Tim's vision into reality. And that's even before trying to get users to understand what it means.

In fact, I never stopped to think about how, if, or when "normal" users might start to think about web sites (or services) in the same terms. I just assumed that would need to happen "later."

Apparently that has already begun to happen.

Posted by jzawodn at 12:55 PM

April 26, 2006

XY7.com and Rapid Response Marketing: Spammers

I just received a letter in the mail from XY7.com that begins:

(letter text censored due to copyright complaint)

It goes on for several paragraphs and a bulleted list, explaining why I should use their on-line marketing services. But there's one major problem: I didn't stop by their booth! (I very rarely give my card out to booth people at these conferences.)

If this sounds familiar, it's because almost the same thing happened back in 2004 with Atlas OnePoint. Strangely, that was also the result of an SES Conference.

When are these people going to learn?!

Would you trust your on-line marketing to a spammer?

For what it's worth, XY7.com is a division of Rapid Response Marketing, LLC. The letter was sent from:

[address censored due to copyright complaint]

Please let him know if you were similarly spammed. (I've left off his cell phone and fax numbers.)

Amusingly, the letter ends with "Please bring this letter to our both at the Ad Tech SF Conference to receive your XY7 Cash Card."

I am going up to ad:tech this afternoon. Perhaps I will drop by with my digital camera, or maybe a microphone. I wonder if he will be there. Image the fun!

Posted by jzawodn at 11:11 AM

April 25, 2006

Google's GData, MySQL, and the Future of on-line Databases

In reading Richard MacManus' Why Google is extending RSS, I couldn't help feeling that he was missing the point a bit. It's as if he was focusing on the small things ("Why RSS?") rather than looking at the bigger picture of where all this is going.

It's not about building an easier onramp to Google Base.

Well, it is. But, again, that's the small stuff.

GData is the realization of the future that Adam Bosworth spoke about at the 2005 MySQL Users Conference.

It just so happened that I re-listened to his talk a several weeks ago during a walk to the bank. Hearing it for the second time, I was much more receptive to his ideas about creating a simple and open replacement for all the proprietary communications protocols currently in use by database vendors. By using HTTP and RSS or Atom, one could get 80% of the needed functionality while also greatly simplifying how things work.

The benefit is that you'd have a single API that could be used to query, update, and index structured data on the web--anywhere on the web. It's a pretty powerful vision and something I didn't expect to see for a couple more years.

Give his talk a listen and tell me if you don't see Adam's fingerprints all over GData. It's time well spent if you care about this stuff.

Play now:

Download MP3

The next logical questions, for me at least, are:

  1. Will MySQL add native GData support to the server anytime soon?
  2. Should Yahoo begin to enable a GData API on our data stores?

I hope the answer to #1 is "yes, they should" and suspect the answer to #2 is "probably--at least for some of them."


Posted by jzawodn at 10:42 AM

April 24, 2006

I can't concentrate. Can you?

What ever happened to being able to chew on a problem, anyway? You know, concentrate, think, wonder, and sketch a bit...

I find myself unsubscribing from more and more mailing lists and RSS feeds. I'm being more and more brutal in how I deal with email (just moved everything older than 2 weeks into my "archive" folder--sorry if you expected a response). I'm avoiding instant messenger as much as possible. I'm wearing headphones at work more, mainly to make up for the lack of any quiet space. My voicemail message simply spells out my email address, hoping that I'll have one less inbox to check for new stuff demanding my attention (not that it seems to deter people from talking at it).

Our high tech world kind of sucks from a productivity standpoint. Instead of creating an office space or environment in which it's easy to focus, we've been dropped into an obstacle course that throws lots of little tantalizing distractions at us along the way, each one is quite small. Combined they're formidable.

Nick Carr writes:

Like me, you've probably sensed the same thing, in yourself and in others - the way the constant collection of information becomes an easy substitute for trying to achieve any kind of true understanding. It seems a form of laziness as much as anything else, a laziness that the internet both encourages and justifies.

That only makes it worse. There's so much to choose from that deciding what to focus on can be a full-time job in and of itself!

As much as I complained about having to sit so long in a small airplane, I'm realizing how distraction free last weekend was. All I had to do was look at a map now and then, keep the plane flying, and enjoy the scenery. There was very little task switching taking place. The only thing demanding my attention in an interrupt-driven sort of way was my instructor. But that's what I was paying him to do. :-)

What's your secret? Or are you so distracted that you didn't make it this far?

[In related news, Popular Science tells us that Too Many Meetings Make You Grumpy. Shocker!]

Posted by jzawodn at 03:12 PM

Two Cards are Better than One: A Digital Camera Hack

For the third time in recent history, I reached for my digital camera only to find that I'd forgotten to put the SD Card back in. It was still sitting in my laptop, miles away, after I'd extracted all the photos into Picasa.

Right then I decided that this clearly something I'm never going to get right. The solution was to buy a second SD Card. The new procedure will be to swap cards when I want to extract photos. That way there's always a card in the laptop and always a card in the camera.

Simple solutions to simple problems: life made a little bit easier.

For the curious, I was hoping to take a few pictures of our trip back to southern California to retrieve the plane we left there last weekend. A group of us flew down in a Cessna 185 to complete the mission. Citabria N5156X is now home, at the Reid-Hillview airport.


Posted by jzawodn at 01:38 PM

April 21, 2006

The Long Flight Home in Citabria N5156X (almost)

One week ago I headed to Cleveland, Texas with Jim (my flight instructor). Our mission, as previously noted was to fly Citabria N5156X back to California over the course of 3 days and meet up with Lance (my partner in the plane) in central California. From there he'd fly it the rest of the way back to San Jose.

Jim in the Back

This is my trip report, which includes notes about the flying, where we stopped for fuel, stayed at night, ate dinner, and the many lessons learned along the way.

Oh. It's kind of long.

Friday: Cleveland, Texas to San Angelo, Texas (3.6 hours)

We arrived at the Cleveland airport around 1:30pm and spent the next few hours looking over the plane, meeting a bunch of the locals, and cramming all our stuff into the baggage area. While the Citabria has a baggage compartment limit of 100 pounds, it's surprisingly spacious. We had no trouble getting everything in. And I estimate we had at least 10 pounds of wiggle room as far as the weight is concerned.

With everything ready to go, we went to the airport office to plot out our first day of flying and file a flight plan. We figured we'd be in the air by 4pm and be able to get in 3-4 hours of flying. So we planned to stop for fuel in Llano and then, depending how much progress we were making, push on in the direction of San Angelo.

To Llano...

With that, we headed back to the plane where I got a 2 minute tour of the Lowrance AirMap 100 GPS, started the engine, and then taxied to the run-up area. Before long, we were climbing through 500 feet and I turned us on a westbound heading. I dialed in the first VOR and punched it up on the GPS as well.

After about 10 minutes of flying over terrain I'd never flown before in a plane that I'd met only a few weeks before, it really hit me: holy crap, we're actually doing this! It was finally time to put all that book learning to work and figure out how to get the two of us and my little airplane to our first fuel stop.

Before too long, I was picking up the first VOR and got to try my hand at chasing the CDI in an attempt to stay on course. Luckily, it wasn't hard at all. I was also becoming more comfortable with the plane's flying characteristics: the way the throttle slips at certain RPMs, the fact that it flies quite nicely straight and level when trimmed correctly, and so on.

As we passed over Texas A&M University I remembered that I had my camera on board and shot a few pictures. Visibility was good and the headwinds weren't bad, so we made good time to Llano.

Texas A&M University Texas A&M University

At our first fuel stop we checked the oil level, measured fuel in the tanks, and gassed up. The gas was self-serve and, at $3.10 per gallon, the cheapest we'd see on the whole trip. I remarked that it should be cheaper in Texas. They make gas there! (We flew over many an oil pump on the trip.)

After fueling up, we took off for San Angleo. The flight was uneventful and we passed the time by watching out the landscape was gradually beginning to change from flat and green to slightly higher and browner. We encountered out first ridges on this leg of the flight.

As the sun got lower and lower on the horizon, we worked our way closer to San Angleo. Eventually we were within radio range and I dialed up the ATIS. We were surprised to learn that San Angelo had an approach control frequency in addition to the tower frequency. We started to wonder how much traffic the little airport got.

I called up San Angelo Approach to let them know who I was, where I was, and what I intended to do (land there). They gave me a transponder code and handed me off to the tower about 8 miles out. I called up the tower and was immediately cleared to land. Heh. They weren't terribly busy.

We landed just before sunset and I turned off the runway, wondering where to find fuel. Just as I was expecting the tower to direct me to the ground frequency, he asked me if I was familiar with the airport. I admitted that I wasn't and asked him where we could get fuel and tie down for the night.

The tower nicely directed us to Ranger Aviation. We were met at our tie-down spot by a line guy who asked us if we needed fuel and a place to stay. Before long, he had supplied us with tie-down ropes, gassed up the plane, and directed us to their nicely equipped office. Inside the person at the desk quickly arranged for rooms at the local Comfort Inn and a shuttle to come pick us up.

We spent the 30 minutes until the shuttle arrived checking out their facilities. They had an excellent pilot lounge that featured several computers with Internet access and a dedicated weather terminal. They also had a good supply of drinks and some freshly made cookies for the taking. It's no wonder I was paying an extra dollar per gallon more than at our last stop!

The shuttle arrived and took us to the Comfort Inn. On the way, we arranged for the driver to bring us back to the airport at 8am the next morning. Saturday was to be our longest day of flying, so we wanted to start early.

Once we were checked in, it was a quick walk to the attached Mexican restaurant for some chips, salsa, and fajitas. We planned to meet the next morning at 6am for breakfast (free!) and a flight planning session.

Saturday: San Angelo to Casa Grande, Arizona (10 hours)

As planned, we met at 6am to sample the coffee, yogurt, oatmeal, bananas, and other breakfast goodies. I brought along a healthy selection of maps to plot the day's course while Jim updated our log books.

Before too long, I had a route figured out and measured. I then made a list of all the navigational information we would need (VOR frequencies, identifiers, distances, compass headings, etc.).

We checked out, met the shuttle, and were back at Ranger Aviation by 8:20am. I spread out my charts, drew course lines on the sectionals (I did most of the planning on the World Aeronautical Charts (WACs) since we were flying long distances), filled out the flight plan, and called for a briefing.

The good news was that the weather was going to be clear all the way into Arizona. The bad news was that we'd be battling nearly direct headwinds in the range of 20-30 knots all the way across West Texas, Southern New Mexico, and into Arizona. That was gonna slow us down for sure.

To Pecos, Texas...

Our first leg was to Pecos, Texas. Robin Reid had suggested we stop there for lunch, so we did just that. It took a while to get there battling the headwinds too.

We started off cruising at 4,500 feet but were getting knocked around by the late morning thermals. So we climbed to 6,500 in an attempt to avoid the thermals and increase our ground speed. We managed to do neither, so I pushed us up to 8,500.

At that altitude the thermals were minimal but there was still some turbulence. However, our ground speed was no worse than at 6,500 so it was a worthwhile tradeoff. We'd burn less fuel at the higher altitude.

It was around this time that I got my first real experience leaning the fuel mixture out to compensate for the lower density of the air at altitude.

We eventually reached Pecos and found the airport without any trouble. Dialing up the AWOS, I learned that the winds were really blowing on the ground. If I recall, we had at least a 30 degree left crosswind that was gusting between 12 and 25 knots. It had been a while since I'd practiced crosswind landings.

With some help from Jim, I got the plane on the ground and got to experience taxing in high-wind conditions. We headed toward what I suspected was the fuel island only to find a lone person out there waving us in. A teenager pointed us to a parking spot where we'd have the nose into the wind at Pecos Air Center.

Pecos, Texas Airport Pecos, Texas Airport

We tied down the ship while he brought the fuel truck over to gas up the plane and clean off the windshield (woohoo!). He directed us inside where we could get out of the wind, use the restroom, and eat.

After he came back in to meet us, we learned that they had a refrigerator full of food and drinks that was all on the house. While we drank cold water and munched on the chips and salsa, he microwaved us a few burritos that were really nothing more than beef wraps.

We chatted a bit about the airport and all the military pictures on the walls. They've apparently got a refueling contract with the government, so they get a decent stream of visitors.

After a final bathroom break, a bit of time looking at the map on the wall, and a few cookies for desert, we signed their guest book and headed out to he plane.

Again, I got to taxi in high wind conditions and make a fun crosswind takeoff. But we were quickly back on course and cursing the headwind once again.

To Las Cruces, New Mexico... (not Deming)

We hoped to make it to Deming, but the headwinds made our fuel situation less than comfortable. So I suggested that we divert a little northward to land at Las Cruces, Mew Mexico. They had a good sized airport and fuel available.

Along the flight there, we encountered a bit of wave lift (and sink) off the mountain ridges, so I got the ideal to dial up 123.3 (the glider air-to-air frequency) on the radio and see if anyone was flying. Sure enough, I heard several folks flying out of Marfa, Texas in a decent wave. I chatted with an ASW-27B driver for a bit.

Flying Over West Texas Flying Over West Texas Flying Over West Texas

Approaching Las Cruces, I spotted at least one place to tie-down and fuel up. So upon landing on their big runway (directly into the wind, no less!), I headed in that direction. But we noticed something odd. There were two competing FBOs who wanted me to drop by to fill the Citabria's tanks.

I had to decide if I was going to turn left or right. The guy on the left was sitting in a golf cart and half-heartedly waving a flag. Oh the other hand, the guy on the right had walked out on his own and was waving a pair of flags quite vigorously.

I turned right. I didn't want to reward the lazy guy.

Las Cruces, New Mexico Airport Las Cruces, New Mexico Airport Las Cruces, New Mexico Airport Las Cruces, New Mexico Airport Fuel at Las Cruces, New Mexico Airport Las Cruces, New Mexico Airport Cessna AgCat Las Cruces, New Mexico Airport Las Cruces, New Mexico Airport

We got gassed up and headed into the FBO (Southwest Aviation). We looked at the maps a little bit, I revised our course, marked up the WAC and sectional, and filled out a new flight plan. I then called up the local flight service station (FSS) to get an updated weather briefing and to file the plan.

After a chat with a very talkative briefer who actually knew what a Citabria was ("it's a cute little airplane!"), we hopped back in the plane and pressed on.

To Casa Grande, Arizona...

As expected, the headwinds were still there. So it was a slow ride into Arizona and over the high terrain we needed to cross in order to reach Casa Grande (just south of Phoenix). The terrain was amazing. Lots of mountains, ridges, and valleys. I'd love to see it from the ground someday.

This was the one leg of the trip on which things got a bit "interesting." The briefer had told me about some haze and dust in the air near the Phoenix area. And we were flying into the sun. So as the sun got lower on the horizon, visibility decreased quite a bit. Worse yet, we had to cross some very unfriendly terrain. So we flew high and hoped we wouldn't need to find a place to land.

Luckily, the winds were shifting and we picked up a tailwind. Instead of crawling along with an 80 knot ground speed, we were pushing 100 knots for the fist time in quite a while.

We landed at the almost deserted Casa Grande Municipal Airport just before sunset, fueled up the plane, tied it down, and called for a cab to take us to the local Comfort Inn (official sponsors of our trip, apparently).

Casa Grande, Arizona Casa Grande, Arizona

After checking in, we walked the ten minutes necessary to hit the local Cracker Barrel. I hadn't eaten at one in ages and wasn't disappointed. I got a sampler meal that included a bit of the meatloaf the staff was encouraging us to order.

It was some damned good meatloaf!

We headed back to the motel and decided to meet at 7am to eat breakfast. We had already arranged for an 8am pickup. And the time zone changes meant it was still a bit early, so I was going to do all the flight planning at night and then run it by Jim over breakfast.

Sunday: Casa Grande, Arizona to Apple Valley, California (3.4 hours)

The cab driver dropped us off at the plane (literally, right next to the plane!) around 8:25am and we loaded all our gear back into the back. I went inside to get a briefing and file our flight plan while Jim performed a pre-flight inspection.

We were in the air by 9:15am, activated our flight plan, and headed toward California. Today was set to be a fairly easy day of flying with just two stops. First, we planned to stop in Twentynine Palms, California to gas up and check weather. Then we'd head north into central California to meet Lance and his wife in Visalia.

To Apple Valley...

The briefer had been right about the winds. We had a slight wind from the south, but basically no headwind. So we cruised along with a 100 knot ground speed and made very good time.

Before we knew it, we crossed the Arizona/California border (by flying over the Colorado River) and just kept on going. As we approached Twentynine Palms, it was clear that we didn't need to stop yet. So I pulled out the map and suggested that we fly another 45 minutes or so to Apple Valley.

The Arizona / California Border The Arizona / California Border The Arizona / California BorderCrossing the Colorado River Crossing the Colorado River

We landed in Apple Valley after spotting the fuel islands from the air and headed over the gas up. Being Easter Sunday, the airport was understandable quiet. The only other folks flying were in a Pitts and an Edge, practicing aerobatics routines.

After gassing up, I called Lance to let him know our status and then we headed over to the little terminal to discover that the café was open and serving food! On Easter Sunday! So we stopped for lunch before continuing on our flight.

Engine Troubles!

After lunch, we got back in the plane and headed out. Sort of.

During the run-up check, I was a little surprised when I turned off the let magneto and there was no RPM drop registered. None at all. Every other time, I'd seen roughly a 100 RPM drop.

I turned it back on and then turn off the right mag. The engine started to die, so I quickly switched it back on and got a bad feeling in my stomach. I did the test two more times so as to make sure we were both convinced that there was a serious magneto problem--not just a fouled plug or two.


We taxied back to the tie-downs, got out, and attempted to figure out what was wrong. After a bit of poking around, we discovered the problem. The left mag was loose! After more poking around, the problem was clear. It was missing a few of the screws that hold the back piece of the mag in place.

(Amusingly, the only redundancy in most single engine piston driven aircraft is the fact that they have two mags rather than one. The Wikipedia page on Magneto explains what one is.)


This was a very bad sign. Our odds of finding a mechanic available on Easter Sunday on a small airfield were basically zero, so we started making phone calls. Jim called a Citabria mechanic back in San Jose for advice, while I called Lance to see if he'd be willing to drive the 2-3 hours necessary to fetch us and then all the way back to San Jose (another 7 hours).

It was clear that the plane would not be going to San Jose on that Sunday.

Once the calls were made, we had nothing to do. So I suggested we walk the airport to look for a mechanic. Who knows, there might just be one wandering around. Maybe one of the aerobatic pilots was also an A&P (airframe and power plant mechanic).

To make an already long story a bit shorter, we managed to stumble across a group of guys who were, for lack of a better term, hanging out in front of their hangars. Despite my utter disbelief, the conversation started like this:

Me: How you guys doing?

Them: Great! How are you?

Me: Could be better. I don't suppose any of you are aircraft mechanics.

One of them: Ray (motioning into the hangar) is a mechanic. What do ya need?

Before long, they had practically adopted us as family. They asked us to bring the plane over, so we did. We opened the engine cowling, and they literally dove into the task of finding screws to re-attach the magneto. Ray and his merry men were quite impressive.

Trying to Fix the Magneto Trying to Fix the Magneto

While that was going on, they got us eating Jello shots and then gave us a tour of the garden they've been building behind the hangars. (Yes, these guys practically live at the airport.)

Ray's Hangar Ray's Hangar Ray's Hangar

Within an hour or so, they had the magneto re-attached and asked me to test the engine. I was more than happy to fire it up again. But hope was dashed when the mag failed to fire during my test.

While we were off looking at their gardens again, one of the guys says "Patrick is here!"

"Who is Patrick," I ask.

"He's the mechanic from Midfield Aviation."

"Holy crap!" I thought. We've got the best luck. The mechanic was on the field on Easter Sunday!

He wanted to check the engine himself, so he fired it up and listened to what was going on. Then he used Ray's tools to begin removing the oil cooler so he could get at the faulty mag. Before long, he'd diagnosed it.

The mag was dead. Very dead. He read off the part number so that I could order a new (well, refurbished) one (Bendix 10-51360-37) and then put the oil cooler down so we could taxi the plane over to his tie-down area.

It's a good thing he didn't fix on the spot because we couldn't have legally flown it home anyway. I can just imagine what I would have told Lance when he showed up...

"Hey, the plane is fixed! But we can't fly it back because we've been eating Vodka in the form of Jello, so this isn't gonna work today..."

He did show up a couple hours later. We quickly packed the gear into the car and began the long trek home. I arrived at home (after dropping Jim off) around 2am.

As of now, Patrick has the new mag and will hopefully have the plane running so we can bring it back this weekend.

Observations and Lessons Learned

Here are a few random observations and lessons learned during the three days of flying and not flying I did.

  • I put 17 hours on the plane in 3 days. That gave me a pretty good feel for how it flies and really helped to build my cross-country flying confidence. I'm ready for my solo cross-country flights now.
  • The briefers at the flight service stations all have different codes in their databases for a Citabria. One wanted AC7, another needed CH7, and one needed CH7A. How confusing!
  • VOR navigation isn't hard at all. In fact, it makes a ton of sense when you're actually doing it.
  • The same is true for the flight planning that happens on the ground.
  • Our fuel burn got better over time, mostly as I got better about leaning it. Near the end, I think we were in the 7.1 or 7.2 gallons per hour range.
  • Nearly every airport we visited hand abundant tie-down space on a very large ramp, and it was almost always 90% empty. I get the feeling there are a lot of over-built airports around.
  • Wind can be a real bitch--both in the air and on the ground.
  • Playing "spot the VOR" makes long flights a little more fun. I managed to find all but one of them.
  • You can meet some of the nicest, most helpful and amusing folks at small airports. Even on Easter Sunday!

What an adventure.

Posted by jzawodn at 05:36 AM

April 17, 2006

Heading to WebmasterWorld PubCon 2006 in Boston

I'm heading out on a late night flight for Boston this evening to attend the WebmasterWorld conference in Boston. Malcom Gladwell is delivering the keynote on Tuesday morning. I hope to arrive in time for that.

The session grid has some interesting stuff on it. I'll try to avoid getting too sucked into my email backlog so that I can enjoy the conference.

On Wednesday morning, I'll be on a panel called Morning Coffee Session with The Super Bloggers Of Search with Robert Scoble and Matt Cutts. I'm not sure why the three of us (all probably still on Pacific Time) seem to be ending up doing the early morning session like this, but I'll do my best to remain somewhat coherent.

Leave a comment here if you're going to be at the conference. I'm always looking to meet folks who drop by my blog once in a while.

I'll be wearing my "I'm Not Matt Cutts" t-shirt. :-)

If I can't sleep on the plane ride out, I'll try to write a report of my flights to ferry the Citabria from Texas the California. We made it--most of the way.

Oh, I almost forgot. Drop by and see the YPN folks too.

Posted by jzawodn at 01:23 PM

April 14, 2006

Made it to San Angelo, Texas

Flew across a lot of Texas today. Lots more to go tomorrow. Pictures and flight report posted after I've had a chance to eat and sleep and whatnot.
Posted by jzawodn at 07:22 PM

April 12, 2006

Using Outlook's Calendar with Thunderbird

One of the most painful aspects of being part of a large business these days is calendaring. Everyone seems to be using a different email tool and there's no universally adopted caledaring tool at Yahoo. Not Yahoo! Calendar. Not Microsoft Outlook/Exchange.

I kid you not. Locating free times is a painful process. Scheduling a conference room is too. Many hours per month are wasted trying to coordinate basic scheduling tasks.

Get Thunderbird But enough people do use Outlook that I find myself having to deal with meeting invitations from them in Thunderbird, my email client of choice. It's a bit buggy and quirky but generally quite flexible and smart. But it has no built-in calendar or ability to decode the vCalendar data embedded in meeting invitations.

Since I have an irrational fear and mistrust of Outlook (see also: email viruses, evil empire), switching is not an option for me. Perhaps that'll change over time.

Last night I discovered the Lightning Project, an extension which aims to provide integrated calendaring in Thunderbird (not to be confused with Mozilla Sunbird or Mozilla Calendar).

Since Sunbird isn't ready for prime time, I installed Lightning and quickly concluded that it sucks ass. I once again found myself in disbelief at the complete lack of good support for something so basic.

But then I noticed something. As a byproduct of installing Lightning, meeting notices now have explicit .ics file attachment. I can double click and open it in Outlook.


After some futzing around, I quickly figured out that I can use Outlook merely as a calendar "helper app" for Thunderbird. I just disable its automatic send/receive email and made sure that it uses the right mail server to send meeting acceptance responses.

Kick Ass!

I now have the best of both worlds (for limited values of "best").

Posted by jzawodn at 07:57 AM

April 11, 2006

Scotch recommendations?

scotch When a coworker responds to a late night email with:

How’s that scotch treatin’ ya?

It makes you wonder if your some of your coworkers know you better than you think they do.

It also makes you a little sad because the scotch bottle is empty. Thus my response:

I'm on my second glass!
The bad news is that the bottle is now finished. I'm afraid I need to go shopping tomorrow.

On that note... does anyone have a scotch recommendation? I need to go shopping sometime soon.

Oh, thanks to Renkoo for the Glenlivet French Oak Reserve single malt. :-)

Near as I can tell, BevMo is one of the better places to get a decent variety locally. They appear to have quite the selectin of single malts.

Posted by jzawodn at 10:42 PM

Yahoo! Satellite Maps: Good for Pilots

When Google first launched their maps with satellite imagery, I immediately began using it as a tool for examining airports and non-airport landing spots.

It turns out that I wasn't alone. The aviation community at large has been all over Google Maps. Having the ability to look at an airstrip and the surrounding terrain (and obstructions) before you arrive is amazingly useful in flight planning.

So when I heard that Yahoo Maps had satellite images coming, I tested it using the test case where Google lets me down: the Air Sailing gliderport in Nevada. It's a remote, out of the way place that most people wouldn't want to look at. But I'm not most people.

Here's what you see on Google Maps:

click for full-sized image

Trying to zoom in farther yields this message:

We are sorry, but we don't have imagery at this zoom level for this region. Try zooming out for a broader look.

Had I wanted a broader look, I wouldn’t have zoomed in, right?

Anyway, here's the same spot as seen from Yahoo Maps today at the same zoom level:

click for full-sized image

I can still drill down three more zoom levels and get to an image like this:

click for full-sized image

Kick Ass!

I can better see the clubhouse, the trees, the glider trailers, and so on.

Posted by jzawodn at 06:52 PM

Cross Country Flight Planning Fun: Houston to San Jose

I spent a large chunk of Sunday using a variety of tools to research and plan as cross country light airplane flight. On Friday (in 3 days), my instructor and I will head to San Jose Airport to catch an early (6:30am) flight to Houston, Texas.

Citabria N5156X
Originally uploaded by jzawodn.

There we'll meet one of the current owners of N5156X, the 1969 Citabria 7KCAB and head up to the Cleveland Airport to get the keys. I'm buying half the plane, along with another friend of mine who is also a glider pilot taking single engine plane lessons in Citabrias.

Once we've got the plane, log books, and other stuff, we'll head out on what should be roughly a 3 day trip back to San Jose. Our plane will ultimately live at Reid-Hillview Airport.

The tools used to research and plan our route (assuming reasonable weather) are a real mix of high-tech and low-tech. Let's have a look.

On the low-tech side:

  • aviation section charts (road maps for pilots)
  • world aeronautical charts (WACs) which are just like sectionals but they cover twice the scale
  • an aviation plotter, which is basically just a clear ruler with markings on it to measure mileage on sectional charts and WACs

Basically I use a pencil, special ruler, and some funny maps.

And on the high-tech side:

  • AOPA's on-line flight planning tool (built by Jeppesen). I use this to measure direct distances between two airports or navigation aids.
  • Microsoft Streets and Trips 2005. It's the most responsive desktop mapping tool. It's useful to flip on the terrain view and look at where the major roads go. We plan to follow I-10 quite a bit.
  • Google Earth. I finally got it to install (had this bug) and I'm in heaven. This is the single coolest piece of software I've used in years. I will write lots more about it.

Of course, having a 24" monitor sure helps a lot too. :-)

The Route

All of this is subject to change depending on weather and winds, but here's a really rough idea of the plan.

We'll start from Cleveland, Texas on Friday afternoon and fly as far west as is reasonable. At a minimum, I'd like to make Fredricksburg. Apparently Gillespie Co. Airport has a great place to stay: the Hangar Hotel. That would rock.

If we're really making good time and not burning a lot of fuel, I'd love to make it as far as Midland and/or Odessa in West Texas. But that's pretty optimistic.

On Saturday, we'll head toward El Paso and then follow I-10 north to Las Cruces, New Mexico. From there we'll continue to follow I-10 westward into Arizona to Tucson. Then we'll mostly track I-8 to Yuma, being careful to doge a bunch of restricted areas near the border with Mexico.

I'm not sure if we'll stop in Yuma for the night or maybe earlier, depending how the day progresses.

From Yuma, we'll cross into California, diverge from I-8 and head toward the Salton Sea and aiming for Coachella in the vicinity of Palm Springs and Joshua Tree National Park. Then we'll go north a bit, staying east of Big Bear Lake and the high terrain there before turning west to Apple Valley.

Once reaching Apple Valley, we'll aim for Lancaster (which is on the western edge of the Mojave Desert just north of Palmdale, home of Lockheed Martin's Skunk Works and just south of Edwards Air Force Base).

After Lancaster we cross one last set of mountains on our way to Bakersfield in the San Joaquin Valley. We'll either go via Mojave and Tehachapi (following highway 58) or cross via I-5.

Once we hit Bakersfield and I-5, it's an easy ride up the valley to the San Luis Reservoir where highway 152 cuts through the Pacheco Pass to Gilroy and South County Airport. Then it's a easy 22 mile flight to Reid-Hillview.

Got all that?

Don't worry, I'll post a visual version of the route we actually end up flying. :-)

All told, it's roughly 1,700 miles to cover in the course of 3 days in a plane that'll likely be flying between 100 and 120 miles per hour, depending on the winds. If the timing works out, we'll meet Lance (my partner in the plane) somewhere in southern California near Bakersfield so that he can fly it the rest of the way and I'll ride home in a car. The goal is for each of us to get some of our dual cross-country time logged as part of getting the plane home.

Anyway, I'm pretty psyched about this. It should be fun trip!

Posted by jzawodn at 08:14 AM

April 10, 2006

SEO Spending vs. Google Base

I've been thinking a bit more about Google Base recently. As Google edges closer and closer into ultimately including more Google Base derived results in the main search results, on-line businesses, marketers, and stores are faced with an interesting question.

Is my money better spent on Search Engine Optimization techniques and advertising, or should I be paying someone to build tools that make it easy to get my data loaded directly into Google Base (and kept up-to-date)?

Imagine being a latecomer to the world of ecommerce. You've got a vast catalog of good quality stuff to sell, but you are behind the times on your SEO and on-line marketing. Could Google Base be a shortcut to the promised land?

After all, if that's where the traffic is, why not put a copy of you catalog there? Perhaps the algorithm that selects relevant content from Google Base will be more "fair" than PageRank's popularity contest, which often favors early movers.

I expect this to get a bit more muddy before the real benefits become clear either way.

Are the smart SEO companies and consultants already building such tools?


Posted by jzawodn at 08:49 PM

April 05, 2006

Platforms and Ecosystems

The word "platform" has become quite popular in the Yahoo! vocabulary in recent months. That's a good thing because it means more and more people are staring to think about our products and services and more than just, well, products and services for end users (I hate the term "consumers" too).

It wasn't that long ago that Bill Gates said:

Yahoo doesn't think of themselves as a platform company. I don't think you will ever have the Yahoo PDC.

That's slightly amusing, because we're certainly headed that way. And Microsoft seems to be trying (and trying and trying) to, with MSN, become more and more of a content/portal/search company. Or some may say "more like Yahoo."

Anyway, there's a lot of confusion about platforms: what is and is not a platform and stuff like that. We also talk about ecosystems and how they related to platforms.

Leave to ex-Yahoo Gary Flake to help connect the dots, now that he's at Microsoft:

People from Redmond often speak of a "platform" while in the valley they speak of an "ecosystem". Here's the surprise: both groups are talking about the same thing. To MS, Windows is a platform because it fosters a virtuous cycle in two parts: developers come to the platform because it has the most users; users come to the platform because it has the most software.

Well said.

I hope Bill Gates will accept an invitation to keynote the first Yahoo Developer's Conference, should we decide to host one. :-)

Posted by jzawodn at 08:06 PM

April 04, 2006

Bad Names For Good Things

Derek Powazek makes an excellent point in Death to User-Generated Content:

Calling the beautiful, amazing, brilliant things people create online "user-generated content" is like sliding up to your lady, putting your arm around her and whispering, "Hey baby, let's have intercourse."
They're words that creepy marketeers use. They imply something to be commodified, harvested, taken advantage of. They're words I used to hear a lot while doing community consulting, and always by people who wanted to make, or save, a buck.
Think about the rest of the world. Writers produce stories or articles. Authors write fiction or memoir. These are words infused with meaning and romance. Can you imagine a writer saying "I am a content provider" when asked what they do?

I couldn't agree more.

The things I put on Flickr are photos. And the stuff on my blog? That's writing (or ranting, in some cases).

Nobody has ever commented to me about my "content", but they do mention my pictures or writing from time to time.

Why do we need new, less precise, terminology when the existing language seems to work just fine?

Posted by jzawodn at 04:31 PM

Bank Wire Transfers vs. FedEx Delivery

I went to the bank this morning to initiate a wire transfer for the remaining amount due on the plane (pics) and was surprised at how unpredictable the process is.

My goal was to give them all the paperwork, ensure I had sufficient funds, and schedule the transfer such that the money arrives in the sellers' account on a particular date next week.

But they can't do that. They cannot hold the paperwork for any amount of time. They'll process it the same day I turn it in. I guess I can understand that. They're a bank, not a scheduling service.

However, they can't tell me which day to drop of the paperwork to ensure that the funds arrive on my target date. The teller informed me that "it usually takes 48 hours, but that doesn't mean the funds will be available on the other end."


Seriously, this is 2006 and we can't know how long it takes money to get from point A to point B? And they charge $30 for the transfer.

Contrast this with another option: FedEx.

I can get a FedEx envelope, stuff it with $100 bills (or a certified bank check), and send it overnight with a signature required for less than $30 (without insurance). In this scenario, I get to track the progress of my package remotely and am fairly certain that it will arrive on the right day.

It seems to me that FedEx is better at what ought to be a core competency of an organization like Bank of America. Perhaps Heisenberg helped design the system?

Posted by jzawodn at 10:34 AM

April 03, 2006

Stop Messing with my Head

First someone had the bright idea to schedule the Daylight Savings Time (which I hate) jump to coincide with April Fool's Day.

I thought it was a joke and went to bed early, tired from something or other.

So I woke up utterly confused on Sunday, with two clocks telling me different things. I was tired anyway, so I turned off the alarm and rolled over. As you might expect, I woke up promptly at the crack of 1pm (or noon?) and felt a bit out of phase with the world for the remainder of the day.

Strike one.

Today, struggling to stay awake, I called the eye doctor to find out if my new sunglasses are ever going to show up. I'd been without them for a few weeks, after losing my previous pair and having to undergo an exam to get a new prescription. (It's okay. I was due for one.)

"Oh, your glasses are here!"

"Uhm, when were you planning to call me?"

Strike two.

The new glasses fit quite nicely and the prescription is only slightly different from the one I had before. Of course it's different enough that the world appears to be just a bit odd in a way that's hard to put my finger on.

And that gives me a slight headache.

Strike three.

In unrelated news, I'm not actually working at Google. I'm pretty sure most people figured out the April Fool's Day joke, but I did get some strange emails about it.

In more unrelated news, the best headline of the day award goes to: Trust Me, I'm A Jedi Scientist -- Those Aren't The Fraudulent Clicks You Were Looking For.

We need more references to Jedi Mind Tricks in day to day life.

Posted by jzawodn at 09:42 PM

April 01, 2006

I've been missing some good stuff at Yahoo!

Now that I'm at Yahoo!, I'm starting to realize just how many different services they offer. Case in point, Yahoo!'s podcast
directory and search. Try this search, for example. Tim Mayer and Jeremy have been doing a once-a-month podcast where they talk to different interesting people in the internet industry. Now that Jeremy has gone to Google and I've come to Yahoo!, maybe Tim and I will do the podcast together? We'll figure it out.

Another feature I've been enjoying is Yahoo! Answers. When you want to find out more about something like playing around with your TiVo, it's a great place to look. Highly recommended. :)

-- Matt
(Looking for Jeremy? Remember, he is over here now.)

Posted by jzawodn at 10:48 AM

Review: Sony PSP

I finally gave in, upgraded my firmware to a never-be-able-to-run-homebrew-code-again level (version 2.6), and started playing Me and My Katamari. If you're already a fan of the series, you'll enjoy this game too.

Two things surprised me about the PSP: 1) the screen is just so gorgeous. I'd heard it was nice, but it's *really* nice. 2) the built-in web browser + wifi is pretty killer. The PSP has faux "tabs" so you can open three web pages at once. It didn't take long until I was surfing Slashdot and checking Bloglines. I took a photo which you can see here:

(This image was obviously taken before I found out that Google traded me to Yahoo! for Jeremy Zawodny. I'll see if I can get a picture with Yahoo! on that screen sometime soon.)

All in all, I'm enjoying the PSP a lot--it's a really nice little device.

-- Matt
(Looking for Jeremy? Remember, he is over here now.)

Posted by jzawodn at 03:52 AM

Moving On and Trading Places

I've struggled for a while, trying to figure out how to write this. So long, in fact, that I intended to publish this yesterday but kept stalling. So I'll keep it short and sweet.

I recently left Yahoo to go to work for Google.

In a strange twist, Matt Cutts (who we'd been recruiting forever) recently decided to leave Google and come to Yahoo.

What were the odds of that?

There's a lot more I want to say about this (all the memories and great people left behind), but it'll all happen in good time. Some things are best said after having some time for reflection first.

Anyway, to lessen the confusion (or maybe increase it), I'll be blogging on his site from now on and he'll be here.

Posted by jzawodn at 12:32 AM