April 28, 2007

In and around Phoenix... What to do?

As previously noted, I'm in Phoenix for a few days. In between the conference here and heading to Las Vegas on Sunday for MIX07, I'm spending a bit of time today at the Estrella Sailport (Arizona Soaring) where I'm scheduled to fly their Genesis 2.

Estrella Sailport

I did a brief checkout in their Grob 103 yesterday along with another pilot friend who moved out here from the Bay Area last year. Conditions are looking decent for today, so I'm hoping for a couple hours of soaring around terrain that I don't get to see very often.

My flight to Vegas on Sunday isn't until about 5pm. What should we do on Sunday morning/afternoon?

Visiting the Arizona Wing CAF flying museum is one option. But there's probably time to do more than that. Ideas?

Posted by jzawodn at 08:07 AM

April 24, 2007

What the heck is Web 2.0 anyway?

Later this week I'll be on a panel at the CRV Leadership Summit in Phoenix. The session title is "Web 2.0: The Opportunities and Challenges of the Next Generation Internet" and will be moderated by John Palfrey. The other panelists are: Mike Arrington, Esther Dyson, David Sacks, and Robert Scoble.

In order to have a meaningful discussion, we're going to have to figure out what Web 2.0 is in the first place. So I'm going to jot my thoughts here and then solicit your input. Perhaps that'll help me figure this out.

Back in 2005 Tim O'Reilly wrote What Is Web 2.0 which listed the following traits:

  1. The Web As Platform
  2. Harnessing Collective Intelligence
  3. Data is the Next Intel Inside
  4. End of the Software Release Cycle
  5. Lightweight Programming Models
  6. Software Above the Level of a Single Device
  7. Rich User Experiences

Now call me crazy, but Tim's essay did a good job of setting my expectations of what "Web 2.0" should mean. But I've seen the term applied to companies, web sites, and services that fall far beyond those boundaries. Based on popular use and abuse of the term that I've seen, here are three much broader definitions of what some people seem to think Web 2.0 means:

  1. Launched after Google AdSense
  2. Uses Ajax and/or DHTML
  3. Unclear business model, pastel colors & large fonts used

Either considered separately or together, those are pretty broad and perhaps closer to rules for a Web 2.0 drinking game. Unfortunately, they're the most specific rules I'm able to derive based on the amazingly broad set of things which have been labeled "Web 2.0" by the technology press, bloggers, and random pundits.

At first I thought the Web 2.0 Wikipedia entry was mostly a recap of Tim's essay, but then I came across this nugget:

The typical Web 2.0 design elements: the glassy buttons, 'wet-floor' effects, and big fonts. The "beta" sign represents the "perpetual beta".

So I don't feel quite as silly about my overly-broad sounding list. But that doesn't mean I like it either.

Having said all that, what do you think Web 2.0 means--or ought to mean? Or what should it mean in the context of the panel discussion?

Posted by jzawodn at 04:24 PM

April 23, 2007

Broken Citabria Tailwheel Chain

Yesterday (Sunday) was looking like a potentially good day for some aerial sight seeing if the clouds stayed high enough. The plan was to fly up to the northwest and visit the area around Clear Lake, probably stopping at Lampson Field for fuel and whatnot.

But a funny thing happened as I was half way through a 180 degree turn in the run-up area at the end of runway 31R at Reid-Hillview airport. I felt what I can only describe as a "pop" in the left rudder pedal and then the steering began to feel funny. It was as if the tailwheel had somehow spun around too far or become jammed.

I figured it would straighten out on its own, so I finished the turn and ran through the run-up procedure. But then as I taxied over to the hold line so I could call up the control tower, it still didn't feel right. I tried a 360 degree turn and found that it felt like I'd lost almost all turning authority on the left side. I could still use the brakes, so it was still possible to steer with differential braking.

I suspected that there was a problem with the tailwheel spring and decided it was worth a look. A quick call back to the ground controller and we were cleared to taxi back to parking to check out the problem.

Here's what I saw upon walking to the rear of the plane.

Broken Citabria Tailwheel Chain

The metal fastener that attaches the short chain from the spring to the tailwheel steering mechanism had come off. It looked like a simple fix, so I went to the car and grabbed the tool bag that I just happened to think to bring along.

But after about two minutes of fussing with it, I realized that the metal fastener had actually broken, so there was no way to fix it. We needed a replacement.

At that point I assumed the trip was off and called our mechanic. Much to my surprise, he was able to drop by and repair the problem. As expected, he had spares on hand. The entire repair took about two minutes.

Our mechanic rocks.

Within 20 minutes, we were in the air and had a nice flight up I-680, over Napa Valley, across Lake Berryessa, over to Davis, and landed at Yolo County Airport, (I just like saying "Yolo") right at the time that some parachute jumpers were landing. If you're ever there, check out the little outdoor eating area adjacent to the parachute operation. They've got good beer, not that I could have any.

We dodged a bit of rain on the way there and back, but overall it was a good trip. Hopefully some of the pictures turned out well.

Posted by jzawodn at 08:26 PM

April 20, 2007

Gmail Spam Filtering Back To Normal

gmail After an extended period of time during which I simply couldn't trust Gmail's spam filter to Do The Right Thing, I'm happy to report that for the last few weeks it has been performing exceptionally well.

This all began back in January when I asked Did Gmail's Spam Filtering Freak Out This Week? and followed that up with Gmail Spam Filtering Update after exchanging a bit of mail with a Googler who worked on Gmail. But ever since then it's still been a little twitchy, and I'd just decided to accept that and move on.

But at some point in the last couple weeks it finally turned the corner. I can't recall a single false positive I've seen this week and the false negative rate has been remarkably low as well.

See Also:

Posted by jzawodn at 08:04 AM

April 17, 2007

Yahoo, now with less carbon

At our quarterly all-hands meeting a little while ago, Yahoo co-founders David and Jerry announced that Yahoo is going carbon neutral this year.

Jerry Yang and I just announced at our quarterly employee all-hands that Yahoo! has committed to going carbon neutral this year. Essentially, that means we're going to invest in greenhouse gas reduction projects around the world to neutralize Yahoo!'s impact on the environment. While doing our homework on this, we measured our carbon footprint and discovered that Yahoo! going carbon neutral is equivalent to shutting off the electricity in all San Francisco homes for a month. Or pulling nearly 25,000 cars off the road for a year.

I like that we're able to quantify it in ways that are understandable to people, rather than talking about XXX tons of carbon emissions.

Personally, I've been paying a lot more attention to energy issues since last October when I wrote about replacing my home backup server with Amazon's S3. Even though I don't know that Amazon is able to do the job with less power than I can (I have to believe they're more efficient than my setup), the eye-opening thing to me was the actual dollars saved from PG&E if my calculations were right.

Since that time, my home computers have been powered off much more of the time and I've actually seen changes in my energy bill. Plus, I replaced my dying 20+ year old furnace last December with one that's 90+% energy efficient: the Lennox G61V Variable Speed Gas Furnace.

Again, lower bills and better for the environment.

Being that I live in Silicon Valley and work for a high-tech company, I'm glad to see that so much of the interest, funding, and innovation around greener energy is here too. I can only hope that more of the country follows along, just like they have with California's stricter auto emissions standards.

Thanks to David, Jerry, and the Yahoo! For Good team for helping put our resources to work on this.

Posted by jzawodn at 04:49 PM

April 16, 2007

Bringing Balance To The Force

It just occurred to me that if I look at the on-line services I used most, there's not really a clear winner when it comes to who gets the bulk of my online attention. Here's the current list along with the current owner of each (since 3 of the 4 were acquisitions):

Even more interesting is the fact that they're all basically separate brands from their parent companies. Sure, we all know that the "G" in Gmail is for "Google" but it's not called Google Mail, is it?

Of course, there are other on-line services that see little of my attention but provide value in other ways too:

And there are smaller or government owned sites I visit several times a day too:

And then there are those I've mostly stopped reading as they've decayed or gone mainstream and become mostly uninteresting:

I don't know if this is interesting to anyone else, but I was pretty happy about figuring this out a little while ago.

Does anyone seem to garner the majority of your on-line attention?

Posted by jzawodn at 10:41 AM

April 14, 2007

Lee Vining Airport Tips

Back on April 1st I posted Yosemite from the Air and Lee Vining which contained some pictures from a flight over Yosemite National Park and on to Lee Vining.

Citabria N5156X at Lee Vining Airport (O24)

Just for the record, Lee Vining is a little town in the high desert located along highway 395 where highway 120 descends down from Tioga Pass on the eastern edge of Yosemite National Park. It's also not far from Mono Lake.

Lee Vining Airport

As a follow up to my Silver Springs Airport Tips, here are a few tidbits about Lee Vining Airport.

  • Remember what you learned about diminished engine performance at high density altitude airports. Lee Vining is at an elevation of 6,800 feet, so even on a moderate Spring day you're going to wonder where the horsepower has gone. Lean the mixture as needed.
  • There is always a crosswind. I don't know whose bright idea it was to build a basically north/south runway right next to a big east/west mountain pass where there's almost always a westerly wind. But what's done is done.
  • The runway is about 50 feet wide, so keep it on the centerline. There's not a lot of room for mistakes.
  • When landing on runway 34, expect to hit some bumps and good sink on right base to final. Looking at the surrounding terrain, I suspect it is often present.
  • When descending to land, you may circle the airport to determine which way the runway slopes. In doing so you'll probably convince yourself that it seems to slope both ways. Actually runway 34 is slightly downhill. About 2/3rds of the way to the north end the slope increases noticeably.
  • The good news is that you have a slightly downhill takeoff on 34. Since your plane won't climb worth a damn anyway, this is helpful.
  • The airport has a roughly 3 foot high barbed wire fence around it. Should you decide to attempt to walk down to the lake, you'll need to go over or through the fence. It's not that hard, actually. You can find places where both are possible if you look around a bit.
  • The lake, however, is much farther from the airport than it seems.
  • And the brush gets a lot thicker the closer you get to the shoreline.
  • In the other direction, it's an easy walk into town along highway 395. There's ample shoulder room on both sides of the road (since it gets snow in the winter months).
  • In town you'll find several places to eat as well as a visitor's center and some funky little shops.

Yosemite Outfitters

The rest of the pictures are in my Mono Lake photoset on Flickr.

Posted by jzawodn at 10:12 AM

April 13, 2007

York Peppermint Patties: Fresh vs. Stale

I had the most amazing experience today. I ate a few fresh York Peppermint Patties.

This may not sound all that remarkable, but you need to realize that I have a habit of eating the little bite-sized treats after lunch most days. It's like a mini-desert. The Yahoo Mart (our little on-campus convenience store) has them individually wrapped in one of those big boxes at the checkout counter.

I'd noticed that the box was getting more and more empty as the last few weeks went by but thought nothing of it. But today it was full. I grabbed a few as I got a pack of gum (Trident Tropical Twist, if you must know) and headed to my desk.

The difference became apparent as I bit into the first one. Rather than being almost crunchy and a little dry, the white inside was nearly creamy. The improvement both texture and taste was simply amazing!

And, as a bonus, the dark chocolate on the outside had not started to whiten yet. Not in the least.

I now have a completely new appreciation for the difference between "fresh" and "stale" peppermint patties. I wonder if there's an expiration date on the box. Because there certainly isn't one on the individually wrapped treats.

Anyway, between this and my Emacs editing tips, I can't imagine how you're getting anything done today.

While you ponder that, I'm going to go get a few more fresh peppermint patties. :-)

Posted by jzawodn at 02:56 PM

HOWTO Replace Something with Newline in Emacs

I can't believe I've never needed to do this before, but I was struggling with a dumb problem a little while ago. I had a file open in Emacs and it contained a bunch of key/value pairs separated by, what else, the web's favorite: &

To make this more readable I wanted to put each pair on its own line. So I needed to replace all instances of & with newline (or the equivalent of hitting the 'enter' key).

So I did what any emacs user would do:

M-x replace-string

I typed '&' and hit return. I was then prompted for the replacement string.


If I hit enter, it'll assume I want to replace it with nothing--essentially removing the '&' characters. That's not right.

But what can I use?

Here's what I tried:

  • \n
  • \\n
  • C-q [enter]
  • about four other things I've already forgotten

Nothing worked.

Then I tried a few searches that led me no closer to a solution. So I turned to our internal mailing list for Emacs users. [You know you have a lot of software engineers when you can justify an internal mailing list for Emacs. Or VIM. We've got one for them too.]

The answer, it turns out, is: C-q C-j.

That's right, Control-J is the way to tell emacs to stick in a newline. In retrospect that makes a lot of sense.

Now if I ever forget again, I can just search my own web site and hopefully find this in the future.

Posted by jzawodn at 01:24 PM

April 12, 2007

A Soaring Struggle

Earlier this week I started paying very close attention to the weather forecast for today (Thursday). There was a cold front coming into the area, expected to exit late on Wednesday and I was hoping that it would provide the classic post-frontal soaring that we glider pilots long for in the Bay Area.

It did. Sort of.

Good Clouds?

Everything was looking good except for the wind. The pressure gradient was still strong and that set us up for a 15-20 knot wind out of the north/northwest. But there were predicted to be good cumulous clouds (indicators of rising air), so I figured it was worth cashing in a day of my accumulating vacation time.

As I drove to the airport this morning, the clouds looked amazing. I was kicking myself for not having started an hour sooner. But I'd seen days like this before and wasn't too worried.

However, as I was assembling my glider, the clouds started to vanish. The atmosphere was beginning to dry out a bit. They didn't completely vanish, but I'd say their intensity was reduced by a good 60-75% or so.

Uh oh.

Around 12:45pm I launched off runway 31 at Hollister, following the lead of the few pilots who had launched before me. Before long, I was off tow at 3,300 and struggling to stay up. The lift was hard to find and hard to stay in, but I kept at it. It took an hour to get above 3,700 and I nearly had to land once. But eventually it got better.

Flying My 304C

I maxed out around 6,000 feet and managed to fly around and explore a bit. But after two hours of the 20 knot headwinds and ripped thermals, I'd had enough of bouncing around and headed in to land.

All in all, it wasn't the day I hoped it would be. But it was certainly good practice. I'm really hoping that the Spring soaring season is going to kick off soon. We could really use a few good days.

Posted by jzawodn at 08:22 PM

April 11, 2007

Microsoft Bloatware Alert

Some days I wonder why I use any Microsoft software anymore. I'm a man of simple needs. I prefer simple tools that do one thing really well. While I can trace some of that to my Unix/Linux roots, the same is true when it comes to real-world tools as well.

So it's no surprise that I find myself wondering if Emacs, Open Office, or even VIM isn't more appropriate when this dialog appears for seemingly no reason:

If you're too lazy to look at the full-sized version, here's the text of the alert:

The document was saved, but data for speech recognition was lost because there was not enough space to store it. Be sure to turn off the microphone when you are not recording, and check the available storage space on the disk.

My reaction upon seeing this can be summed up in a common three letter acronym: WTF?!


Where's Microsoft World Lite when you need it?

Posted by jzawodn at 06:35 PM

April 09, 2007

Silver Springs Airport Tips

On Sunday I flew out to Silver Springs airport where my sister picked me up for Easter dinner back at their place in Fernley, Nevada.

Citabria N5156X at Silver Springs, Nevada

The airport web site is clearly a marketing device. Especially the facility page which touts the airport as being "a 24 hour, fully operational airport capable of accepting 737s" and such.

Here are a few observations from my first visit to Silver Springs.

  • There aren't many turnoffs. As you can see, there's one at each end of the runway and another in the first bit of runway 23. But if you land past that, it's a long taxi down to the end, so you'll need to do a 180 to taxi back. The runway is 6,000 feet long.
  • Though there is no AWOS on field, after you key the microphone and make an inbound call an automated system will provide basic AWOS or ATIS style information (winds, active runway, etc.). If it doesn't, try three clicks on the microphone.
  • Despite the impressive things said on the web site (noted above) and the massive runway, there's no fuel available on-site. So if you're flying that 737 in, make sure you've got lots of Jet A or, in my case, 100LL.
  • The new taxiway and tie-down areas are in great shape. It's very smooth, clean, and well marked. But there are no tie-down chains so bring your own ropes. I was glad to have a set with me.
  • There's a prominent gate at the airport entrance off of the highway. But I'm not sure why, since it's a 24-hour facility.

Have you been to Silver Springs? What did I miss?

Posted by jzawodn at 08:08 PM

April 06, 2007

Five Reasons Why I Blog

Thanks to Vanessa Fox (nude!) [1] for tagging me in the latest Friday blogging meme.

Here are my five reasons for blogging, with very little deep thought:

  1. I like to write. Hell, I even wrote a book once and you can read all about it on that outdated website.
  2. People actually read this stuff. Seriously. I don't know who most of you are (just some of you), but I appreciate the fact that I'm able to entertain, annoy, or otherwise occupy bits of your free time. It makes me feel loved (and hated).
  3. It's a very efficient way to cause trouble, create a ruckus, or otherwise bitch about stuff from time to time.
  4. I gives me a place to post stuff about my life that I'd otherwise not make the effort to email to the 10 people that probably want to know.
  5. Most importantly, I learn a lot from my readers. As a group, you all are way smarter than I am. Individually, that's probably the case too. But how else would I get Dried Fruit Recommendations or Scotch Recommendations without a blog?

[1] I'm sure that she'll get a ton of clicks with the "nude" reference in there. But that's what she calls her site. I wouldn't be surprised if a few people had a weird mental association that brings back memories of a nude Samantha Fox (you know, the one-hit wonder that created "Touch Me" back in the 80s). She posed nude, or nearly nude, at some point. At least that's what I'm told... :-)

Posted by jzawodn at 01:27 PM

April 04, 2007

In which I give up playing Desktop Tower Defense

A bit over a week ago, I issued a warning: Desktop Tower Defense Considered Harmful, saying:

Whatever you do, please DO NOT click the link and start playing that game. You may find yourself in the very same time warp that I did...

Several days ago, as I approached the lunch table (yes, it's a specific table), a co-worker said (roughly) "I haven't had any spare time since you posted that damned link to Desktop Tower Defense..."

That was followed by a discussion of Tower Defense strategy that taught me two very important things:

  1. far more people than I realized are playing this as much as I am (or... more!)
  2. fully upgraded squirt towers really do kick ass

And, if my outbound click stats from MyBlogLog's analytics are any indication, I've been aiding in the spread of this game to the tune of ~250 victims per day!

Well, given the amount of my time it has consumed, I've decided to put an end to the madness. First, a screenshot of my most recent win on the "normal" level:

Desktop Tower Defense: Won Normal Level

I've won it about 5 times now and am sufficiently bored with it that I think I can stop. I could try for the next harder setting, but that'd be like cracking open a new bottle of scotch after an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.

So, that's it. I'm done. I quit. I've beat the damned thing on two levels multiple times.

But don't let that stop you. Feel free to keep on playing. I'll be the one trying not to download a copy of Silent Wings.

Posted by jzawodn at 11:12 PM

My Dearest Bloglines

You've become slow and unreliable in your old age. I've mostly been able to ignore this now and then, but recently your pace has hindered my ability do get thru my RSS feeds in a timely fashion. But let's face it. You're not young and spry anymore.

I can look past the fact that you're not the prettiest aggregator on the block anymore. I'm always willing to put function before appearance. But when function starts to fall behind, you can't really fall back on your good looks either.

While Google Reader is calling me from afar, I sit here reading a message about your "problem with the database" and wonder how long you'll be down this time.

Are you off sneaking around with that plumber again? I thought we had something special--a real connection. Were my daily visits not enough to satisfy you?

Please tell me if it's over. I don't want a long, drawn out break-up. No passive-aggressive mind games, please. I'll pack up my OPML file and move on with life.

I miss the days when I didn't question your stability or, dare I say, performance.

Update: Bloglines responds in excellent form.

Posted by jzawodn at 10:53 AM

April 03, 2007

Unexpected Things I Did Today

While there's a lot of my life that's fairly routine, today began and ended with things I didn't know I'd be doing just a few days before.

First, I started the day by hanging out with soon-to-be-famous Tim Ferriss (read his blog for more about what he's up to). We got to talk about writing books (his comes out in a few weeks), travel, flying, and so on. I now owe him a ride in the Citabria.

Then I headed up to San Carlos this evening to give an hour long talk on soaring at EAA Chapter 20 (that's the Experimental Aircraft Association). Their previously booked speaker had cancelled at the last minute, so they asked me.

I think it went pretty well. I'll post slides and pictures soon. At least one member has promised me a flight in his RV and I plan to take advantage of that. I was especially impressed by how many of the members had been up for a glider ride in the past. Two of them even have glider ratings.

There appears to be a law of conservation of aircraft rides involved in both events, somehow. You give one, you get one. I'm cool with that.

Posted by jzawodn at 10:25 PM

April 01, 2007

Yosemite from the Air and Lee Vining

What to do on a Saturday in late March? Go flying, of course!

Yesterday's destination was Lee Vining (airport), the small town on the far side of Yosemite National Park and Tioga Pass and next to Mono Lake (Wikipedia).

While I don't yet have the good pictures (taken with a Digital Rebel XT), I do have those from my Cannon SD500. Here's a quick sampling of the sights.

Approaching the Sierras

Heading Toward the Sierras Approaching the Sierras

Yosemite Valley and Half Dome

Half Dome and Yosemite Valley Half Dome and Yosemite Valley Half Dome Half Dome Yosemite Valley Yosemite Valley

Lee Vining Airport

Citabria N5156X at Lee Vining Airport (O24) Lee Vining Airport

The "Mule Guy" in Town

The Mule Guy in Lee Vining The Mule Guy in Lee Vining

Various Sights in Town

The Mono Lake Committee Animal Rugs Animal Rugs Yosemite Outfitters

Various Ground Shots

The White Mountains Tioga Pass Funky Trees Near Mono Lake

Lenticular (Wave) Clouds Over the Carson Valley

Wave and Lenticular Clouds

I'll post links to some of the much better shots when I get copies--including aerial shots of the lake itself (I was a little busy flying to take any), Placerville Airport (fuel stop), and the sunset on the way back to the Bay Area.

As you might expect, the full set of my pics are in the Mono Lake Trip set on Flickr.

Posted by jzawodn at 07:12 AM