December 29, 2007

Quick Africa Trip Report

We made it to Africa on Monday after hour half-day layover in chilly London but had a few mishaps along the way--namely delayed luggage (we finally have 2 of our 3 checked bags from SFO as of Friday), a cell phone that doesn't work internationally as it should have, and other stupid stuff.

Hippo Pond in Lake Manyara National Park

The good news is that the trip has been otherwise fantastic so far. We have a great guide (just him and the two of us in a Land Cruiser) that's helped us to see *lots* of amazing animals and scenery. It's going to take a long time to go through the thousands of pictures we're taking and dozens of short video clips.

Sunrise over Lake Manyara

We have just another two days in Tanzania before we had back to Kenya for our Safari there. The lodges we've been staying at are better than either of us had expected. They have great food, amazing views, and very friendly people--not to mention gift shops where we've been able to buy a few of the essentials that were trapped in our checked bags.

We'll write more when we get a chance...

Posted by jzawodn at 10:04 AM

December 24, 2007

The Flight Before Christmas

'Twas the flight before Christmas, and out on the ramp,
Not an airplane was stirring, not even a Champ.
The aircraft were fastened to their tiedowns with care,
In hopes that come morning, they all would be there.
The fuel trucks were nestled, all snug in their spots,
With gusts from two-forty at 39 knots.
I slumped at the fuel desk, now finally caught up,
And settled down comfortably, resting my butt.
When the radio lit up with noise and with chatter,
I turned up the scanner to see what was the matter.
A voice clearly heard over static and snow,
Called for clearance to land at the airport below.
He barked his transmission so lively and quick,
I'd have sworn that the call sign he used was "St. Nick";
I ran to the panel to turn up the lights,
The better to welcome this magical flight.
He called his position, no room for denial,
"St. Nicholas One, turnin' left onto final."
And what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a Rutan-built sleigh, with eight Rotax Reindeer!
With vectors to final, down the glideslope he came,
As he passed all the fixes, he called them by name:
"Now Ringo! Now Tolga! Now Trini and Bacun!
On Comet! On Cupid!" What pills was he takin'?
While controllers were sittin', and scratchin' their head,
They phoned to my office, and I heard it with dread,
The message they left was both urgent and dour:
"When Santa pulls in, have him please call the tower."
He landed like silk, with the sled runners sparking,
Then I heard "Left at Charlie," and "Taxi to parking."
He slowed to a taxi, turned off of three-oh
And stopped on the ramp with a "Ho, ho-ho- ho..."
He stepped out of the sleigh, but before he could talk,
I ran out to meet him with my best set of chocks.
His red helmet and goggles were covered with frost
And his beard was all blackened from Reindeer exhaust.
His breath smelled like peppermint, gone slightly stale,
And he puffed on a pipe, but he didn't inhale.
His cheeks were all rosy and jiggled like jelly,
His boots were as black as a crop duster's belly.
He was chubby and plump, in his suit of bright red,
And he asked me to "fill it, with hundred low- lead."
He came dashing in fast from the snow-covered pump,
I knew he was anxious for drainin' the sump.
I spoke not a word, but went straight to my work,
And I filled up the sleigh, but I spilled like a jerk.
He came out of the restroom, and sighed in relief,
Then he picked up the phone for a Flight Service brief.
And I thought as he silently scribed in his log,
These reindeer could land in a one- eighth mile fog.
He completed his pre-flight, from the front to the rear,
Then he put on his headset, and I heard him yell, "Clear!"
And laying a finger on his push-to-talk,
He called up the tower for clearance and squawk.
"Take taxiway Charlie, the southbound direction,
Turn right three-two-zero at pilot's discretion."
He sped down the runway, the best of the best,
"Your traffic's a Grumman, inbound from the west."
Then I heard him proclaim, as he climbed through the night,
"Merry Christmas to all! I have traffic in sight."

Posted by jzawodn at 10:14 AM

December 22, 2007

Off getting hitched and seeing animals...

Things will be fairly quiet here for next couple of weeks. Not only are the end of year holidays a good time to unplug (a bit) and focus on other stuff, we're going to be traveling a bit and likely won't have much in the way of Internet access starting on Sunday the 23rd.

zanzibar You may remember late July when I announced that I'm Engaged. Well, this trip will be a combination of Honeymoon and Wedding (in that order) for me and Kathleen. And I couldn't be happier about it. :-)

We're going to be on an African Safari in Kenya, Tanzania, and Zanzibar.

When we return in mid-January, I'll have a lot to write about and many, many pictures to share. In the meantime, put the mouse away for a bit and enjoy some time off with friends and family.

If we get a chance, I'll try to post a photo and a quick update from overseas, but I'm not expecting much of a chance to do that.

Enjoy the holidays!

Posted by jzawodn at 08:45 AM

December 21, 2007

How To Configure Mailman to Discard or Reject Non-Member Posts

For whatever reason, I've had trouble configuring Mailman 2.1.x to either reject or discard attempted postings by non-members to mailing lists.

Sometimes it's a member using a different email address, but the majority of the time it's spam or wrongly directed email. So after a fair amount of poking around, I found a command-line way of doing the deed here.

To summarize, if your list is called "foo" you can do this to export the config to a file:

config_list -o foo foo
vi foo

Then find the string generic_nonmember_action = 1 and change the 1 to a 2 (reject) or 3 (discard).

Then re-import the configuration:

config_list -i foo foo

And you should be good to go.

Now if I forget this again in the future, at least I know I can come back to my own blog to search for it. :-)

Posted by jzawodn at 10:07 AM

December 20, 2007

Flight Report: Bishop to Mendota to San Jose, California

After landing in Bishop on Sunday night, we hoped to cross the Sierra Nevada Mountains at Tioga Pass, cross the Central Valley, and fly home to Reid Hillview Airport in San Jose, California.

But as with other legs on this trip, Mother Nature had other plans for us. There was a good wind coming over the Sierras that cause some mountain wave turbulence and low clouds. So we decided to head south down the Owens Valley toward Mojave, California where we could cross the Tehachapi Pass into the Central Valley and fly home.

But looking along the southern Sierras, we noticed a fair amount of cloud cover and started to become skeptical. But a quick call to Flight Watch near Lone Pine told us that conditions are Mojave were good and Bakersfield was cloudy and rainy, but ceilings were high enough that we should be able to make it.

Sure enough, that turned out to be the case. We crossed the pass easily and then the real adventure began. We had to fly the central valley with scattered rain, low visibility, and lowering cloud bases.

Cessna N601SF Ferry Trip

Sometimes the wall of rain was only a few miles away and heading our way.

Cessna N601SF Ferry Trip

And then we had to descend a few times to keep from running into clouds.

Cessna N601SF Ferry Trip

At one point were were only about 20 miles from Los Banos, where we'd hoped to fly the Pacheco Pass through the Diablo Range so that we could make South County and eventually back to Reid Hillview.

The trouble is that visibility got so poor that we had to turn back short of Los Banos and land at the little Mendota airport. We hung out there for about an hour and a half while waiting for the weather to clear up in our direction of flight.

There's not much to see at the Mendota airport other than an old abandoned sky dive operation. So I pulled out my laptop and watched the satellite weather for a bit. Eventually it cleared up, so we took off on runway 15 and turned northwest for another attempt.

This time we were able to climb quite a bit higher (3,000 feet), listen to the AWOS at Los Banos, and call flight watch to get conditions at Livermore and San Jose. Conditions at all three were decent, so we continued on despite what looked like poor visibility ahead.

Much to our surprised, everything cleared up nicely after another 15-20 miles, and we easily made it through the pass and on our way home.

Cessna N601SF Ferry Trip

Before I knew it, we were back on the ground at Reid Hillview.

Cessna N601SF Ferry Trip

Mission Accomplished!

In the next few days, I hope to stich together the GPS traces and geotag all the photos.

Previously:

Posted by jzawodn at 07:45 AM

December 19, 2007

GPS, Electronic Gadgets, Situational Awareness, and Usability

Yesterday I came across an interesting article that I can no longer find. In it the author described spending a day with usability and design expert Don Norman, looking at bathroom faucets, vending machines, buttonless elevators, and so on. It began with the discussion of a digital picture frame that had a particularly bad user interface and the learning curve associated with it.

That got me thinking about one of the biggest challenges associated with the high tech gadgets that we're increasingly surrounding ourselves with in high stress environments. In particular, I'm thinking of GPS navigation systems.

I've recently had the experience of breaking the Garmin StreetPilot c340 that used to be mounted on the dashboard of my car. At the same time, while flying from Midland, Texas to Bishop, California we made extensive use of the Garmin 430's terrain and obstacle avoidance data at night.

Having an up-to-date an accurate GPS device there to provide extra information adds a feeling of awareness and safety that's hard to describe. In the aviation world, we talk a lot about situational awareness, which Wikipedia says is:

Situation awareness is the correct term for the field of study that concerns the knowledge and understanding of the environment that is critical to those who need to make decisions in complex areas such as aviation, air traffic control, driving, power plant operations, and military command and control.

In other words, it's all about having the information you need to form a clear, accurate, and complete picture in your mind. This is a picture of what's going on in your environment and how it's likely to be changing in the near future.

GPS, like many devices, can be an amazing asset. It offloads the work of acquiring and organizing information, presenting it in hopefully easy to digest bits that can be quickly integrated into your picture of the situation.

Used well, such devices give you the confidence to do things you might not do without them. But there's a hidden cost associated with having them around. There's a learning curve required to figure out how to efficiently use and configure them. In a high stress situation, you don't have time to stop and read the manual or second guess what it's telling you.

That means not only do you have to get over that initial learning curve, you also have to spend some time configuring the device to present you with only the information you actually need. There's a real danger that these fancy devices can provide you with information that's distracting and potentially even misleading.

Driving around without the c340 is a bit disconcerting. I've had it for a couple years now and expect it to be there, telling me what I need to know. it's a real reminder of how much it was helping to increase my situational awareness without increasing my workload.

What's been your experiences with devices that do this particularly well or particularly poorly?

Translations: Don't forget that the folks at TechCzar are providing translations of selected technology related posts from my blog.

Posted by jzawodn at 07:20 AM

December 18, 2007

Flight Report: Midland, Texas to Flagstaff, Arizona and Bishop, California

On Sunday morning, we arrived at the Midland Airpark bright and early so that we could fly the remaining 1,000 nautical miles back to San Jose. But mother nature had other plans for us.

We found that the airplane had a nice coating of frost on it. The temperature was still in the high 20s, so we maneuvered the airplane to better face the sun and set about figuring a way to accelerate the defrosting process.

Cessna N601SF Ferry Trip

Cessna N601SF Ferry Trip

After doing some work with warm water, rags, and a long stick, we eventually got most of the frost off and let the increasing temps handle the rest of it.

Cessna N601SF Ferry Trip

Cessna N601SF Ferry Trip

We departed about 2 hours later than expected and flew along a route of flight that included: Hobbs, New Mexico; Roswell, New Mexico; Albuquerque, New Mexico; Gallup, New Mexico; and Flagstaff, Arizona.

Cessna N601SF Ferry Trip

Cessna N601SF Ferry Trip

Cessna N601SF Ferry Trip

Cessna N601SF Ferry Trip

Along the way we saw a big hole in the ground that I eventually recognized at the big meteor crater.

Cessna N601SF Ferry Trip

Cessna N601SF Ferry Trip

We arrived at Flagstaff airport for a quick lunch and refueling. There was an impressive amount of snow piled up around the airport.

Cessna N601SF Ferry Trip

From there we flew on to the Peach Springs VOR (just south of the Grand Canyon) and got some amazing views of the canyon on our way to Lake Mead and Las Vegas.

Cessna N601SF Ferry Trip

Cessna N601SF Ferry Trip

Flying over Lake Mead was a fun experience.

Cessna N601SF Ferry Trip

While talking to Las Vegas approach, we got to watch lots of airliners flying into and out of Vegas. We crossed just north of Las Vegas airport, over flew Nellis Air Force Base (seriously!) and continued on toward Beatty, Nevada.

At this point it was getting dark quickly and we had to decide what to do. Talking to the folks at Nellis Control (I should mention that we had Flight Following almost the entire day), we decided to go direct to Bishop, California. It was getting rather dark and I didn't like the idea of crossing the higher part of the Whites at night (even with terrain awareness on the GPS).

We got handed off to Joshua Center and decided to direct to Independence, California where we could pick up Highway 395 and follow it up to Bishop. From there we'd decide to either press on to Minden or just stay in Bishop for the night.

We arrived over the Bishop airport and decided to just land for the night. We'd had a long day of flying and weren't going to try flying over the Sierras at night. Given the weather, we figured there'd be a good route home on Monday morning.

I slowly spiraled down over the airport and landed at Bishop. The night landing there is a bit freaky because you know you've got big terrain nearby and can't see a damned thing. And the terrain display on the Garmin 430 starts to go crazy as you get down to pattern altitude.

It was quite a learning experience. Soon I'll write up the trip home on Monday (yes, we made it back).

The pictures are here: N601SF: Midland to Flagstaff to Bishop

Previously:

Posted by jzawodn at 08:02 AM

December 15, 2007

Made it to Midland, Texas

Just a quick update on the flying. We made it to Midland, Texas tonight after a late start this afternoon waiting for IFR ceilings to lift in Texarkana. We got off at about 2:15pm under 1,000 foot ceilings and flew fairly low until reaching clear skies farther into Texas.

Cessna N601SF Ferry Trip

We flew for a few hours into the night so that we could make it to Midland in hopes of getting home on Sunday. It's around 1,200 nautical miles home, but we're planning to leave at 8:00am local time (6:00am California time) and that gives us a lot of daylight and what appears to be mostly excellent flying weather.

Got some flight planning to do and sleep to get. More later.

Previously:

Posted by jzawodn at 08:40 PM

Flight Report: Sturgis, MI to Lebanon, MS to Texarkana, AR

We departed Sturgis, Michigan just after 10am on Friday, aiming for our first waypoint: Champaign, IL. Clouds were at about 2,500 - 3,000 feet above grounds so way stayed fairly low. But, as predicted, the weather continued to improve the farther we flew.

Cessna N601SF Ferry Trip

Eventually, the clouds broke up so much that we were able to climb on top and enjoy the view a bit more.

Cessna N601SF Ferry Trip

Once we passed Champaign, we set our sights on St. Louis. However, we made better time than expected, and passed over St. Louis to continue on toward Springfield, MO with mostly clear skies.

Cessna N601SF Ferry Trip

But biology took its toll and we decided to stop in Lebanon for fuel, food, and a restroom break.

Cessna N601SF Ferry Trip

At the Lebanon Airport we were greeted by the friendly folks at Lebanon Aviation Services, who fueled up the plane, offered us food and a ride into town if needed.

Cessna N601SF Ferry Trip

In Lebanon I found that our next goal, either Wichita or Tulsa, was unobtainable. Both were under IFR or nearly IFR conditions (low clouds and decreasing visibility) with the rain/ice/snow storm coming in. In fact, Lebanon was expecting several inches that night. With that news, we became rather discouraged and expected to spend the night in Lebanon. :-(

After eating and relaxing a bit, I got back on the computer and began to look at the weather more closely. I found a few destinations that were halfway between where we were and where we wanted to go and noticed that they still had good weather (clear up to 12,000 and 6-10 miles visibility).

With this new information, I called up a flight service briefer to talk about the options. Amusingly, I got the same briefer as last time. He realized I wasn't going away and decided to work with me on finding other options. After studying the weather for Saturday a bit more, he convinced me to shoot for Texarkana, AR or even Shreveport, LA.

Weather at both was diminishing but expected to be good enough for us to get in safely. And they didn't really help us get farther west but would put us in a better position for Saturday as the storms moved out. We'd be farther south and able to start heading across Texas earlier in the day.

So we packed up, hopped in the plane, and flew down to Texarkana, arriving about 30 minutes after sunset. The fine folks at TAC Air helped us with fuel, parking, and arranged a shuttle to the local Holiday Inn for the night. Best of all, there's a good Cajun Seafood restaurant right in the hotel.

This morning we're waiting for ceilings to lift high enough that we can begin the journey across Texas.

More pictures and GPS flight traces to come as time allows.

Previously: Flying Cessna 182 N601SF from Michigan to California

Posted by jzawodn at 07:50 AM

December 13, 2007

Flying Cessna 182 N601SF from Michigan to California

I'm writing this from gate H2 at Chicago's O'Hare Airport as I wait to board a flight to Kalamazoo, Michigan to pick up a Cessna 182. N601SF is a 1979 model that's sitting in a hangar at Kirsch Municipal Airport in Sturgis.

N601SF

A few weeks ago I wrote Flying the Cessna 182 Skylane: My Checkout Story and mentioned the airplane waiting to be picked up. After numerous weather delays and cancellations (this is the third "attempt"), it looks like things will be clear enough to make the journey.

WBT-201 GPS Our tentative plan is to set out from Sturgis on Friday morning, aiming to fly as far southwest as we can before dark. Hopefully we'll make it to Tulsa, Witchita, or somewhere in that vicinity. On Saturday, I like to shoot for the south end of the Rocky Mountains, hopefully ending up somewhere near Flagstaff. Then on Sunday, we should have a fairly easy ride back to San Jose,

Back in April of 2006, we had an adventure bringing Citabria N5156X back to California from Texas. This journey is going to be quite a bit colder and hopefully a bit less "interesting" (in a Chinese proverb sort of way).

Anyway, I'll try to post updates: GPS traces each day and photos. I brought along my new Wintec WBT-201 GPS data logger. So I should have some fun geo data to play with. I've experimented with it driving around and hacked together stuff like this so far. More to come.

So far the weather is looking like it'll mostly cooperate. Let's hope it stays that way. :-)

Posted by jzawodn at 01:22 PM

December 12, 2007

Congrats to Six Apart on Movable Type going Open Source

MT As a long-time user of Movable Type, I'm glad to see it going fully Open Source now. That's only going to help this great platform continue to evolve.

The funny thing is that I'm still sitting on a very old Movable Type installation for my blog. It's not that I had no reason to upgrade, but the old version works pretty well. And I've customized it enough that any upgrade is going to break my changes and cause me even more work. So it may be some time before I finally make the jump, but I'm definitely keeping an eye on the project.

One of these days I'll take the plunge and go all the way up to the latest release.

Anyone have some free time I can borrow? :-)

Posted by jzawodn at 03:02 PM

December 06, 2007

Cool Flying Machines on BoingBoing TV

The other day, Xeni Jardin of BoingBoing and NPR fame pinged me to point out a video they did about a guy (Carl Rankin) who builds cool airplanes and flying machines out of junk.

Yeah, he takes the stuff that we'd normally throw away and turns them into flying machine.

That has Maker Faire written all over it, doesn't it? :-)

Cool stuff.

Posted by jzawodn at 03:54 PM

Google Chart API Kicks Ass

google chart The Google Chart API looks to be an excellent offering for developers and web front-end engineers. It provides a brain-dead simple way of putting a variety of charts into a web page, all generated by Google.

  • Line
  • Bar
  • Pie
  • Venn (really)
  • Scatter Plots

There are ton of line style and color options, simple instructions for encoding the data, and a rate limit of 50,000 per day.

Read more in the announcement on the Google Code blog.

Well done, guys.

Now, can you do a web page thumbnail generator too? :-)

Posted by jzawodn at 03:39 PM

Cough Medicine vs. Honey

honey In Honey is better than childrenís cough syrups for a silent night we learn that honey is nature's cough medicine. That's right. Put that Robitussin down and grab a honeycomb.

Honey did a better job of reducing the severity and frequency of night-time coughs. It also improved sleep quality for children and their parents.

Seriously. They studied this and found that honey actually performed better than Dextromethorphan, the active ingredient in most over the counter cough medications.

Dr Paulís team observed 105 children and teenagers with respiratory tract infections. The study ran over two nights. On the first, none of the participants was given any treatment. On the second, they were divided into groups who received either honey, an artificial honey-flavoured DM medicine or no treatment, about half an hour before bedtime.
Parents answered questions about their childís symptoms and sleep quality, as well as their own ability to sleep. They rated honey as significantly better for the relief of symptoms. The findings are reported today in the journal Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.

It's funny. My barber told me that raw honey is also helpful in reducing pollen allergies. I tried it a few years ago and found that it worked pretty well for me.

I wonder what else honey is good for?

Posted by jzawodn at 06:20 AM

December 05, 2007

Ron Paul BotNet Mechanics are Fascinating

Over on SecureWorks there's a research write-up titled Inside the "Ron Paul" Spam Botnet that provides a look behind the scenes of an email spam botnet. What's impressive about this particular story is that it's both well written and goes into quite a bit of detail for a report of this type.

The story starts by describing the telltale features used to identify the spam messages and goes on to work upstream, getting access to copies of the malware, looking at how it spread, and ultimately nabbing a copy of the administrative interface for sending the spam.

ron paul spam interface

In fact, the details alone are so interesting that by the time you reach the conclusion, you've stopped caring about this particular spam episode. What's far more captivating is getting a good look into the mechanics behind a reasonably sized spam operation.

Good stuff. Give it a read.

Thanks to Joe Stewart and the folks at SecureWorks for making the data available and telling the story from beginning to end.

See Also: Ron Paul spam traced to Ukrainian botnet (InfoWorld)

Posted by jzawodn at 07:32 AM

December 04, 2007

My Flickr Badge Perl Script

A couple times a year, someone asks how I created the Flickr "badge" that appears on the right side of my blog front page. It's not using JavaScript (what overkill that'd be) or anything fancy. It's simply an include file built up by a Perl script from a cron job every 20 minutes.

Basically it uses the Flickr API to fetch a list of my most recent photos, grabs the thumbnails, caches them on disk, and then re-writes the include file.

It's pretty simple, really. Here is the code: flickr_badge.pl.

It's a highly modified and pruned version of someone else's script that I ran across years ago. I have since lost the attribution, so ping me if you know where it came from and I'll gladly give credit.

This code is free for the taking, as in Public Domain. Use it for whatever you want. Feel free to give me credit or not. It's really not rocket surgery.

Posted by jzawodn at 11:43 AM

December 03, 2007

Quietness, Distractions, Concentration, Focus, and Multi-Tasking

quiet I just came to an odd realization recently regarding my preferences for noise vs. quiet depending on the type of work I'm doing--and how those have changed over time.

It seems that when I'm in a mode that requires lost of multi-tasking or context switching, such as handling a lot of small requests (email, anyone?), I work best in a very quiet setting. An empty house or library makes sense here.

On the other hand, when I'm working on something that requires prolonged focus and/or deep concentration, such as writing a longer article or developing a piece of software, I work best with some noise. Music from my iPod works well here.

I guess that when I need to concentrate, the familiar music blocks out most potential distractions, allowing me to focus. And when I need to be constantly disturbing myself, the lack of noise helps to make sure the distractions I take are those of my own choosing (mostly).

Have you found similar or differing patters in your own work styles?

Posted by jzawodn at 07:06 AM