Saturday, September 26, 2015

1 Infinite Loop Apple Store

Last weekend, the new Apple Store at 1 Infinite Loop reopened, after being closed for remodeling for a few months, and I had a chance to visit it during its opening week.

If memory serves, at the end of the last century, this store was called the Apple Store. After 2001, it was renamed The Company Store since it was unique in the truest sense of the word. Now, it's been rechristened, once again, as the Apple Store, manned by Apple retail employees who comprise 50% of Apple's 110,000+ workforce.

What makes the store at 1 Infinite Loop (called IL1 by Apple employees) unique is it's the only store that sells Apple logoware such as t-shirts, coffee cups, water bottles, pens, etc. I suspect that it's the only Apple Store without a Genius Bar, too.

See the video of the inside of the new Apple Store at IL1, below or, even better, checkout the raw super-high resolution HD video.

1 Infinite Loop Apple Store.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Biennial Flight Review

BFR ground review with pilot Debbie.
As a private pilot, I require a formal review (previously known as a BFR), every other year, by a certified flight instructor (CFI). The purpose of the flight review is to ensure a pilot is safe and competent to fly. The key tell is that the pilot stays ahead of the aircraft meaning they're prepared for what comes next. For example, when approaching an airport to land, the pilot should have already set up the ground frequencies so, after they taxi off the runway all they need to do is push a button, instead of looking up the ground control frequency, dialing it in, and switching over to it. Since private pilots, like myself, are not required to fly a minimum number of hours it means a private pilot could go almost two years without flying and still legally fly an airplane. After becoming a pilot, I was surprised how much flying I had to "force" myself to do so I felt comfortable at the controls. Commercial pilots, on the other hand, have more frequent checks mandated by the airline, so they're skills are fresh and spot-on.

Yesterday, I had a college classmate, who's also a CFI and commercial airline pilot, take a flight with me for my BFR. We spent time on the ground, going over the fundamentals of aviation and planning, before taking to the skies. She also shared with me the detailed, structured, environment of her daily life as a commercial pilot for United Airlines. Suffice to say, the processes and procedures of the airlines are thorough and detailed.

Passing by Scripps Pier on our way to Carlsbad.
When I first bought my plane, I was surprised how many fighter pilots and commercial pilots wanted to go flying with me. Cruising speed in my Cessna-182 is slower than a jet can typically fly without falling out of the sky. It turns out that these jet jockeys love the freedom (and low flying altitude) of a small, single engine plane. A commercial airline pilot has to file an instrument flight plan and stay exactly on course, or as an air traffic controller directs. While I do the same thing on my cross country flights, I usually find myself flying much shorter distances, in clear Southern California weather, using a less formal procedure known as visual flight rules (VFR). The difference between flying under instrument flight rules (IFR) and visual flight rules is the difference between standing in line at the DMV and walking, willy-nilly, through the mall. Just like in the mall, VFR literally uses the same procedure to prevent collisions: "See and avoid."

I'm happy to report I passed my BFR without any problems and even received a complement, "I like how methodical you fly and do your checklists!"

Saturday, September 12, 2015

"Apple Crosses The Line With New iPhone Feature"

Apple Crosses The Line With New iPhone Feature

That's the headline of a piece a friend just sent to me asking if there was genuine cause for concern. When I began reading it, I thought it was a Facebook alarmist post or article from a yellow journalism website:

If you’re setting yourself up to get the new iPhone or get the new iPhone for your kids then you need to make sure you’re aware of the new features. This is something that needs to be shared with friends to let Apple know sneaky behavior will NOT be tolerated. According to Gawker, the new iPhone will be recording video and sound AT ALL TIMES when your camera app is open by default whether you’re taking picture or not. If you’re planning on getting the iPhone 6s BE SURE TO TURN THIS FEATURE OFF.

Obviously, I'm not Tim, today.
No, this quote, complete with bolded capitalization, is not from Fox News or some tin-foil hat blog. Rather, it's from CBS.

So, are these claims true? Well, on a very technical level, yes they are, but there's no cause for concern. Apple calls these features Hey Siri and Live Photos.

This might sound like splitting hairs, but there's a bit of a difference between "listening" and "recording." The key difference between listening and recording is the same as caching and saving. Saving something means it persists until a user deletes it. Caching something means it's temporarily saved, for perhaps a second or two, until it's determined if it's needed. If the content is not needed, it's discarded much like a buffer; or, more likely, erased as new content is recorded over it.

Hey Siri, which is available on currently shipping iPhone models, only works when the phone is charging to save power. With the new iPhone 6s, the Hey Siri feature can be enabled at all times and, much like other listening devices, such as Amazon's Echo, it's constantly listening to sounds to determine if a key phrase is spoken. Let's say that's no more than two seconds of sound. After two seconds, any new sounds are recorded over the previous sounds. The same is true for Live Photos where Apple records video in a cache which is saved when you press the shutter button. With Live Photos, about one second of video is recorded just before and after you press the shutter. If you don't snap a photo, the video is discarded.

This isn't much different than any digital camera, whether it's on a smart phone or point-and-shoot model. Without pressing the shutter button, images are still cached on the LCD display on the back of the point-and-shoot camera for a fraction of a second. You could point a point-and-shoot camera at something I can't see and even if you never press the shutter, I could still record a video of the LCD display on the back of the point-and-shoot camera and capture everything. The key difference with Hey Siri and Live Photos is that no one has access to the cached content while the one or two second loop is recording.

Yellow-journalism is creeping more and more into mainstream media. Anything to get eye balls. Phft. Or, perhaps the joke's on me.

Update: Just to beat a dead horse, Apple chimed in to confirm that none of the Hey Siri or Live Photo connect is leaving the iPhone 6S.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Corporate Taxes, Private Taxes

I asked a question on Twitter which lead to a fruitful discussion:
What's the difference between corporations doing business overseas to reduce taxes and New Yorkers who drive to NJ to avoid paying taxes on clothing?

The conclusion we reached was that it's about the corporations not doing business where they say they're doing business. It's the equivalent to an American citizen claiming income tax-free Las Vegas as their state of residency while living (domiciled full time) in California.

Of course, it's hard to blame a company or person for paying as little taxes as legally possible, but...

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Mechanical Turk

Amazon's Mechanical Turk ( is a web service I've used, many times, over the years. It perfectly fulfills a hole left by Criagslist is specifically designed to enable two people to meet for work, fun, etc. Mechanical Turk, on the other hand, is designed for paid work to be done that doesn't require two people to meet (the work is done anonymously).

I've used Mechanical Turk to record news articles for podcasts, answer survey questions (like every lean startup entrepreneur should do), transcribe letters, edit photos, beta test websites, etc. Today, I used it to hire a worker to split a continuous live recording into individual tracks for $2.00 (plus a 50¢ tip).

Getting Results

The key to getting results on Mechanical Turk is to set an appropriate payout and head off any potential miscommunications with detailed, yet simple, instructions.

Here's the description I used for today's task.

I have a (approx.) 1 hour (62 MB) M4A raw, live recording from my jazz jam sessions that needs to be sliced up into individual tracks (songs):
  • Download this file:
  • This file contains about six jazz jam sessions separated by applause, pauses, speaking, and breaks in the music.
  • Split up the music file up into multiple tracks at the end of each session. A jazz jam session ends when you hear the applause or no music is playing (not to be confused with applause after a solo while the music contiues playing).
  • When possible, each track should have a few seconds of lead in before the music plays and a few seconds of applause at the end. Discard the remainder of the applause, pauses, speaking, silence, etc.
  • Each track shall be saved as a separate file either in M4A or MP3 format.
  • Each track filename shall be named JazzJamMay2015Track1.mp3 (or m4a), JazzJamMay2015Track2.mp3, etc.
  • To complete this HIT and get credit, either e-mail the tracks to or provide a link to each track where I can download the tracks.
  • No need to enhance or further compress the tracks, once they've been separated. Audio quailty shall not be compromised.
  • Note: Don't worry that the opening of the first song is cut off.
  • Questions? E-mail me at or use Mturk.

Apple Pencil

Yes, when the iPhone was introduced by Steve Jobs, in 2007, he panned the stylus since the iPhone used a touchscreen. Now, Apple's announced the Apple Pencil which is a stylus for the iPad Pro, seemingly reversing Steve's original convictions, and some news sites are harping on that.

There are two points to take note of. First, Steve's changed his stance (publicly) on other features Apple shipped. For example, he pointed out that no one wanted to watch video on a tiny iPod Classic screen, and then he allowed video playback in a future iPod.

My second point is more salient in that, early PDAs required a stylus just as today's computers require a mouse or trackpad. And, now, just as a creative person would buy a Wacom pen tablet, so will they buy an Apple Pencil. Optional, yet empowering.

What did I think of the rest of today's keynote?

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Blogging On a 1928 Underwood Typewriter

Last month, I blogged about tweeting on my "new" 1928 Underwood typewriter.

Today, with too much time on my hands, I moved up from tweeting to blogging on the typewriter. That was painful and unforgiving. Looking back on what I typed was even more painful since it's a hardcopy and it reads like it was written by a writer with 25 IQ points less than I have. It's no wonder there were no bloggers 100 years ago. ;^D

As the old-timers will point out, I didn't use the requisite two spaces after each period. But, after all the flack they've received for continuing to use two spaces after a period, when writing e-mails, they deserve to have some fun at the expense of us "mono-space kids."

Writing can hardly get more real-time than typing on a typewriter.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Twitter Removes DM Limits

The key to good customer service: Be respectful.
Twitter is all about 140 characters. At least it was, until a couple weeks ago and that could be a problem.

The 140 character limit was driven by the 160 character limit of SMS. A 140 character tweet, preceded by the, up to, 15 character Twitter username along with punctuation fits perfectly into an SMS text. (The reason SMS is limited to 160 characters is an interesting story in itself.)

For the most part, tweets are public which anyone can see; no Twitter account required. On the other hand, a Twitter direct message (DM), which's limited to 140 characters, is always private. Originally, a DM couldn't be sent to any random Twitter user. The recipient has to be a follower of the sender to limit unsolicited, spammy, DMs. A smart decision.

With so many other communication channels to choose from, DMs weren't nearly as popular as messaging on other platforms such, as Facebook and other mobile apps.

The Perfect DM Application 

Over the years, though, I found the perfect application for Twitter's DMs: Customer service with "Big" companies (think: oligopolies).

Why can't we, as consumers, e-mail a tech support question to our ISP, phone company, etc? The answer is obvious: because Cox, AT&T, etc would be inundated with e-mail manifestos, tirades, and diatribes.

However, with more and more "Big" companies using Twitter, the drama of a public customer/company battle could escalate into a PR nightmare. Enter the Twitter DM.

Over the past few years, when I've had a problem with Cox, AT&T, and GoDaddy, I've used Twitter DMs to get ahold of their customer service department without drama or waisting my time navigating an interactive telephone menu.

The process is simple: Send a respectful tweet to the corporation's customer support Twitter account:
"Hi, I'm having a problem with my service. Could you follow me so I can DM you?"

These companies have active social media customer support personnel, so it usually takes only five or ten minutes, during business hours, before they've followed me. In many cases, they'll immediately DM me, before I've even noticed they started following me.

For this to work, you need a reproducible problem. With Cox, my connectivity, which is typically 100+Mbps had dropped to less than 100Kbps. I DM'd them a screen shot of the slow bandwidth with a note that I've restarted the cable modem and other steps I took to troubleshoot the problem. They're responses have typically been, "We're seeing the same issue. We can have a technician out there, tomorrow, between 8am-noon, noon-4pm, or 4pm-8pm. Which works best for you?"

Now that is amazingly quick and simple. This entire interaction might take place over the course of 30 minutes, but I actually spend less than five minutes documenting my troubleshooting steps and DMing the CSR.

This technique can work for complicated support issues, too. GoDaddy consolidated my domain names into a single account, but the DNS for some of the domains didn't transfer, which I discovered the next day when incoming mail was bouncing back to the senders. I explained the issue all within 140 characters. They quickly responded that they were on it, as they reinstated the backup copies of my DNS.


So, that gets to my concern. Twitter has removed the 140 character limit in DMs which could mean CSRs might be reluctant to continue using it if they begin receiving long and unreasonable messages. And I'm wondering what Twitter will gain by making this change. Of course, they could always switch back to the 140 character limit and use e-mail when needed, as GoDaddy and I did.

Perhaps I'm old-fashioned, but I feel like removing the 140 character limit is the equivalent of showing up at a haiku conference and saying, "Hey, everyone, instead of doing 5-7-5, we're going to do 7-5-7 so we have more content."

Yes, I'm a customer service snob. But I've been on both sides of the fence and I give as good as I expect.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Too Perfect To Fly Casual

Today seemed like the perfect day to go flying, sunny and mid-70s. It turns out it was too perfect to fly casual.

It was unusual when I taxied up to the runway and there was only one plane ahead of me and none behind as I did my runup. I figured they'd be a lot of pilots looking to take advantage of today's weekend weather. But it turns out I was ahead of the rush as we departed on a 25 minute flight from Montgomery Field to Palomar Airport.

As I entered Palomar Airport's traffic pattern, the control tower asked me to make a right 360°, meaning they had a lot of planes in the traffic pattern. A standard rate 360° turn takes two minutes. After completing my turn I proceeded downwind for a minute or two when the airport tower asked me to repeat the maneuver. There were some mountains less than a mile to my right and higher than me that I kept an eye on since my navigation system kept giving me terrain alerts.

After my second 360°, the tower controller had me continue downwind a few more miles before turning base to make my final approach. One 360° means the airport traffic pattern is congested, two 360° turns tells me they're very busy. But it all worked out.

Flying Home

Flying back to Montgomery Field was even more congested. The busiest airspaces are designed as Class B, also known as bravo airspace, surrounding the most active airports. San Diego's Lindbergh Field and the Marine Corps' Miramar Air Station, both surrounded by bravo airspace, are eight miles apart. About halfway in between these two airports is my home airport, Montgomery Field. Getting in and out of Montgomery Field, without going through bravo airspace, requires a little finesse. Two alternatives are to ask for a clearance into the bravo airspace or to request an IFR clearance. An IFR clearance is like having a second sets of eyes (air traffic control) looking out for my well being; but it also means I'd have to follow their flying instructions which isn't always the most direct route.

When I reached the outer edge of the bravo airspace, I began orbiting the Del Mar Racetrack as I tuned in air traffic control. It was virtually impossible to get a word in edgewise. The air traffic controller was continually giving instructions to the airlines flying into and out of Lindbergh Field. After a long several minutes there was a pause. I asked for clearance into the bravo airspace and she immediacy said, "Unable." I continued to orbit for a few more minutes, hoping she'd call me back, but that never happened.

I began heading back to Carlsbad so I'd be in a less busy area as I dialed in a new air traffic control frequency and requested an IFR clearance to get me into Montgomery Field. Air traffic control issued me my clearance, gave me a heading to fly, an altitude to climb to, and a new frequency to switch to. It seamed that the air traffic controller and I were the only two people on this frequently. The same was true for the next frequency I switched to. Those were good signs that things were not busy where I was being routed to as I began my approach to Montgomery Field.

The last air traffic controller began lining me up with the runway about eight miles from the airport. Normally, from this point, it's smooth sailing to touch down, especially since the weather was clear. Once I was lined up I tuned in Montgomery tower to let them know I was approaching the airport. The tower asked me if I could cancel my IFR clearance and fly VFR. This seemed unusual, but I told her that I could do it. She then told me to make right 360° turns. Next, she told about six aircraft, on the ground, waiting to take off, to hold their requests for six minutes until she cleared out the inbound traffic.

As I completed my first 360° the tower cleared me to land where I could see a line of planes, leading to the runway, waiting for their departure clearances. That's when I realized the reason for the congestion at Montgomery Field was due to the fact that the airport has three runways and two were under construction. Usually, the two parallel runways at the airport are in use, simultaneously. With the beautiful weather bringing out private pilots, like me, and every plane vying for the same runway, it made flying a bit more exciting. Unlike driving, flying alway yields new learning experiences.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Random Thoughts on Randomness

Here's a random thought on randomness...

In a typical state lottery, like California's Powerball, a player chooses five or six combinations of numbers between 1 and 59.

So, how likely is a lottery's winning set of numbers to be 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 or 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6?

Surprisingly, it's no more or less likely than California's most recent Power Ball winning numbers: 3, 13, 17, 42, 52, 24. Random numbers are random numbers. While 1, 2, 3, etc doesn't seem random, it's no different than any other combination with non-patterns. Don't forget, since we're dealing with pure numbers there's solid mathematics behind it.