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.

The Medium is the Message

The medium is the message. Sometimes that medium is specific, like an advertisement or newspaper, and other times it's general such as a person or environment.

Leaders who pride themselves on not being politically correct are entertainers since they've forgone the actual issue to choose form over substance. We have an expectation that respected politicians, who are to be taken seriously, will be politically correct; hence the plain English description: politically correct. While this phrase is usually used as a pejorative, it can also connote tact. And tact, coupled with good intentions, are the lubricants of human relationships.

Instead of creating problems, we need more leaders who can solve problems. And, sometimes, we need leaders who know how to follow – in other words, we need leaders who are team players, not dictators.

Friday, August 7, 2015

RIP Apple Online Store: 1997 – 2015

It brings a tear to my eye that Apple shut down the Apple Online Store, yesterday.

When I worked at the Apple Online Store, almost a decade ago, it fell under Apple's Engineering department. More specifically, the online store fell under Eddy Cue who also oversaw the iTunes Music Store, as it was originally called since it initially only sold music. That changed, about half a dozen years ago, when the online store moved out from Engineering, into Apple's IT department (IS&T).

Of course you can still buy Apple hotness at apple.com, but there isn't a separate tab for the store. Instead, you add items to your shopping bag, directly from a product's marketing page.

I've always enjoyed telling people about my experience at the Apple Online Store. Before each of Steve Jobs's Keynote speeches, we'd turn off the store then Steve Jobs would take the stage and announce the new products we, the store software engineers, didn't even know about. After he walked off stage we'd turn the store back on under a huge load. Most customers would skip the marketing pages for the new projects and immediately go to the online store and add the new products to their cart to see the prices, configurations, and order ship times. I learned some important load balancing and stress testing lessons while working at the Apple Online Store, especially for scaling servers and writing fault tolerant code.

Does this change make sense? Of course. Looking back, I ask myself why it wasn't this simple in the first place. Probably because this was how it was done in the 1990s. Now, without an explicit store, each product's marketing page is where you browse and the shopping bag has become the checkout portion of the old online store. At first, I was wondering where I'd find accessories. It turns out those are under each of the respective product tabs (Mac, iPad, iPhone, and Watch). So, it all works out. As Apple grows bigger and bigger, streamlining and simplifying processes pays the company dividends.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Underwood Typewriter

A century of keyboarding.
I've been looking to acquire a working mechanical typewriter since I saw one for sale in Annapolis, last year.

A few months ago, I added my name to a waitlist at a local shop that receives typewriters, from time to time. A couple weeks later, I got an e-mail from the shop about one they had, but, by the time I got there, it was gone. Earlier this week, I received another e-mail that three were in stock, so, yesterday, I biked over to check them out.

"Dear Mom,"
Antique mechanical typewriters are not cheap, especially if they're in working condition. I fell in love with the first one I saw and bought it. It was manufactured in 1928 by the Underwood Typewriter Company which produced the first widely successful, modern typewriter. When Underwood was in its heyday as the world's largest typewriter manufacturer, it was turning out typewriters at the rate of one per minute

In the Internet age of instant gratification, real-time is a big deal. Surprisingly, it doesn't get anymore real-time than pressing a key and seeing a character appear on paper, instantly. Obviously, mechanical typewriters are too real-time, and unforgiving. Perhaps my keyboarding skills have deteriorated, but I am overly conscience of making typos as I press each key.

I took my new toy home last night and wrote my first typewritten note. Today, I sealed it in an envelop, put a stamp on it, and mailed it to my mother. It has been decades since I last did that.

After mailing the letter, I couldn't resisted using my typewriter to send out a tweet.
Tweeting with a typewriter.

Tijuana Manufacturing for Kickstater

Wire harness manufacturing.
This past week, I took a group business tour of a few manufacturing factories in Tijuana, Mexico. The tour was part of the San Diego Inventor's Club and Kickstarter Meetup that I've helped coordinate for the past year and a half.

We visited a few different factories that specialized in textiles, injection molding, and electronics. Two of the factories looked as I expected. But one looked ultra-new and high tech with impressive security. After checking the bus's undercarriage for bombs, this high security facility, which required all employees to back into their parking spots, carefully reviewed everyone's paperwork. A few people were denied entry, since their paperwork wasn't in order. 

The key purpose of this tour was for members of our meetup to establish connections with companies in Tijuana who could make the products they're fundraising for on Kickstarter. The idea, rather than outsourcing to China, is to explore nearshoring opportunities in Mexico.

What made this a no brainer for our group of two dozen is that the Tijuana EDC arranged for our transportation, tours, and lunch. 

Leadership Observation

Back in the U.S.A.
I made an interesting group observation at the end of the tour. Our tours went smoothly, but crossing the border back into the United States is always dicey in terms of how long it will take. It can take less than 30 minutes or it can take three hours, or longer. Our bus dropped everyone off at the border crossing building and it took us less than 30 minutes to walk across the border. Then we waited on the American side of the border for our bus for more than an hour. At first, we weren't sure where our bus was until we walked up to an overpass, to peek into Mexico, and saw our bus sitting idle, awaiting inspection. 

At this point, we had had a long day after spending 12+ hours on the bus or on tours. This is when a few people's patient was starting to wear thin and I noticed the difference between the true leaders, the followers, and the "not a team player" people. In the corporate world, leaders are managers and followers are individual contributors.

Career individual contributors focus inward, since they aren't responsible for any direct reports, while managers focus outward. True leaders set the example and don't needlessly complain, "Where the hell's our bus? It's stuck at customs? This is ridiculous. Don't you think this needs to be fixed?" We've all seen it before, it's useless complaining from high maintenance people which makes the situation worse.

This minor observation is one I take for granted given my formal leadership training and experiences. But a little stress, put on people when they're tired or hungry, brings out tantrums. Stress Can Make You Behave Like a Toddler is a perfect description. Fortunately, for us, mob mentality worked in our favor since most everyone was a strong leader and they didn't bite the hook cast out by the complainers.

There's a new joke: Before marrying someone, you should sit them down in front of a computer with a slow and intermittent Internet connection to see how they behave. 

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Process Flow Diagrams

USMC supply system process diagram.
Most full time employees have a keen understanding of their daily processes. However, others, outside the organization, can easily become frustrated when they have to get involved in a process they don't understand. We experience this when we visit the DMV, file our own taxes, etc.

I learned a great way to solve this problem when I was a student at the Naval Academy in the early 1990s. As a midshipman, I had the rare opportunity to participate in a teleconference with Dr. Deming. Dr. Deming is known for his significant contributions in business management throughout Japan after World War II. In the mid-1980s, his Total Quality Management (TQM) teachings were adopted by the U.S. Navy and branded as TQL (L for leadership).

I paid close attention to Dr. Deming's comments during his conference call since I was raised by a father who spent a career in quality assurance.

The key issue Dr. Deming spoke about, that was actionable for me, were his comments about process diagrams. He pointed out that businesses need to diagram their processes, with names below each box of the person responsible for each step. This point stuck with me for two reasons. First, because it was an epiphany; and, second, because he was a bit of a curmudgeon about it. I got the impression he'd consulted to many businesses, over many decades, that didn't follow his simple, sensible advice.

Process Flow Diagrams

Process flow diagrams are very simple to create. Here's a real world example I developed in the Marines. While creating process diagrams, both in the military and in the corporate world, I refined my technique beyond what I learned from Dr. Deming into a highly effective tool.

Each box in a process diagram represents a step in the process for a particular task. (In my example, commodity is military-speak for customer.)

The text inside the box is a short description of the step. The first word inside the box is the department responsible for that step. If you have more text than can fit in a box then you may need to break that into multiple steps. 

Three items are listed under each box.

The first item is the job description of the person responsible for that step, along with an employee's name.

The second item is the most likely problem (MLP) encountered that holds up that step.

The third item is the solution (Sol) to the MLP. In other words, how to avoid the problem in the first place. 

Real World Reception

In the real world, this document can be received positively or negatively. A lot depends on how well an organization's processes are thought out. When I shared my process flow diagrams with my commanding officers, they were very well received. After all, the military has well established procedures, even if they're not always obvious.

In the civilian world, I got a lot of push back at one company I worked at (not Apple). No one had a clear understanding of the organization's internal processes. Initially, that surprised me when I started working on this simple, side project. Then, it became clear I was asking managers questions about things they didn't know, but should. This resulted in unresolved finger pointing and passing the buck. That organization reinvented the wheel over and over. Needless to say, it was an ineffective organization to work in as I discovered most every procedure was handled ad hoc.

Good definitions make for clear ideas.

Friday, July 24, 2015

What's Exciting About High Tech?

Coding with my team at Apple in Mariani One
Perhaps I'm getting grumpy in my old age, but I don't see anything new and exciting when it comes to high tech and the Web. As a matter of fact, I haven't seen anything too exciting in years.

1980s

When I first began coding, as a kid, in the late 1970s, everything was exciting. In 1977, the first three PCs came to market: Apple ][, Commodore PET, and the TRS-80 Model I.

I cut my teeth on the Model I, since access to it was easy through Radio Shack Computer Centers. I learned BASIC and Z-80 assembly on my Model I. In junior high school, we had PETs in school which worked similar to the Model I. The Apple ][ was an impressive machine, but they were hard to find. First of all, they were a tad expensive (everything's expensive when you're a kid). Also, there was only one place, which was close enough for me to bike to, that sold them. That beloved computer store is now a Starbucks.

Through out the 1980s, computers kept getting noticeably faster and bigger, in terms of memory. The Model I had a BASIC interpreter, which ran a bit slow with it's 1.77 MHz processor. Then BASIC compilers came to market, and the world got fast. Very, very exciting.

1990s

The 1990s were exciting, even for casual consumers. The World Wide Web was born, making use of the Internet which had been around for decades. Sending an e-mail from one part of the world, to another, for free, was a big deal. In 1997, I deployed with the Marines to the Persian Gulf. We had one digital camera for my battalion and the wives, back home, had another digital camera. Marines' wives gave birth, back in the states, and a couple hours later, fathers could see their newborns while floating in the Indian Ocean. We were amazed. And e-commerce for consumers was quickly becoming the killer application. Billionaires were made at unprofitable companies, many of which couldn't scale.

2000s

The dot-com bubble burst in the Spring of 2000 due to overzealous investing and things calmed down for a couple years, at least in the high tech business world. But, software engineers still had exciting technologies like VoIP (free audio and video calls), XML, RSS, and podcasts. We began to say good-bye to dial-up and hello to broadband. Then came Web 2.0 (dynamic webpages and user generated content). A couple years later came social media, cloud computing, cloud storage and mobile smartphones with GPS. For software engineers, compiler technology was innovative when source code could be changed, compiled, and placed into memory to continue running without needing to stop your application for recompiling, linking, and launching.

2010s

That leads me to today. As I look at the world of high tech I don't see much that excites me. Perhaps I'm standing too far away??? The only things, in the past few years, that's moved the needle for me was Swift, Uber, Lyft, and Car2Go.

So, what am I missing? What's the hot high tech, nowadays, that changes the way consumers and software engineers do business? I'm talking about something that couldn't be done five or ten years ago?

Friday, July 10, 2015

What Makes Apple Unique?

Presented with a gift of a Chinese fan stamped with their company logo.
I was recently invited to the Bay Area to give a talk to a group of business people from China about Apple's marketing and design philosophies. Putting together the presentation was simple, since I've written and discussed what makes Apple unique, in the past.

The interesting part was speaking through a translator – a first, for me. I'm not sure exactly what the translator said when she introduced me, but the group seemed impressed.

The best part of this gig was how quickly it came together. A woman I never met contacted me on a Tuesday and asked me if I was willing to fly up the following Tuesday to give my talk. When I agreed, she immediately transferred half the payment to me. She paid the second half to me at breakfast, before I spoke. No contract, SOW, schedules, or exhibits. It worked out so well that we'll probably do it again. I can get used to this.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

All Noisy on the Western Front


Today's an interesting day in the world, especially in the world of cyber.

On the heels of China's stock market turmoil came a slew of high profile computer problems resulting in United Airlines grounding their flights, overloaded Wall Street Journal servers taking down the newspaper's website, and suspended trading on the New York Stock Exchange.

From a technical perspective, each of these issues is unrelated. But, what is interesting is that I came across a cyber security company, Norse, which claims to display cyber attacks in a real time. Although I don't know what a typical day looks like, the following video gives you a good idea of the endpoints of each cyber attack.

Cyber attacks in real-time via http://map.norsecorp.com


PS – One more intriguing thing, as I wrote this blog post, is my computer crashed (kernel panicked). Yet another rare coincidence, but it helps spin a good yarn.