Wednesday, July 30, 2014

A Typical Wednesday

Today I was answering questions for an article interview. The interviewer asked me what my day looked like. I'm fond of saying, "I do nothing," but she deserved a better answer, so I gave her my highlights from today.

8:30 – 10:30: Attended One Million Cups, downtown San Diego.

11:00 – 1:00: Attended Tech Coffee Meetup, where I snapped this photo, Solana Beach.

1:00 – 1:30: Stopped by the San Diego Electric Bike Company to buy a saddle bag, Solana Beach.

1:30 – 3:00: Answered interview questions at Third Space, Hillcrest.

3:00 – 5:00: Fixed Swift syntax bugs as a result of latest Xcode beta release changes, Golden Hill.

5:00 – 6:30: Attended EvoNexus Wing Wednesday Meetup, downtown San Diego.

6:30 – 8:00: Enjoyed an adult beverage at the Tipsy Crow, Gaslamp Quarter.

8:00 – 9:00: Stalked a fellow, former, Apple coworker on Foursquare to a restaurant, South Park.

9:00...: Kicked back with some homemade limoncello.

Update: Here's the published piece.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The US Used to Have Hundreds of Time Zones?

It is fascinating how technology impacts us on a cultural level. I especially find the history of time zones interesting. Today, we take for granted that computers and phones keep accurate time down to the second. It's now simple for computers to keep precise time since they all maintain universal coordinated time (UTC), sometimes referred to as Greenwich Mean Time. Basically, every computer maintains one time, UTC, and then offsets it based on the local time zone.

Hundreds of Time Zones

Two hundred years ago, America had hundreds of time zones. As odd as that sounds, it makes sense since noon was when the sun was at its zenith in a given location. High noon in Boston might be seven minutes earlier than New York which might be three minutes earlier than Philadelphia. Having hundreds of time zones wasn't an issue since these cities weren't connected until the railroads needed to run on time schedules.

PS – For the record, it's daylight saving time, not daylight savings time. We're saving daylight by moving it to the end of the day. We're not saving daylight like money in a savings account. :^D

Managing Complexity

Cessna 182 airborne checklist.
From cars to computers, the 20th century saw an increase in complexity like no other. Consider how the automobile changed our lives to the point that entire cities are designed around it. Grace Hopper summed it up best, "Life was simple before World War II. After that, we had systems." And, ultimately, software engineering is all about managing complexity.


At yesterday's Tech Coffee, a fellow attendee shared this 2010 NPR piece with me. This radio interview highlights the importance of using checklists to avoid medical complications. Checklists are common, especially in aviation. But it took decades until it was incorporated as a crucial component in a pilot's standard flight procedure. As a time management aficionado I have great respect and appreciation for the checklist, especially in aviation where missing a single step can be deadly. Initially, it seemed odd that 20% of the medical profession was strongly against using a checklist. When these medical professionals where later asked, "If you were to have an operation would you want the checklist?" 94% supported it. Deadly mistakes by medical professionals have less of an effect on themselves compared to their patients. This is very different in aviation where a deadly mistake can cost pilots, as well as passengers, their lives.

It's amazing how much work it takes to simplify complexity.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Circle of Grief

USNA 1993 classmates lost in the line of duty.
I enjoy being the president of the USNA class of 1993. Reunions, networking events, and trips back to Annapolis, MD make it all worth it. But there's a sad side I deal with every few years when a classmate or spouse passes away.

In the past I've made some mistakes in my haste to get the news out to my classmates. The key lesson I've learned is to respect the family's wishes. The only way I can know their wishes is for me to reach out to the family and ask. This is not an easy task for me to do, but it pales in comparison to what the grieving friends and family are going through.

On the Inside

What's worse than being on the outside, looking in, is to be on the inside experiencing it. Emotions are high and fragile. Seemingly minor things can set people off. Most of us have seen or experienced this as some level. Fortunately, there's a simple lesson to help us deal with this known, by several different names, as the Circle of Grief, The Ring Theory of Kvetching, or How Not To Say The Wrong Thing In A Crisis.

Comfort In, Dump Out.

The Circle of Grief starts at the center with the person in crisis. Everyone in that person’s life is placed in concentric circles starting at the center with the people who are closest to the crisis (i.e. spouse, parent), moving out to the people in our lives who more distant.

The person in the center ring can say anything they want to anyone, anywhere. They
can kvetch and complain and whine and moan and curse the heavens and say, “Life is unfair” and “Why me?” That’s the one payoff for being in the center ring.

Everyone else can say those things too, but only to people in outer rings.

When you are talking to a person in an inner ring – someone closer to the crisis – the goal is to help.

Comfort In, Dump Out.

At some point, we'll get our turn at being in the center of the ring.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Dangers of Private Planes?

Update, 24 Jul 2014: The president of the AOPA responded to the NY Times op-ed.

Yesterday, the New York Times published an op-ed piece on the dangers of private planes. Most people don't realize, on average, there's one incident each day that the NTSB investigates. Few of these incidents are fatal. Regardless, all of these incidents are reported, publicly, in their database. Ninety-four percent of the fatal incidents involve general aviation (GA). GA flights cover everything outside of commercial scheduled flights and government flights. In other words, GA flights include operations like charter, corporate, balloon, glider, and small plane flights to name a few.

The op-ed author reasoned that GA flights – especially by private pilots – are susceptible to accidents because most are amateur pilots. That makes sense. A pilot flying a few hours per month isn't going to be as good as a professional pilot doing it a few hours every day. The author proposed:
The F.A.A. should require all general aviation pilots to carry liability insurance, which would force them to have better training.

Most Americans would be surprised to learn that a private pilot, unlike an automobile driver, isn't required to have insurance. I personally carry a "smooth million" worth of insurance which covers liability and hull damage in the air or on the ground. But carrying liability insurance, alone, isn't a high bar to set in terms of safety since insurance companies don't look too hard at how many hours/year a pilot flies. Instead, they're more concerned with the cost and size of the plane. To qualify for my insurance I only required seven hours of formal flight instruction in my plane.

Insurance requirements does not equal proficiency. Instead, the FAA's biennial flight review sets the standard.

I'm wondering why the op-ed author makes no mention of the biennial flight review requirement. Being current and experienced is the key to being a better pilot. Flying through the clouds, especially low clouds when landing, requires a pilot to fly six published approaches every six months. It's practice and FAA requirements like this which will improve a pilot's skills. Insurance is the wrong tool to solve this problem.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

The Pitfalls & Virtues of Google Apps

If you've ever hosted a domain name with Google Apps, keep in mind that a hacker has a good chance of accessing your e-mail long after your domain's expired since Google stores your e-mail indefinitely if it's a free Google Apps account. This worked to my benefit, tonight, but it badly stung Twitter about five years ago: The Anatomy Of The Twitter Attack

My Story

2.5 year e-mail gap
Two and a half years ago I let a domain name expire that was hosted on Google Apps. It was a domain I no longer needed. But, I forgotten that this domain was tied to a four letter Twitter account that I occasionally used which receives a lot of inquiries – mostly from people asking me to transfer this account to them.

When my Keychain became corrupted, several months ago, Twitter would not let me log in to this Twitter account without confirming my e-mail address. Obviously, I couldn't receive e-mail since I no longer owned the domain name. The problem was, over the years, I've owned a lot of domain names and I had no idea which e-mail address was tied to this Twitter account. When I tried to reset this Twitter account on the website I was told that an e-mail had been sent to my e-mail address on file. That was of no help since I didn't know which defunct e-mail address the confirmation was sent to.

Tonight, on a whim, I tried to reset my password for this Twitter account with the iOS app instead of their website. Lo and behold, the app reported that a confirmation e-mail was sent to a slightly redacted e-mail address (it looked something like this: jo***@ex***.** – let's pretend that my expired domain name was It was just enough of a hint to point me in the right direction. I visited and logged in. When I checked my Gmail account I could see that the last e-mail received was in 2012 – which was when I let this domain name lapse. A quick visit to GoDaddy and $9.17 later I re-owned the domain name I once had a couple of years ago. With the new domain name in hand I updated the MX records with the info for Google's mail servers and I received my confirmation e-mail immediately. The entire process took about 30 minutes.

Yes, it's very handy that Google keeps my e-mail forever, but it can be very dangerous too.