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, 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, today, 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.