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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Tangled Web

My new aviation business is on the World Wide Web.  But that is a busy place, full of noise and fury, the luminous and the profane, the good, the bad, the beautiful and the ugly.

In the 1980s, Tim Berners-Lee was a software consultant at CERN when he began writing Tangle, an application to help him keep track of CERN's many scientists, projects and incompatible computers. Thousands of researchers would travel to CERN, do their experiments using their own computers (which they brought with them), and then go home to crunch the data. It was a major pain at CERN to accommodate the many incompatible computers, which also had to work with the CERN mainframe that actually ran the mammoth particle accelerators. Tim was responsible for helping everything and everyone work together. He thought it would be a whole lot simpler if the computers could swap their information directly, even though, at that time, computers didn't communicate with one another.

In March 1989, Tim proposed creating an online system that could be accessed from anywhere with an Internet connection,  that used hyperlinks to connect to information, or even to control and perform particle experiments remotely.   It took nearly 2 years to built the prototype system, and finally the Web was born, on Christmas Day, 1990.

During this time period, I was a product manager, working on a gateway product that connected IBM mainframes to the Internet, living in Dallas.  I used to have to explain to my friends and family what "the Internet" was, but nobody saw how all pervasive it would become, thanks to the Web.  I certainly didn't - I turned down an offer from a small start up in San Jose called C**co, because they were making and selling routers, and I knew that if I wanted a router, all I had to do was the start up "routed", the iprouter deamon, on a UNIX computer or an MS-DOS machine, and there you are - no special hardware required.  So who would buy a router?

But I did start to use the original browser, a free download from CERN, called "mosaic" in the summer of  1991.  There wasn't a lot to connect to at that time, CERN was still the starting point because it had links to pretty much all the world's web pages, a kind of forerunner to Yahoo.  Later came Netscape, then Internet Explorer and the lawsuits against Micros**t's little monopoly.

In the meantime I left the Internet world, and joined Nortel, working on cellular systems, which at that time were all voice.  The first systems was CDMA, used by Sprint PCS and others, then later I worked on 3G (EVDO and UMTS), and then 4G (OFDM in it's two incarnations, LTE and WiMAX).  Having left the world of the Internet for wireless mobility, the world had turned and my old and new careers merged to form the "Mobile Internet", and now people browse the Internet on little handheld devices than can also make phone calls.

Finally, when the WiMAX start up I worked for was bought by that very same C**co, Things looked great, until as described in my last post, the company shut it down.  Eventually I was also shut down and cast adrift.

The silver lining is that until I find a new job, I have all day every day to fly, and teach flying.  So tell your friends!  S&P Aviation is on the web!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Avionics Envy

This weekend I flew with a new student, I'll call him Ernie.

Ernie is a private pilot with an instrument ticket, and owns a 2007 model Mooney M20R Ovation.  That's a fast, expensive airplane (they seem to be listing for mid $300k), and his is very clean with around 400 hours on the clock.  He bought it new.  I think Ernie is a surgeon.

Ernie needed an Instrument Proficiency Check (IPC).  The FAA requires that in order to fly in instrument conditions, you must be current, and they define currency as having competed at least 6 instrument approaches during the past 6 months, along with intercepting a VOR radial and performing a hold.  After the 6 months are up you may not fly instruments, but you can still regain currency by doing the 6 approaches with a safety pilot.  After 12 months, you need an IPC with an instructor.

The IPC is essentially the same as the checkride you have to pass in order to get an instrument rating in the first place, it is just done with an instructor, instead of an FAA examiner.  It is a little more rigorous in terms of performance standards, and requires 1 hour of ground training, and also adds a few extra items to complete such as unusual attitudes.  But it only requires 3 approaches, although they must be 3 different types of approaches.

Ernie's Mooney is equipped with Garmin G-1000 avionics.  Instead of all the round gauges, all of the information is displayed on 2 large LCD displays - altitude, airspeed, attitude, rate of climb/descent and heading are all on the primary display in front of the pilot, while engine conditions, radio frequencies, traffic conflicts and navigation are all on the secondary.

After take off, I had Ernie do the Hubbard 6 DFW departure.  On the very first leg, the TCAS showed we were climbing into the path of what turned out to be a twin coming out of Greenville airport.  I told Ernie to stay at 4200 feet, and the twin passed overhead and slightly behind.  If we had kept up our climb, we would have been on a collision course.

We did the approaches and holds and so on, finishing in slightly under 1.5 hours.  I was surprised at how much traffic was shown on the TCAS (Traffic Collision Avoidance System) display, especially since I only saw a small fraction of the airplanes shown using my mark 1 eyeballs.  Even when you are flying along and all seems quiet, it isn't.  And that's a lesson learned for me, especially when flying my new Bonanza, which requires more heads down, eyes in the cockpit work, especially on take off.  I need to keep my head on a swivel, and beware the Hun In The Sun.  Just like Biggles (a British fictional ace pilot that all English boys read).

I want TCAS.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Good Job I Kept The Loot

I'm going to need it. Earlier this month I was informed by my company that much to their regret, we would be parting ways.  Well, if they really regretted it, why exactly did they go through with it?  I don't think they were being entirely truthful.

This company, C**co, which is based in Silicon Valley, had 40,000 employees, and a cash hoard of US$30 Billion, a lot more that the measly $200k I got from jacking up that Boeing 727 40 years ago.  It seemed like a lot at the time.  But thanks to the 70's and 80's poor stock markets, repeated again in the 2000's, it's not so much now.  The company didn't *have to* lay anybody off, they just wanted to.

They may regret it, but I don't.  I didn't like working for that huge company.  After they bought the start-up I worked for in 2007, it seemed like it would be fun to enjoy the resources of a big company and really go after the market.  Prior to the acquisition we had sales growth of 30% per-annum.  The year afterward, thanks to stupid go-to-market policies and bad pricing, our sales "growth" was -98%.  They destroyed our value in only 12 months, and then decided there was "no market" for the product.  So they canceled the product, and absorbed most of the people into other business units.

By this time, all of the other people in marketing had gone, fed up or laid off and gone to other companies.  I would have been gone too, but the right opportunity didn't show up.  So for 6 months I had nothing to do, except to cash the paychecks.  I asked for a new assignment, but wasn't given one.  I made almost as much for no work as in that 727 job, if you don't count inflation (you might remember I lost a fair part of the Northwest Airlines money during the parachute drop.  Some kid found it on a sandbar in the Snake River a few years later.  Or was it the Columbia River?)

Finally, last summer I was given a new assignment and transferred into a different marketing group, based in Massachusetts, but linked into Silicon Valley HQ.  It started out as fun, I market launched the new products last February.  But stupid internal politics delayed the product availability into 2013, leaving little for me to do (again).  So when the layoff rolled around, I was an easy target.  All the rest of the marketing team, including all of my management chain were one or two timezones and over 1,500 miles away.  I knew I could be cut the most easily, and I was.

Still, I hated working remotely.  It's isolating.  When I did this for another large company, it worked, because I could get on a plane regularly, and avoiding the temptation to jack those up as well (I'm retired from all that nonsense) spend time at the headquarters, getting to know people and attending planning meetings.  This company instituted a travel ban in 2009, so everything was via email and conference calls.  I hated that.  So I'm not exactly unhappy that I'm out.

But now I'm going to have to dig into that hidden cash.  I wonder if the feds track the serial numbers?  They'll get a surprise......

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

D.B. Cooper - the legend lives on

D.B. Cooper mystery endures: The FBI says DNA found on a tie left behind by the legendary hijacker doesn't match that of the latest suspect, who died in 1999.

Last week, a new name emerged to add to the literally hundreds of possible suspects that have been examined in the 40 years since a man who became known to the world as D.B. Cooper hijacked a Boeing 727 on Thanksgiving Eve 1971 and absconded, via parachute, with $200,000 in bundled 20s, never to be heard from again.

But the FBI said Monday that DNA collected from items that belonged to a man named Lynn Doyle Cooper, a logger and Korean War veteran who died in 1999, didn't match that of a partial DNA signature that the FBI pulled in 2001 from a JCPenney clip tie the man left behind on the plane.

L.D. Cooper's niece told ABC News last week that she remembers as an 8-year-old her two uncles, including L.D., planning something "mischievous" at a Thanksgiving get-together. The two disappeared, and L.D. returned later with serious injuries. Ms. Cooper recalled that her father told her in 1995 that "Uncle L.D. ... hijacked that airplane."

The FBI called the lead "most promising" and sent one of Cooper's homemade guitar straps to Quantico for tests.  But on Monday, FBI Special Agent Fred Gutt said the agency couldn't make a link between the tie and L.D. Cooper. Agent Gutt pointed out, however, that the agency has still not completely ruled out a link since the DNA found on the tie could have come from someone other than the hijacker.

Some FBI investigators believe D.B. Cooper – the name of an early suspect who was cleared, but whose moniker stuck to the case – may have died in the jump. But others believe D.B. Cooper is still out there, a living legend who beat the odds and sparked the imagination of a nation.

"The phenomenon of this case is people see who they want to see in D.B. Cooper," says Geoffrey Gray, the author of "SKYJACK: The hunt for D.B. Cooper." "The story of our lives is the story of our fears, so for somebody to do something, from a commercial airliner, from a seat we've all sat in, to just get up and jump out of a plane like that … he's become a hero even though he was a criminal. We need him, in a way."

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

While I'm Getting Cooler

These 100 degree plus days, one after the other, are getting to be a drag.  It's nice and cool about 5,000 feet (if 85 degrees can be called "cool"), but it takes between 15 and 20 minutes to get the aircraft started, taxied, checked out, airborne, and climbed to 5,000.  That is a hot 1/4 hour.  So I got myself one of these:

It's a "B-Kool" portable air cooler.  It runs off the airplane power, plugged into the cigarette lighter (the Bonanza uses 12V, just like a car.  24V versions are also available).  You load it with up to 20lbs of ice (2 bags), add a small amount of water, and turn it on.  It will run from 1.5 to 2 hours, and has a wireless remote control, so you can put it in the back, but control it from the front.  Very useful for take off, and then it can be stopped and turned on again for landing.

Check out for more details.

Now perhaps my wife and kids will want to go up and check out the new airplane.......

Monday, August 1, 2011