Category Archives: California

Transitions (or, “Dell, you’re getting a dude!”)

Nearly four years ago, I wrote a post here titled simply “We’re moving to California.” Now I’m writing this post because… I’m moving back to Alabama.

I’m also switching jobs; effective June 3, I will be joining Michael Przytula‘s Global Communications and Collaboration team at Dell as a global principal consultant. My first project will be assisting a large automotive supply company with their migration from Lotus Notes to Office 365, so I’m jumping back into the Exchange world with both feet.

The reasons for these changes can be summed up simply: in order to be an effective father to my sons, I need to be where they are. For two years, I have been commuting faithfully at my own expense to see them every other weekend, plus one week per month during which Acuitus allowed me to work remotely. This has been a great experience in itself in many ways, but it has also been emotionally exhausting, physically tiring, and extremely expensive. The constant back-and-forth has made me at times feel like a visitor, not a father, and I’ve had to miss a great many milestone events because they happened at times when I wasn’t, couldn’t be, there.

Moving back was simultaneously a no-brainer (of course I need to be where the boys are!) and a very difficult decision to actually execute on. I believe that ultimately it is the right thing to do for my sons, so that’s what I’m doing.

As much as I believe that what Acuitus is doing is important and worthwhile, and as much as I’ve enjoyed the experience of living and working in California, and as hard a transition as it will likely be, it’s time for me to move on by moving back. I am optimistic and energized about working with Dell, and I am delighted by the prospect of being able to spend more, and better, time with the boys. Against that I have to weigh the upheaval, expense, and hassle of moving, the sadness of leaving valued friends and coworkers behind, and the feeling of unfinished business that comes from leaving Acuitus in the midst of our VA school project.

On balance, though, I am more optimistic than not… as I said back in 2009, it takes work. I still believe that’s true, and I’m going to put in the work that’s required. We’ll see what happens…

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Endeavour fly-by

[ this is pretty old-- the flyby was 21 September 2012, and I just found this post lingering in my drafts folder. I wrote it with the intention of finding an aviation outlet for it. It would have been much more interesting had I posted it sooner-- sorry about that. It turns out that no one wanted a "real" article on the flyby, so I'm publishing this-- better late than never.]

“Once in a lifetime” is a perhaps overused phrase. However, with the demise of the Space Shuttle program, almost everything associated with the program has entered its last phase. Endeavour was the last of the shuttles to be built; it was a replacement for Columbia. It is thus fitting that it was the last Shuttle to be retired, and when I found out that its farewell flight would take it through the Bay Area I made plans to see it. NASA announced the route of flight and a tentative schedule a couple of weeks in advance, but I didn’t start planning seriously until a couple of days ago. My first stop: an email to the press coordinator at NASA Ames, asking for press credentials on behalf of Windows IT Pro. Astute readers will know that they don’t usually publish aviation stories (and I am working on a real article for a real aviation publication) but I figured it was worth a shot. Sure enough, they put me on the press access list. 

A few coworkers and I got to talking about how to best take advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and the game was afoot.

The first decision: where would the best viewing be? The route of flight was supposed to take the Shuttle from south to north. At first it looked like the Palo Alto airport might be the simplest place to go: limited crowds, no problem with parking. However, we weren’t sure exactly what path it would take, and I was worried that we wouldn’t get a good angle from the accessible areas. Eric suggested a spot in the wildlife refuge but we ruled that out as well. With press credentials, we reasoned, we shouldn’t have any problem getting on base or getting a good spot.

Eric picked me up at a nearby Taco Bell about 8am and we made our way to the Ellis gate, where we were quickly admitted and directed to the press area. The helpful NASA PAO staff gave us credentials, and we bumped into fellow Acuitan Tim, whom we deputized as a backup photographer. We tried to buy breakfast, but the food trucks were largely out of food since they had opened at 0600, thus illustrating something about early birds and Belgian waffles. As we walked through the line of booths that NASA Ames had set up to showcase their work, I was surprised and pleased at how many young kids were there. The crowd vibe was surprisingly upbeat given the fact that, when you think about it, this was a sad occasion: the final flight of the last of the United States’ fleet of man-rated spacecraft.

The flight operations building was where we’d planned to watch the flyby. Our press credentials got us in and we made our way through the building to the back apron. Here’s a sample of what it looked like from ground level. 

DSC 0506

We heard estimates of the crowd size ranging from 13,000 to 20,000; I didn’t get a final count from the Ames PAO but it was a large and cheerful crowd.

I made a few exploratory forays to the parking apron to see if anyone yelled at me for being out there. No one did, so our first plan was to set up our tripods out there when the Shuttle got closer, on the theory that setting up too soon might get us ordered back to the seating area. In the meantime, though, we went inside the building to have a look around. Seeing a stairwell, Eric suggested we go see what was on the second floor; Tim volunteered to watch the camera gear and Eric and I went upstairs. The second floor is dedicated to offices for the control tower– Moffett Field, of course, has its own Class C airspace with a control tower, and that tower happens to be located on top of the building we were in. At the end of the hall, we came to another stairwell; a quick exchange of glances was all it took to convince us to go up and see what happened. There we were greeted with an imposing site: a big, black metal gate with a sign warning us not to enter. The gate, however, was open, and we could hear voices coming from above– so after a bit of consultation, during which I believe the word “bail” may have been used once or twice, up we went.

Soon enough we found ourselves on the outside of the control tower. There were some other folks on the east side of the tower, in full sun; we had a shady corner on the west side to ourselves. Amazed at our good fortune, Eric went to go get Tim and the camera gear. He then got to meet the tower chief, who was a little aggrieved that the media was invading the outside of his tower. Eric and Tim were able to convince him to let them rejoin me up top, as you can see below.

Eric and Tim

Here are Eric and Tim  enjoying a moment of peace and quiet before they started slinging camera equipment around.

(I should note that this picture was taken with a Nokia Lumia 800, the camera software for which is about a million times better than the iPhone’s built-in app.) The elbow you see in the extreme right of this picture belonged to Pat, one of the tower managers; he was very friendly and was kind enough to keep us informed about where the Shuttle was during its flight. We had been expecting the Shuttle to fly down the length of the runway from the south; turns out it was going to approach from the north, meaning that it should have  come from right next to Tim’s head in the picture above. We set up our cameras: Eric and Tim had theirs on tripods; I had a camcorder on a monopod and my D5100 around my neck.

We waited; the PA announcer would occasionally give the crowd updates, and at last the call came telling us the aircraft were only a couple of minutes out. We readied our cameras. Surprise! Rather than flying along the runway centerline, as the PAO (and announcer) had repeatedly told us would happen, the Shuttle stack flew along 101– to the west of Moffett– on our side of the control tower! Our seeming bad luck at getting a spot away from the runway turned out to be perfect luck indeed. The Shuttle’s chase aircraft flew down the runway centerline, but I doubt anyone was paying much attention to it.

The actual flyby… wow. I was too busy taking pictures with my camera to notice which way the camcorder was pointed, so I didn’t get any video, and some of my pictures are poorly composed because I was eagerly watching the flyby with my Mark 1, Mod 0 eyeballs instead of looking at the camera. Here are the two best of the resulting pictures:

DSC 0522

DSC 0525

After the flyby, the crowd slowly dissipated; it took us about half an hour to exit Moffett and get back onto 101. 

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Thursday trivia #77

  • The boys and I are headed for New Orleans this weekend to see my mother and, not incidentally, to hit the Voodoo Music Festival. Of the bands there, I am most excited about seeing Metallica and Skrillex, but there are a few other gems; hopefully we’ll make it there in time for Thomas Dolby on Friday.
  • The law surrounding workplace privacy in California is really, really interesting.
  • I’m really intrigued by two new devices: the iPad mini, because it’s the perfect size for use in the cockpit; and the Microsoft Surface, because it looks like a better device for some of the most common tasks I do on the road. I’m not quite ready to order either of them just yet, though…
  • Candy corn on the cob. What will they think of next?
  • So far season 3 of The Walking Dead is excellent. I am actually enjoying it more than season 2 because I’m watching it in HD on my AppleTV instead of in crap-o-vision from AT&T’s Uverse, which had terrible picture quality on AMC.

Bonus: if you like airplanes (and, really, who doesn’t?) then this video of Endeavour flying over southern California is priceless. Watch it in high-quality and full screen for maximum enjoyment.

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Long solo cross-country, 4 July

What better way to celebrate Independence Day than to exercise my Constitutional right of free travel? That’s right: “free” as in “not encumbered by TSA or any of their baloney.”

The FAA requires that private pilots know how to plan and safely execute what they call “cross-country” flights. I’d already flown one with Andy from Palo Alto to Columbia, but the FAA requires that private pilots plan and carry out a cross-country flight of at least 150nm total distance, with one leg being at least 50nm and landings at 3 separate airports.

Andy had originally asked me to plan a flight from Palo Alto (KPAO) to Paso Robles (KPRB) to Salinas (KSNS) and back to KPAO. The first leg to Paso Robles is 129nm, so the total trip distance would meet all the FAA’s requirements. In my earlier post I gave a quick summary of what it means to construct a VFR flight plan; here’s a slightly more detailed list:

  • Puled out a bunch of paper charts: my San Francisco and Los Angeles sectional charts and my San Franciscoterminal chart. Sectional charts are large-scale charts that show terrain features, airports, roads, navigation aids, and other useful items at 1:500,000 scale. Terminal charts show a smaller area at double the scale, so they’re great for navigation planning in urban areas.
  • Used the paper charts to plot a direct route of flight, using a straightedge and a Sharpie marker to lay out my course. Paper charts cost about $9 each, so you might wonder why I’d be willing to deface them with a Sharpie. The truth is, they expire after about 5 months, so you may as well mark on them.
  • Used the route of flight to identify checkpoints– visual features on the ground that I can look at to tell where I am and what my progress along the course is. There are some well-known visual checkpoints already marked on the sectionals. For example, VPSUN is the golf course at Sunol, while VPMOR is the LDS temple in Oakland. You can use these as reporting points; for example, I can call the Palo Alto tower and say “Palo Alto, Cessna One Niner One Tango Golf, overhead Leslie Salt, landing Palo Alto with Juliet.” That doesn’t mean Juliet’s in the airplane; rather, it means that I’m reporting being overhead the Leslie Salt Company’s salt refinery with ATIS information– a radio broadcast telling me what the current airport weather and runway conditions are– Juliet. 
  • Measured the distance between checkpoints and put that into my navigation log.
  • Got a weather forecast showing the projected winds aloft and used those to calculate the amount of wind correction necessary for each leg.
  • Used the wind and airspeed data to figure out how long each leg would take to fly, or, in other words, the ETA to go between each pair of checkpoints
  • Used the ETA data to estimate fuel consumption for each leg
  • Reviewed the airport data, including which runways exist, whether they were open or closed, any restrictions on their use, what the standard traffic patterns and altitudes were, and so on.

After doing all that, I reviewed the weather forecast and saw that Salinas and Monterey were both fogged in. That didn’t bode well for my planned route, but I went to the airport anyway to meet with Andy and discuss my flight plan. Student pilots have to have an instructor’s logbook endorsement to legally do the long cross-country, you see, so meeting with him was a precondition to taking off. I reviewed the route of flight with him and pointed out some alternate options given that I couldn’t overfly the fog areas. He suggested a completely different route: over the hills to Tracy (KTCY), then down to Los Baños (KLSN), then to KPRB, and then back either direct (if the fog was gone) or by reversing that route. I replanned the route, got his endorsement, and went to check out the airplane I’d reserved… except that it was gone.

OK, OK, I exaggerate… a bit. The automated scheduling system that Advantage uses expects that you’ll sign out the airplane at the scheduled time. If you don’t do so within 30 minutes of your scheduled time, the system puts the airplane back in the available pool. I had an 0800 reservation, but at 0830 I was still meeting with Andy, so the plane became available and someone else grabbed it. Luckily there was another G1000-equipped 172 available at noon, so I took it instead.

Before I took off, I asked Palo Alto ground control for VFR flight following. This is essentially radar surveillance; air traffic control assigns you a unique transponder code that identifies your aircraft on radar. ATC will issue traffic and safety advisories, notifying you of other aircraft in your vicinity and so on. As you leave each bubble of radar surveillance, ATC hands you off to the next one. For my flight, I started out with Palo Alto and was handed off to NORCAL Approach, the TRACON (or terminal radar approach control center) that owns the airspace over most of northern California. I stayed with NORCAL until I got to an area outside their control, at which point they handed me over to Oakland Center, the air route traffic control center (ARTCC) that provides radar services outside of TRACON-controlled areas.

Anyway, one of the benefits of flight following is that you get traffic advisory calls. I got several on my route towards Tracy; that airspace is heavily traveled as people fly into and out of Palo Alto, Hayward, San Carlos, and the other airports in the area. My favorite call? That’s easy: “Cessna Two Hotel Golf, traffic your 1 o’clock, 2 miles, 5000 feet northbound, flight of two F-18. Hobo 51, traffic your 11-o’clock, 2 miles, 3000 feet eastbound, Cessna 172.” Sure enough, there went two F-18s zipping past, too fast for me to unlimber the camera and get a picture.

The flight itself was great! Good visibility on the outbound leg; I took off from Palo Alto, made a right Dunbarton, overflew Sunol, overflew the Livermore area, and headed to Tracy. AsHere’s what the Tracy airport looks like from 5500′ up; it looks small from the ground, but those two runways are 4000′ each.

Overhead KTCY

 

My route of flight from metropolitan Tracy (!) down to Los Baños took me roughly along Interstate 5. To the west there are all kinds of interesting hills; to the east there are a string of smallish towns, plus lots and lots of cultivated land. From the air, the patchwork of different shades of green is absolutely gorgeous.

Somewhere in the Central Valley

that salad you’re eating? it probably came from the Central Valley

My approach and landing at Los Baños were uneventful, with a good landing on their runway. The Los Baños airport is uncontrolled, meaning there’s no control tower or radar service. Each aircraft is required to vigorously “see and avoid,” of course, but there’s also a radio frequency on which aircraft in the vicinity announce their location and intentions. So you call to tell anyone listening that you’re approaching the airport, where you’re going, and where you are… i.e. “Los Baños traffic, Cessna Two Hotel Golf, 5 miles north of the field, two thousand five hundred, entering the pattern for landing runway 32″, or whatever. Then you call again when you get closer; meanwhile, other aircraft, if any, are making their own calls. I landed well, taxied back on the parallel taxiway, waited a minute for another aircraft to take off and clear the pattern, and took off to the south.

The route of flight that Andy and I had planned called for me to go from KLSN to New Coalingua airport, then turn southwest for Paso Robles.. so that’s what I did, being careful to stay out of the Lemoore military operating areas (MOAs). Andy warned me that I’d know when I was getting close to New Coalingua because I’d be able to smell Harris Ranch. I thought he was pulling my leg, but, sure enough, I could smell the stockyards from more than a mile up and several miles lateral distance. I made the turn before C80 and found Paso Robles right where it was supposed to be. I landed, taxied in to a parking spot, and went inside to find out if they had any food, having neglected to pack anything. They didn’t, but the kind folks at Paso Robles Jet Center loaned me a crew car so I could drive into town and eat at Margie’s Diner. As advertised, the diner had extremely large portions, which suited me just fine. I had a delicious grilled ham-and-cheese and two large diet Pepsis; meanwhile, the line crew refueled my plane so that when I got there (after a brief encounter with the airport’s resident cat) I was ready to go. I took off and headed to the northwest, towards Salinas, but there was a huge layer of haze that looked like it covered pretty much my entire route of flight. 

Haze, of course, diminishes visibility rather than eliminating it. It wouldn’t have been legal for me to overfly an area of fog that obscured the ground completely, whereas I could have legally flown over the haze. However, “legal” and “prudent” don’t always mean the same thing, so I elected to go back the way that I came, mostly. Instead of going back to C80, I cut the corner by flying to the Priest VOR, then to the Panoche VOR, then telling the G1000 to take me back towards Tracy and thence to Palo Alto. On the way back, I practiced using the GFC700 autopilot in the airplane a bit. This might seem contradictory– why use the autopilot at all as a student? There are several good reasons. First, I want to know how every piece of equipment in the airplane works so that I can get the most utility from it. Second, for instrument flying the autopilot is a tremendous aid because it can keep the aircraft pointed in the right direction at the right altitude while the pilot aviates, navigates, and communicates. Third, one of the things you’re required to demonstrate on the FAA check ride is what the FAA calls “lost procedures”– in other words, what do you do if you get lost? I want the option to be able to tell the autopilot to keep the wings level and altitude steady while I’m rooting around looking for charts or whatever. Fourth, it’s cool. Anyway, I spent some time refreshing my knowledge of how to set up the autopilot to track a heading and maintain an altitude. There are many more sophisticated things it can do that I haven’t started exploring yet, like fly a profile such that you end up at a specific altitude over a specific point on the ground. That will come with time.

Coming back I had a great view of the San Luis reservoir, near Los Baños; see below. 

San Luis Reservoir

There was a bit of haze, but off to the west I could still see heavy haze on my original planned route, and I was perfectly happy to see it over there instead of underneath me. My approach through the hills and the east side of the Bay went well, and I nailed the landing back at Palo Alto. 4.0 hours of pilot-in-command and solo cross-country time for the books!

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Pictures from my B-17 ride

I still have to write a more detailed post about my adventure flying in Nine O Nine, the Collings Foundation‘s immaculately restored B-17. I took 3 cameras: my iPhone, a Nikon D5100, and a ContourHD helmet cam (only without the helmet). It was my first outing with the D5100 and the ContourHD both, and I’m really pleased with the results. Check out my Flickr stream for airplane pics; as soon as I get the video edited (which will probably be a while), I’ll post it too.

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Legoland

Lego's version of the famous Houmas House

Lego’s version of the famous Houmas House

Legoland was 100% worth the trip!

We drove down from Morgan Hill on Friday, taking the I-5 route. Because of construction at CA-58, we were a bit delayed en route, so we stopped overnight at the Rodeway Inn in Castaic, CA. It was a bit dingy, but given that we arrived after midnight I was prepared to relax my standards a bit.

Saturday morning we got up bright and early and made a beeline for Legoland. We arrived shortly after the park opened, and it was surprisingly crowded. Legoland’s crowd skews pretty young; there were lots of under-6-year-olds.

Our first stop was the aquarium. We’re undoubtedly spoiled, but I found it mediocre. Had it not been included in our ticket price I might have been disappointed.

The park, however, was well worth the price of admission. The models are jaw-dropping (see my Flickr stream for a few examples from Miniland, the model city area.) The rides are clever and well-designed, although the lines were long because there’s no equivalent to Disney’s FastPass system.

The boys’ favorite was probably the large, well-appointed water park. I sat in the sun and relaxed while they shivered in the water and claimed that they weren’t cold (the lazy river’s heated, however.)

A note about Legoland food: mediocre and expensive. Take your own if you can.

We closed the joint down, which was easy given that it closes at 6. Our hotel, Carlsbad by the Sea, was delightful; clean, beautifully landscaped, and well located. Breakfast the next morning was included, too, always a plus.

I’m posting this from iBlogger on my phone, so this update is too short to capture the full flavor. Suffice it to say that I highly recommend Legoland.

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Morgan Hill superintendent’s statement on the Flag Four

Straight from the horse’s mouth:

Good evening. This is Dr. Wesley Smith, Superintendent of the Morgan Hill Unified School District.

The Morgan Hill Unified School District does not prohibit nor do we discourage wearing patriotic clothing. The incident on May 5 at Live Oak High School is extremely unfortunate. While campus safety is our primary concern and administrators made decisions yesterday in an attempt to ensure campus safety, students should not, and will not, be disciplined for wearing patriotic clothing. This situation and our response are under review.

We know that this is an emotionally charged topic. We would ask you to encourage your students to be safe and focus on their academics while in school. If conversations and/or activities are necessary to express their feelings on this issue, we will find appropriate venues that do not disturb student learning or jeopardize the safety of our students. Furthermore, we encourage everyone to demonstrate respect for each other, open communication, and responsibility.

Thank you for your support and understanding.

in other words, the assistant principal who caused this mess just got pitched under the bus, and Dr. Smith would really appreciate it if all y’all stayed in school instead of going downtown chanting “We want respect!” while offering none to your adopted nation.

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