Maybe it’s time to shut it down…

I wrote earlier about using my website as an excuse to practice some new skills, rewriting the UI to use react.js and just generally making it look better and more responsive. One thing I haven’t had time to do yet is redo the backend. I was going to use that as an excuse to learn Flask or Pyramid.

Except today I read a news report about a plane that crashed because the idiot pilot relied on a waypoint on his GPS instead of following the regulations and actually checking “all available information” about his place of intended landing. In the news report, Garmin said that the place he was planning to land wasn’t in their database. And I checked and sure enough, it’s in my database as an Ultralight park. Now the thing about microlights/ultralight parks is that they can be anything from a short paved strip to a cow pasture that a farmer sometimes allows ultralights to land in. They’re also not listed in the official AIP (Aeronautical Information Publication). Not the sort of thing a prudent pilot would land without doing due research first, including phoning the owner and finding out the landing conditions.

But even if it’s 100% clear the pilot was at fault and didn’t do his legally required flight planning, I had a bit of a panic at the thought that he might have loaded the data from my site into his GPS (it’s not that difficult with a handheld GPS, damn near impossible with a panel mounted certified GPS).

Meanwhile, I’ve basically been keeping this site going out of a sense of duty. I don’t fly any more, and the programs I originally did this to support were for the Palm Pilot so nobody uses them. I used to get donations, but I don’t any more. I haven’t received any feedback in years. I’ve been doing this for 20 or more years. Maybe it’s time to retire it?

Probably time to throw in the towel on the waypoint generators

For years now I’ve been providing aeronautical data for various programs – The Wayback Machine shows it existing in 2001, but I’m pretty sure I was running it before then. The site hasn’t changed much visually since then, since I concentrated on providing good data rather than prettying up the site. But I thought I was providing a good free service and it was worth it to people. I didn’t really push it hard, but I did politely ask for donations, through Paypal and at one time through the “Amazon Honor System” until Amazon killed that. And for a long time, I made about 1/4 to 1/2 as much through that as it cost me in hosting and data costs. But that hasn’t been true for a long time. I just looked at my Paypal history for the last 12 months, and I got two donations of $25 each, one of $3.32 and one of $1.13 (yeah, go figure). $54.45 in a year. That’s it. That doesn’t keep me in thumb drives.

Add on to that the fact that my source of world-wide data, the DAFIF file, hasn’t been updated since 2006 and it’s increasingly been a “US data plus some airport data from here and there”, and I’m worried about presenting this to the world as useful data for anything. I’ve always staunchly maintained that this is just to save you from a bit of data entry for flight planning and not a substitute for official data sources, but it’s just embarrassing to think somebody is going to be looking for navaids and waypoints in Europe, say, and not finding anything that’s still in use. At least airports don’t tend to move around much.

And because the data I have is getting stale, I keep hoping that people would provide feedback on the data I have, offering to provide data for their area or just letting me know if something is wrong. At one time I had a couple of people sending me their data sets which I incorporated into the database. (Although I did have one set of data for Australia where all the airports had the sign of their longitude reversed – I’m pretty sure I purged the last of that.) That was actually more important than the donations to me. It showed people were using the data, and cared when it was wrong.

So I guess what I’m saying is that I’m reconsidering if it’s worth doing this. I’ll still maintain the data for the CoPilot iOS app, that’s a separate database and thanks to Laurie Davis I get world wide data from Eurocontrol that that. But next time I get a data dump from the FAA (September 19th), I’m going to give some thought over whether to load it into both database, or just the CoPilot iOS one.

New Years Resolutions

Start this off with a look back at last years, because for once I did a pretty fair job.

Here are my resolutions from last year:

break 20 minutes in the Baycreek time trial
I actually broke 19 minutes, so chalk that one up as a win.
finish the Long Lake Long Boat Regatta long race (9 miles)
I didn’t just finish, I came in 5 seconds behind Mike Finear, after dragging him in my wake for several miles. Another win.
figure out if I want to continue flying or not.
Gave up flying, didn’t really miss it. Found myself obsessing over every mistake I ever made in the air and about how blasé I was about the danger at the time. Trying to tell myself that’s because I was on my game back then so I could handle it, and now I’m out of practice I wouldn’t handle it so easily if it happened now. Can’t tell if that means I should never go back, or if I need to really practice a lot if I go back.
develop an ajax web site, using either GWT or jquery or ruby on rails or something
I started an iPhone app, but hit a snag and put it aside. Realized that the GWT web site would be a better help with my job search, and made some half decent progress on this before I actually got a job.
That went pretty well. Between February and June I lost 40 pounds and then hit a plateau. Unfortunately it’s the same plateau I hit every time I go on a diet. Spend most of the fall still within spitting distance of being on the diet (it’s hard to be strict when you’re home all day) but not losing any weight. However, I think I was building some muscle mass in my arms and core, so maybe it wasn’t all that bad. Managed to gain 10 pounds of it back between Thanksgiving and now. Still a win, I think.
Yeah, pretty much. I started out the year being barely able to paddle 2 miles, and now a 10 mile workout holds no terror for me. Still trying to figure out how to keep that fitness over the off season. (Yeah, I know, “Off season? What’s that?” – getting out to paddle once in a blue moon is no substitute for paddling three or four times a week)
get a better job
Well, it took until a week before Christmas, but I got a decent contract job. Hopefully it will lead to more decent jobs.
once more subject myself to the psychological torture of trying to get more treatment for my pain
I didn’t actually do anything about this one. But between not having to sit at a desk, not having to drive much, losing weight and exercising more, my knees weren’t that bad. Of course after a week of driving 3 hours a day to my new job, my knees are now the worst they’ve been since back when I used to drive to Ottawa twice a month. Hopefully that will recover now that I’m working more from home.
How about 1920×1080 on the left, and 1920×1200 on the right. Now *that* is resolution, baby!

That was the year that was. This is my list for this year:

  • Break 17:30 in the Baycreek Time Trial. I’d like to break 17, but I think 17:30 is more attainable.
  • Join NYMCRA and start competing for points. I’d like to do at least 5 of the points races this year, but they haven’t put out the 2010 calendar yet so I don’t know which ones those will be. Last year I did Tupper Lake, Armond Bassett, and Long Lake, and I could easily extend that to 5 by doing Round The Mountain or Bear Mountain and the long course at the Rochester Open Water Challenge. I probably won’t get a lot of points, because unlike the other guys I don’t get any handicap points because I’m not over 50 and my Thunderbolt is Unlimited Class. If I’m reading the points system right, at Long Lake I would have gotten 85 points because although I was only 5 seconds behind Mike F, he got handicap time for being in an EFT, a Touring Class boat and time for being over 50, so his adjusted time is 3:34 ahead of me. Competing for points might add a new twist to races, but mostly I see it as a reason to go to more races.
  • Start building up my training volume. This year my GPS recorded 670 miles of kayaking, and that’s not including the early part of the season before I bought it, and the few times I forgot to charge the damn thing. I’d like to increase both the number of paddles and the length of them. If I can manage a few 20 mile plus days, I’d be slowly working towards doing the “90 Miler”, maybe in 2011 as a 50th birthday thing.
  • Get the diet back on track and try to break through this plateau I was stuck at this fall.
  • Finish revamping my site into GWT so it doesn’t look like something designed in 1992, which it probably was.
  • Figure out the GRIB thing that Laurie wants me to do.
  • Hold onto this job, or find another one quickly when it ends.
  • And that’s about it for the public ones.

Hopefully I’ll do as well this year as I did last.

Climb, Conserve, Confess

(Climb, Conserve, Confess is the mantra for pilots who are lost – climb up in case there are obstacles around, lean the engine and fly conservatively in case you’re far off course, and contact local ATC or Flight Service to “confess” and see what help they might offer you, like radar vectors or a “DF Steer”.)

Yesterday I went flying with a club member who is a CFII (an instrument instructor) who wanted a safety pilot. What I hadn’t known ahead of time is that because he’s an instructor he wanted me to sit in the left seat and fly some of the time. Not only that, but because he was an instrument instructor, I could log the approaches towards my IFR currency.

As I was doing the pre-start checklist, he said that he would work the radios while I flew, and then I would work the radios while he flew. I’ve never done that before, and it was confusing. The first confusion was that because he said he was going to work the radios, I expected him to turn off the avionics master when I went to start the engine. He didn’t, and I didn’t, and the noise through the intercom while the starter motor was cranking was horrendous. I should probably note at this time that while doing the pre-start checklist, I noticed the autopilot flashing strangely, and neither of us knew what it meant. After the engine turned twice and didn’t catch, the battery died and so I think we discovered what it meant. We jump started the airplane with the cart, and it ran fine, and the autopilot wasn’t flashing any more. I vaguely recall that the autopilot flashes when there was a low voltage condition.

I did the first approach, the ILS to 28. Jim surprised very mild surprise that I loaded up the real ILS approach on the GPS instead of a GPS approach. But hey, to me an ILS is a real approach and everything else is a pale substitute, even an LNAV+VNAV. It wasn’t the greatest ILS ever, and Jim kept telling me to correct this way and that, mostly stuff I would have done even without him. It seemed like I was doing the infamous “s-turns down the localizer”, then I remembered where to see the ground track on the GPS and used that to get settled down.

Then it was Jim’s turn, and in spite of the fact that he is a CFII, and he’s much more current than I, he too ended up doing s-turns down the localizer. We discussed it, and considering that both of us had the same trouble, plus how bumpy it was, we figured there were some shifting winds at different altitudes and that was throwing us both off.

Then it was my turn again, and since we’d just taken off from runway 22 and were requesting the ILS for runway 28, we ended up getting vectored to the south of the airport. The air was much smoother there. My second approach went amazingly well. I got a nice gentle turn to the localizer well outside the marker, in contrast to the nearly 90 degree turns we had gotten less than a mile outside the marker on the first two approaches, and the air was smooth, and plus I was using the ground track indication, so I did almost ATP quality approach, with both needles one dot and maybe occasionally two dots off all the way down.

But as we continued off runway 28 and asked for the ILS 28 again for Jim’s turn, they turned us right to the north of the airport, and once again it was getting very bumpy. And when you combine early in the year, bumps, and flying under the hood, for me that means airsick. So I reluctantly told Jim that we’d have to make this the last one. I don’t know whether it’s because we intercepted it from the bumpy north instead of the smooth south, or because I was felling sick and so felt the bumps more or because I wasn’t flying, but it seemed like it was much worse than when I’d done it, both in terms of the bumps and Jim seemed to be having much more trouble keeping the needles centered than I did. But then again, he adamantly refused to use the GPS ground track – he said it was “cheating”. I’ve heard it said for air combat, and I apply it for IFR flying, if you aint cheating, you aint trying hard enough. The plan was to do the ILS 28, do a touch and go, and join the pattern for 25, and I told the approach controller that, although more likely I should have waited to talk to the tower controller.

Now comes the confession part. I mentioned before I wasn’t used to this “pilot non-flying works the radios”. A few times previously I’d either gone to say something on the radio when Jim was working the radios, or waited for Jim to say something before I realized I was supposed to do it. Also, both radios had “flip-flop” alternate frequencies. Jim used the first radio for the tower frequency and the second for the approach frequency. But the approach frequency was also the alternate frequency on radio one. So when we took off from 28, I’d used the flip-flop to switch to the approach. And I didn’t think anything of it, until taking off from our touch and go on 28 that I realized we were still on the approach frequency. A terrible feeling in the pit of my stomach joined the already building air-sickness. I don’t know if I missed a radio call, but I just let us do a touch and go without a clearance, without even talking to the tower. The neither the approach controller nor the tower controller mentioned it, although instead of just directly joining the pattern for 25, we got a bit of a vector to the south and then back in again.

So here is my confession: I didn’t switch frequencies, I didn’t talk to the tower, and let us land without a clearance when it was my job to do all that. Time to fill out a NASA ASRS form.

Wow, flying twice in one weekend?

Last summer I donated a sight seeing flight to a charity auction a friend was running. That, of course, was before my gear was stolen, and before I started spending all my time kayaking instead of flying. Since coming back from Oshkosh in August, I’ve only logged 1 hour of flying time.

But I got a call from the winner this week, wanting to go. The weather forecast for this weekend wasn’t bad, if a little colder than I’d like, so I decided to go up Saturday and practice flying a bit and do my three landings for currency requirements, and then take them on Sunday. It actually worked out well – both days I got there just as somebody else was finished with the plane, so it was well warmed up. Both days the wind was coming from the east, which is a bit unusual here, and that caused some mechanical turbulence from the hills in that direction.

On Saturday I went out to Batavia to do some landings (and incidentally stop for $3.79 gas instead of the $5.40 gas at Rochester) and then visited my old sight-seeing favourites like the Perry wind farm (which has grown immensely since the last time I was there), and the trestle at Letchworth, and Irondequoit bay. I was surprised to find some open water in the south end of the bay, but of course still lots of ice fishers still out on the frozen part. Oh, and the entire creek looks like it’s open, so I can’t wait for it to be warm enough to paddle!

It was strange to be out flying again. It was nice to feel that feeling of accomplishment again. But by the same token, just buzzing around the same old sights just isn’t all that exciting. I think I need to find something new to do in the air – maybe organize a trip to the Air Museum in Dayton, or something.

Sunday I actually managed to find the guy’s house. I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to, because as a non-pilot, he wasn’t really good at answering questions like “are there any nearby water towers” or “can you recognize that school over there”? But his brother in the back seat said “isn’t that it right underneath us”, and sure enough it was. They’re actually just outside the edge of the Rochester class C airspace, so the controller asked what we were doing as we were circling around. Fortunately the traffic was pretty light and it wasn’t bothering anybody. After that, we headed down to Letchworth, and then back up to Irondequoit and Sea Breeze. Then we headed back in to the airport, giving them a good view of the downtown and U of R. And as usual, my approach wasn’t great, not all that well stabilized, but I made a very smooth touch down.