I gave my 13 year old nephew an iPod Touch for Christmas. It's the perfect gift for a young man, it does almost everything on the Internet he wants to do. Email, Facebook, Youtube, web browsing, SMS (via WiFi), maps, games. And while it's not a phone (at least, without Skype), it's also not a device requiring a $90/month service plan for AT&T cell phone service that doesn't work anyway. Really the only thing it's missing is a camera, which if rumour is to be believed was a last minute omission.

Here's the thing: thanks to the iPhone and the iPod touch we are now in the post-laptop era. There's no need for a big awkward computer anymore for being an Internet citizen. Yes, the screen is tiny. And yes, the keyboard isn't great for long text entry. But those are remarkably minor tradeoffs considering what you get in a pocket size device. I wanted my nephew to become more active on the Internet, more involved, and I think with the Touch in his pocket he's pretty well along the way.

My one caveat about this post-laptop world is that so far it's dominated by a single manufacturer, Apple. Blackberries aren't complete enough, Palm is irrelevant, and Android isn't quite ready yet. Apple is doing a very good job with the platform so far, but I'll feel better when there's more competition. I have high hopes for Google and Android chipping away at market, and at this point I can't help but wonder if tablet and hiptop computers are more relevant than cell phones.

  2009-12-31 18:45 Z
Ken and I had two excellent meals at One Flew South, a serious restaurant in the Atlanta airport. Concourse E, in the secure zone, easy to get to from any of the terminal buildings. It's not cheap ($15-$25 main courses) and not particularly quick (an hour minimum), but if you've got a couple of hours to kill at the Atlanta airport and you want a fine meal, One Flew South is the place to go. They also have a great cocktail selection at the bar if you just want a nice drink.

The menu is pleasantly eclectic with a welcome attention to local artisanal ingredients. They bill themself as Southern-influenced international. The best dish I had was a pulled duck sandwich. Exactly like a pulled pork Georgia BBQ sandwich only with lovely duck confit, a fine marmelade, and good fresh bread. Also had a well balanced frisée salad with excellent local bacon and a surprisingly great sushi roll. They even have a cheese plate, three pleasant Georgia cheeses. Local ingredients and a careful chef, miles away from the Chili's / TGIFridays / Sbarro horror of the usual airport dining experience.

Service was friendly and professional. A bit uneven in the pacing, particularly for drink service, but the friendliness made up for it. They were nicely accomodiating about returning a corked bottle of wine. It's a good dining room, too, a comfortable and pleasant private space separated from the terminal by a wood screen that creates privacy while letting you still watch the people walking by. Concourse E seems to be the new international terminal in Atlanta and is quite civilized, particularly the live piano playing in earshot of the restaurant.

The executive chef is Duane Nutter; the other principles are chef Todd Richards (also of Rolling Bones BBQ) and manager Jerry Slater. I imagine it's difficult to run a fine restaurant in the secure zone of an airport. High rent, awkward delivery logistics, and a bizarre and changing customer base. I sure hope they're doing well because I'd love to go back.

  2009-12-30 18:00 Z
  2009-12-30 17:00 Z
One important difference between planes and cars is that planes are in the air and require power to stay up there. That sounds obvious, but I've only begun to appreciate exactly what engine failure means to a plane now that I've started engine-out training. And yesterday I had a real world brush with engine failure that has made the importance of that training very clear.

We were in Ken's Cardinal, over Monterey at 11,000 feet when the engine started running rough. Switching the magnetos fixed it for a minute, but it started running rough again soon after and was producing reduced power. We decided it'd be prudent to land the plane immediately. Ken radioed in "rough running engine, request expedited landing" and we were immediately cleared to land on the big runway at Monterey airport. Neither of us trusted the engine to keep running. Fortunately Ken had no trouble making an uneventful landing; if anything, we had too much altitude and power. The nice fire crew was standing by on the ground, a precaution we were glad was unnecessary.

When a plane engine stops you don't fall out of the sky immediately, you glide. But you'll be landing soon. How soon? Very roughly, for a plane similar to ours, for every 1000 feet above the ground you have about 80 seconds and can travel about 1.8 miles. So if our engine had quit entirely we would have had about 13 minutes to fly up to 18 miles before we were on the ground. (Note: rough estimate, read your POH for actual flight performance!) Our engine didn't actually quit, and even if it did we had a lot of altitude and three airports we could have made. The picture looks quite different if you're only 2000 feet above mountains with no airport around.

Once we were on the ground in Monterey I had some foolish idea that we could try to clear the engine problem ourselves, maybe test it in a run-up and continue our three day trip to Florida. Ken is much wiser than I and said "no way until a mechanic checks it". Which reminded me of various horrifying stories of pilots taking off with flaky engines. One of the worst things that can happen to a plane is losing power 500 feet after takeoff; the only option is to land on whatever's straight in front of you and all that fuel on board makes for a big hot fire.

So instead we parked the plane at the friendly Del-Monte Aviation FBO where it sits until Monday for a mechanic to look at it. We rented a car and had a nice lunch with a glass of wine and made alternate travel plans on Delta Airlines. And now I've gotten a gentle practical demonstration of why all this engine-out training is important.

  2009-12-20 16:35 Z
I had a really fun flying lesson today, a tour of Bay Area airports. San Carlos, Palo Alto, San Jose, Reid-Hillview, Livermore, Hayward, and back to San Carlos. 90 miles and 7 landings in just under two hours.

Lessons have been going well. It's challenging. I skipped right over learning to land on this blog. That's a major topic and I don't quite know what to say about it, other than I'm not scared of landing anymore but have a healthy respect about how every landing is a unique challenge.

The difficulty in today's lesson, what made it so exciting, was putting together a bunch of skills and doing everything at once. Reading charts. Taking off, cruising, landing. Avoiding restricted airspace. Flying the pattern, setting up an approach from whatever weird direction I was coming from. Finding airports. Judging the weather. And juggling radios: 11 controllers, 7 ATIS. I'm proud of myself that I handled about 95% without mistakes and 100% safely. Now I just have to practice for 50 more hours!

  2009-12-19 00:45 Z
"We black-nosed reindeer have taken yet another vote on whether to extend equal rights to red-nosed reindeer, and I must say that watching you get your hopes up again and again is pretty hilarious."

  2009-12-16 23:05 Z
Over on my secret gaming blog I just wrote a long post analyzing Farmville
FarmVille is a great social, viral app. The puzzle I can't work out is whether FarmVille would be more successful if it were a better game. I think probably not; the casual, simple gameplay along with the fun Sims-like construction is a pretty sweet spot for the Facebook market. Too bad, I'd love to play a game like this that was actually interesting as well.
  2009-12-15 18:41 Z
One of the pleasures of flying private airplanes is the amazing service you get at the airport. FBOs are the airport terminals for general aviation. A staffed office with a waiting lounge, bathrooms, telephones and Internet terminals, car rentals, and if you're lucky some fresh baked cookies. But unlike airport terminals the experience is entirely genteel, welcoming, unhurried. And no security screenings. You can tell the luxury aspirations of the FBOs by their names: Million Air, Signature Flight Support, etc.

The primary business of FBOs is selling fuel to rich executives. All that service is there waiting for a private jet to drop in and buy $2000 worth of gas. The FBOs are a helpful base for air taxi operations for people who think nothing of paying a few thousand bucks to hire an airplane and a couple of pilots for a quick trip to Sedona. There's always a beautiful lounge with black leather sofas for the customers and a quiet back room with a comfortable recliner for a nap for the pilots. Also, always mouthwash in the men's room so the pilot can be fresh and clean.

Ken's little plane is more like a 1973 Volkswagen than a Mercedes limousine and we're seldom buying more than a hundred bucks of fuel. But we get the same executive service when we wander in with our ratty flight bags with charts falling out of the pockets. I really appreciated that last week for our unplanned stop in Medford. We found our way to Million Air and five minutes later had hot coffee, fresh cookies, and a rental car being arranged by an intelligent and helpful woman at the desk. Nice welcome after a long flight with frustrating weather.

Of course most little airports don't have fancy FBOs. But even the places with nothing but a mechanic and a fuel pump are generally friendly and helpful. I fondly remember a few years back near San Antonio stopping for gas and being offered to borrow their old beater car ("keys are in the ignition") to go get some great barbeque. Sure beats McDonalds at the airport food court.

  2009-12-11 15:59 Z
Google Chrome now supports extensions in the beta build. They work great. Here's useful extensions I've found:
There's several choices for ad blockers right now, this one seems to work best out of the box.
Makes it so you have to click to activate any Flash object on a web page. Not so critical with the ad blocker, but still a nice thing.
RSS Subscription Extension
Adds the little "subscribe to feed" button in the address bar on blogs. This really should be in Chrome by default.
Send from Gmail (no button)
Rewrites mailto: links so they open in Gmail instead of the OS' mail client. This unofficial version doesn't have a toolbar button.
Google Quick Scroll
When you click through a Google search result, gives you a UI on the landing page that makes it easy to find your keywords on that page. It's quite clever.
Extensions seem to work great in Chrome. My one complaint is UI. A lot of extensions want to add buttons to the toolbar, but I'm very jealous of that real-estate and don't want random coloured icons cluttering up the browser. Even worse, some extensions are binding magic keys (like FlashBlock's Ctrl-Shift-F). That's just inhumane and needs to stop. I think the best answer is to let extensions add stuff to the right click menu; I don't think that's possible right now. Then again that leads to menu proliferation.
  2009-12-09 16:48 Z