Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Summer Photos, 2015

I know, I know ... no blog updates lately. Mostly this has been due to time spent on the forthcoming Concise Guide to the Citation Mustang, coming to the iBooks Store by the end of summer. For now, here are some photos that I hope you'll enjoy.

Airport in sight ...

Approaching FERNE

Never realized the Burbank Tower was sooo tiny

Delta sunset

Dazzling sunlight

Distant TSRA

Classic Bay Area Summer

Golden Gate, under there somewhere ...

DA42 wing, 'sall Hollywood ...

Right seat view

Midnight over LA

Bay Area microclimates in action ...

Near Novato

Sunset near Panoche

Look upon the Wx I have wrought and despair!

SoCal flyin'

Young and old

What, you never heard of the Dog Days of Summer?

Monday, June 01, 2015

Watch This


Thanks to the generosity of an instrument student, I recently got the chance to test drive an Apple Watch for a couple of days. There's been a lot of buzz generated around these devices, created primarily by product scarcity and from Apple fanboys to ardent MacOS/iOS detractors, there has been no shortage of predictions and opinions. With devices beginning to dribble out to those who purchased early on, more opinions are undoubtedly coming. So just how does the Apple Watch fit into the cockpit? Is it a useful device or yet another distraction? What I found out in my short two days of use is that the Apple Watch is a mixed bag.

Out-of-Box

Initially powering on and setting up the device is the standard, straightforward, pretty simple experience Apple customers have come to expect. Prior to my test drive, I had experimented with the Apple Watch at my local Apple Store, but the watches were all attached to a stand. Only when you are able to hold and put on the Apple Watch do you fully realize what an incredible job the designers have done. The Apple Watch is pleasing to look at, the display is quite good, and the finish and tactile experience is about as close to perfect as one could imagine. I confess I had the urge to put the Watch in my mouth to see if it tasted as good as it looked (no, I didn't actually do this). Yes, the design is that pleasing.

Battery

It seems that with smartphones, tablets, activity trackers and the myriad of other devices we all seem to be using, we are forever in search of power sources to recharge these devices. While USB charging seems standard, we still end up festooned with a variety of charging cables and sometimes with special charging needs: Have a device that requires 2.1 amps or will just 1 amp do? Lighting connector or mini- or micro-USB? We shouldn't have to care, but we live in an imperfect world.

Let's get this out of the way: To use the Apple Watch you'll need to own a later model iPhone. The Watch is tethered to your iPhone, usually via bluetooth to save battery power. An Apple Watch that has been configured can connect to a WiFi network on it's own, provided the iPhone to which it was tethered was configured to use that network: The Watch cannot configure networks one its own. If you use the Watch this way (without an iPhone nearby), expect a further reduction in battery life. More information here ...


Once the Apple Watch is up and running, you'll need to use the Apple Watch app on your iphone to delve into adjusting various settings to your liking. More on that later.

Let' get another thing out of the way: The battery life is less than optimal. I considered myself lucky if I got 15 hours per charge. What's more, since the Watch is tethered to and essentially an extension of your iPhone, expect your phone's battery life to be reduced, too. Recharging the Watch requires you to take it off and that leads to the next issue: The watch band.



The black, rubber-like watch band on the model I tested was sleek and comfortable, but I found it clumsy to get the watch on and off my wrist. With all the recharging, the watch band dance is one with which you become familiar and, hopefully, accomplished in performing.

Some have complained about the inductive charging device, saying that it's not obvious which side is supposed to be placed against the back of the Watch for charging to occur. Personally, I didn't find this to be a big issue. If you are annoyed, you can get one of many third-party charging stands for approximately 1/5 to 1/3 the cost of the basic model Apple Watch.

Watch This

As a watch, the Apple Watch is limited primarily by dismal battery life. Then there's the annoyance of having to tilt the watch to get the display to wake up. To make up for these shortcomings, consider that you can customize the watch face and define which fields you want displayed. As a pilot, I wanted to have UTC displayed and that is an option, but to have UTC displayed in 24 hour format I had to go to the Apple Watch app on the iPhone, select General->Language & Region settings, and set the Region Format to "United Kingdom." Odd, but in the end it was successful (thanks Phil, for the suggestion!).

As a busy instructor, I found it helpful to have a convenient display of my day's next appointment right on my wrist.

Calendar

The calendar is a lightweight, but you can display appointments that are coming up right on the watch face. You can also use you voice to dictate a new appointment. The advantage of the Watch is that you don't have to pull out another device or open your computer, plus you have the added advantage of impressing the people around you when you start talking into your sleeve like a Secret Service agent.


Text Messages

Receiving short text messages on the Watch was surprisingly useful (there goes the American English language!) and I found it easy to dictate a response using my voice. Again, this all depends on having your iPhone nearby.

Activity Monitoring

I normally use a Jawbone UP to monitor my daily activity level. I also use Strava on the iPhone with a bluetooth heart rate monitor when I ride my bike. When I tried to use all this stuff at once, Strava on the Apple Watch was DOA. What's more, the heart rate monitor wouldn't connect to my iPhone if the Apple Watch was on my wrist or anywhere nearby. Not sure who's to blame here, given Apple's dismal track record with regard to their iOS bluetooth stack.

ForeFlight

If you want to get basic weather information, ForeFlight on the Watch may be of some use to you. It's handy to get a weather overview of nearby airports of or those in your list of favorites. So if you're sitting in a meeting, obsessing over whether conditions will be VFR, MVFR, or IFR for your flight home, you can annoy those around you by constantly looking at your Watch. Would it be useful to use the Watch in the cockpit during flight? Doubtful ...



Conclusions

If cost is no concern, you most certainly will find the Apple Watch interesting, diverting, or, at the very least, a conversation starter. Judging on how the iPhone and iPad devices improved after the first two generations, it seems safe to predict that the same will occur with the Watch. In particular, the battery life issue has to be addressed and it would be nice if the Watch had the option of pairing with an iPad. It's likely that the current crop of Watch apps will grow in number and features. For now, the Apple Watch is an extremely pleasing slice of tech candy with some useful functions. You'll have to do your own mental calculus to see if owning this Watch will be useful to you, but be forewarned that once you actually handle the Apple Watch, touch it, and wear it, you may find it hard to not be seduced. I only handled one for 2 days and already I'm considering purchasing one.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Kludge + Indirection = Confusion

Perhaps it was living through The Great Depression that inspired my grandfather to concoct one of his favorite sayings: Patch by patch is neighborly, but patch upon patch is beggarly. And "patch upon patch" certainly comes to mind when considering how the FAA disseminates charts and makes changes to important data. Two examples come to mind: enhanced circling minima and the new cold temperature-restricted airports. 



Wagons in a Circle

Consider approach categories and standard circling approach maneuvering radii. First, pilots have to memorize the airspeeds associated with Categories A, B, C, D and E. This isn't a big deal since most of GA flyers use aircraft that fall in category B - approach speeds within 91 and 120 knots indicated airspeed. Where do you find the definitions for approach categories? Why in the front matter of the terminal procedures, of course! There are two problems with this arrangement:


  1. Many pilots now use electronic flight bags, they aren't carrying paper version of the terminal procedures, and locating the front matter to reference this tabular data is not trivial.
  2. Even if you are still using paper charts, imagine the workload required to flip through your binder to locate that data, while flying single-pilot.

New circling minima on some instrument approaches were announced a few years ago and the motivation seemed both sound and simple: A given indicated airspeed results in a higher true airspeed as altitude increases, that leads to larger radius of turn, and so the existing circling minima were not adequate for ensuring required obstacle clearance while circling at some high-altitude airports. The FAA's solution was a classic engineer's solution: A complicated set of gradually increasing radii based on airport elevation that was simply too involved to commit to memory. One proposed implementation, described in the minutes from the Aeronautical Charting Forum minutes, would have been put the actual circling radii right there on the approach chart! Imagine that: An excellent idea that, unfortunately, was abandoned.




There is actually plenty of room to put both the airspeeds and radii right there on the plate. Why not?


The final implementation was a classic FAA kludge: Look at the approach chart, notice the  C , refer the terminal procedures front matter to locate the chart to determine how close you need to be to the runway environment while circling-to-land based on an approach category that you've memorized. Luckily, there's a simple solution: Look at approach chart, find the circling minima for your aircraft category, note the minimum visibility on the chart, and stay within that distance from the runway environment while circling. Geez! Circling approaches are hazardous enough. Come on Aeronav, toss us a bone here!


From Hot to Cold ...

While teaching an instrument student recently, I needed to locate a representative chart to illustrate the  C  symbol and expanded circling minima. That's when I noticed something new: A white snowflake symbol on a black background and a temperature. This symbol is not defined in any of the FAA's Aeronautical Chart User's Guides (at least I couldn't find it).



Persevere and you find this NOTAM: Cold Temperature Restricted Airports which explains that if the altimeter in your aircraft does not correct for cold temperature and you're flying into one of the 272 cold temperature restricted airports, you'll need to apply a cold temperature correction on one or more segments of the approach procedure in order to have adequate obstruction clearance. Here the FAA has outdone themselves because you need 3 pieces of disparate information:


  1. The instrument approach chart
  2. ICAO Cold Temperature Error Table (found in the AIM, section 7-2-3)
  3. A copy of the aforementioned NOTAM

Then, near as I can tell, the corrections are actually quite simple ...

  1. Get the surface weather for Truckee
  2. Look up Truckee in the NOTAM to determine which segment(s) of the approach need to be corrected based on the currently reported temperature
  3. Subtract the altitude(s) from the field elevation to determine height above airport (HAA)
  4. Locate the HAA in the top row of the ICAO Cold Temperature Error Table
  5. Find the reported temperature in the left column
  6. Locate the correction (you'll probably have to do a 4-way interpolation if the altitude and temperature fall between the values in the chart)
  7. Add the correction to the affected altitudes on the chart
  8. Round up to the nearest 100 feet
  9. Fly those indicated altitudes instead of the altitudes charted
There are some definite advantages to flying glass panel aircraft, because Garmin tells me that if you fly a G1000 aircraft, then the air data computer will automatically compensate for cold temperatures.

The FAA certainly faces ongoing challenges because when they have to make a change to charted information, they have a large base of "customers" and a lot of existing charts. Still, there's got to be a better way to get information critical to flight into the hands of pilots.

And don't get me started on ADS-B!