Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Go For the Burn(out)

A very busy summer has left me with blogger fatigue and general irritability. I changed my blog template. Didn't help. So I'm going to whinge on for a bit, but I'm including some pretty pictures at the end. You may just want to skip ahead ...

And That's Not All!

AOPA is really annoying me, whining about how the FAA should provide tail-number blocking for wealthy aircraft owners. Business jets make sense for business (Duh! Hence the name!). If business aircraft are so profitable then they don't need tax breaks and accelerated depreciation schedules to make them make business sense. Right?

AOPA keeps sending me solicitations for life insurance, renter's insurance, and the latest - the opportunity to purchase a subscription to their DVD series. Oh, and you can return the DVD or just recycle it. Who do they think they are, National Geographic?

The editorial tone of AOPA Pilot sure has changed. First there is the faux controversy of their Dogfight series where two diametrically opposed writers (or so we're led to believe) disagree with each other about whether pitch controls airspeed or altitude. Yawn! Or a photo spread about aviation tattoos. Very hip and edgey! What's next, aviation piercings?

AOPA members shouldn't be surprised at the changes that have taken place. Just enter the AOPA president's name into a Google search and see what he was doing back in the early 1990's.

See what I mean? Irritable ...

Amazon to the Rescue!

Amazon has cancelled their associates program for residents of California. Why? Because California legislators and the governor passed legislation that requires them to collect sales tax. Being the magnanimous folks they are, the management at Amazon pulled the plug. Okay, fine. Then they turn around and start lobbying California legislators for sales tax amnesty. Hello? Amazon? Did you not read the news about the State's budget hovering around the edge of the porcelain pony? We're trying to have a civilization here!

So I'm no longer an Amazon Associate. I'm all busted up about that ...

No Taxes, No User Fees

I'll be the first to admit that user fees for GA will hurt. I'd hate to see them implemented. On the other hand, a lot of people seem to be in a budget-slashing, anti-government mood. To quote a line from The Right Stuff - "No bucks, no Buck Rogers." The aviation gasoline tax is  apparently not bringing in enough moolah, so something has to give.

Many pilots have multiple personalities when it comes to taxes and government. No one wants to pay, no one want to be regulated, but everyone is upset when local airports can't make ends meet. Do they think runways, taxiways, control towers, ATC salaries and FBO facilities simply appear out of thin air? Where will the funds for the much vaunted NextGen come from? Maybe AOPA can donate proceeds from one of the marketing promotions ...

NOTAM Madness

There are a bunch of NOTAMs for my local airport due to a bunch of construction projects and the cranes and equipments associated with same. While trying to explain the NOTAM system to a student pilot recently, he had an epiphany: "The trick to NOTAMs is knowing which ones to ignore." Leave it to a neophyte to come up with the good insights.

The NOTAM system has been changed so that it is supposedly easier to wade through, but the almost indecipherable content of each NOTAM remains maddeningly the same. Dates and times in the most foreign format imaginable. Contractions and abbreviations that make normal human beings cringe. And mind-numbing legal boilerplate makes it seem like the FAA and TSA actually want someone to bust a TFR.

Comment Etiquette

I've been getting more and more comments that are lame attempts at using my blog for third-party marketing. The comments are usually complimentary, but they contain a link to some site that often has little to do with the post I've written. How very crafty and clever! Folks who post these things need to know that they aren't fooling anyone and their lame links will never see the light of day on this blog.

Some commenters post things when they really want to send me a message. Please, use my email address. It's shown on the right edge of my blog. If you're using a blog reader, you may need to actually visit my blog directly to see it. Please don't comment if you're trying to send me a personal message. Use email, 'K?

If you don't agree with something I written and you want to post a comment, by all means do so. Keep in mind that I have the final say in which comments are published. Comments that I find rude, inflammatory or otherwise piss me off will go to /dev/null. If you don't understand irony, this might not be the place for you and you are hereby advised to avoid reading my blog. If you don't like my ideas, that's fine, too. Don't waste your time with verbal jousting, move on to another blog you like. Or send a letter to the AOPA editors and tell them how much you like arguments about engine leaning and racy photos of tattoos.

At least I'm not irritated when I'm flying.

Now the pretty pictures I promised ...

Alameda Sunset

Another Bay Area Sunset


Odd Valley Stratus for Summertime

Delta Farmland

Slipping the Surly Bonds

More Odd Stratus

Right turn 090, Join V244, Resume Own Nav ...

Montezuma Windmills

More Windmills

Tiny Full Moon (see it?)

Northwest of KNUQ

Sonoma Valley Sunset

Northeast of Eden

Vectors across the Bay

VFR, Kinda, Sorta ...

Contact Norcal Departure ...

Salt Ponds and Stratus

Again with the Salt Ponds?

San Pablo Bay at Sunset

Guess Where?

Short final, KHAF RNAV RWY 12

Again with the marine layer?

Surreal Delta Light

Alameda Estuary at Sunset

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Captain Snarky

Don't Use for Navigation!

The mainstream aviation press is saying good things about Jeppesen Mobile FD, but I'm not sure where to start. As a long-time Jeppesen customer, I've found myself saying things like "Sure Jeppesen products are more expensive and offer fewer features than other iPad EFB solutions, but this is just the first release." Or "Jeppesen has always offered a premium product and heck, some major airlines are planning to use their software on the iPad - That's pretty good." Or "Someday Jeppesen will provide MacOS-based installers, I'm sure of it." Then I remember that one of the goals of blogging is to provide readers with the unvarnished truth. After many hours of using Jeppesen Mobile FD in-flight, here's what I see as the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Bang for the Buck

Let's get this out front, in case you haven't heard: Jeppesen Mobile FD subscriptions are overpriced. Not just a little, waaay overpriced. Currently there is only support for geo-referenced en route charts in Jepp Mobile FD and a subscription covering just California costs about $125 a year. For $150 a year, I get ForeFlight with geo-referenced en route and approach charts for all the areas supported by Aeronav - That's the entire US, Alaska, Puerto Rico, Hawaii and the South Pacific. Add in ForeFlight's weather briefing and flight planning features and it's pretty easy to justify the annual cost.

A fairer comparison to Jeppesen Mobile FD is SkyCharts Pro, which offers only minimal weather features. SkyCharts Pro costs $20 a year for the same US chart coverage as ForeFlight. Compare that to many hundreds of dollars a year for similar Jepp coverage and, well that's just embarrassing.

Jeppesen does provide chart support for many foreign countries, but for US fliers it's hard to justify the cost.

The Good

Jeppesen has nice chart products that are clean and easy to read. Jepp charts provide added value with touches like a wider range of approach speeds and descent or climb rates in feet per minute. Jepp also describes the effects of inoperative equipment right in the minima section, which is very user-friendly.

Don't Use for Navigation!

Jeppesen adds some value, but since Aeronav adopted the briefing strip format a while back, there's not a lot of difference between the two product lines. Jepps don't provide an inset map like the Aeronav charts, which is a huge dis-advantage when conducting a circling approach. Yet pilots get attached to Jepps and find Aeronav charts foreign and clumsy, leading to an argument not unlike North-up versus Track-up or the old pitch/power debate. Whatever ...

Once Jepp Mobile FD is installed, downloading charts seems simple enough if you have a fast network. I'm blessed with a fast ADSL network (you can throw a rock from my front porch and hit the telco's switch building), so the updates seldom take more than a few minutes to install.

The Mobile FD interface has a clean appearance and the chart display is good. There's an easy-to-access screen dimmer, too. There is the issue of landscape format SIDs and STARs, but Aeronav has the same problem.

Jepp Mobile FD's flight planning function lets you specify alternate airports, a great feature and something Garmin has neglected in their GPS flight planning interface for over a decade. And Mobile FD lets you quickly access the terminal procedures for all the airports in your flight plan, something SkyCharts Pro and ForeFlight could learn from.

Wart Factor

The flight planning feature understands most victor airways, with some caveats. If your route includes intersecting victor airways, you must include the intersection that the airways have in common. The flight planner doesn't seem to understand departure or arrival procedures either. Bummer about that.

See the Clear button above the route? Tap on it and you clear not just the route, but all the airports, too! This is dumb for a bunch of obvious reasons. First, said button is located just above route, which leads one to assume that tapping it will clear just the route. Second, the button doesn't say Clear All. Third, there are a bunch of times I'd want to clear a route during the planning stage without blowing away the departure, destination, and alternate airports. Lastly, there is already an X button at the end of each of the airport fields so you can clear them individually. I don't know who is doing Jeppesen's U/I design and usability testing, but they could use some help.

Having spent the better part of my adult life involved in software development, I get the impression that time-to-market pressures overshadowed Jeppesen's QA and acceptance testing. The first version of Mobile FD had more bugs than an Illinois barbecue in June. Subsequent versions have gotten better. The latest version finally offers geo-referencing, but only on en route charts. That's a step in the right direction, but the geo-referencing is clunky and counter-intuitive: You have to tap a button to get Mobile FD to interface with your GPS receiver. All the other iPad EFB software I've used just see that the GPS is there and use it.

Once you've gotten Mobile FD to recognize your iPad's GPS, keep in mind that geo-referencing will be disabled when you display your flight plan. What's up with that? I found that the en route geo-referencing can get ... um ... confused. While supervising an instrument student who was flying a practice DME arc, Mobile FD had some difficulty figuring out which way the aircraft was headed. SkyCharts Pro and ForeFlight had no problem displaying the correct track.

FFM isn't confused ...
SkyCharts Pro isn't confused ...
You're headed the wrong way McFly!

Ugly, Really Ugly

If all this wasn't enough tarnish on the hallowed Jeppesen reputation, here's the capper. Jeppesen Mobile FD's latest chart release contains out-of-date charts for California. That's right. Jeppesen didn't notify me or, to my knowledge, any of their customers. I happened to discover this on my own and had to query them. The two examples I know of (there may be more) are the new RNAV approaches to Petaluma and Willows-Glenn, which replaced the old GPS approaches.

Don't Use for Navigation

Guess we wait until Sept 21?

The new RNAV approaches don't just offer LPV minima that are considerably lower, the fix names and approach courses have changed significantly. Trying to fly one of these approaches with an out-of-date chart could be a serious safety-of-flight issue.

When I emailed Jeppesen's tech support about this, the response was that these approaches would be in the next release. I asked them to verify that Jepp Mobile FD didn't contain all the current charts for California and their response was that the FAA made a large number of changes that overwhelmed Jeppesen's charting division. And for this they charge a premium price?

It's Got to Get Better

I've been a Jeppesen customer for many years, but it keeps getting harder and harder to justify the expense. Buggy software, no MacOS support, and Windows software that can make you want to tear you hair out. I want to like Jeppesen, really I do. It's just not clear that Jeppesen cares about me.