Coconut Headphones.

My friend and coworker Justin turned me on to this interesting article about why Agile might  be failing and how in many cases it has become a “cargo cult“.  I wasn’t familiar with cargo cults; they are a fascinating artifact of what comes from insufficient situational awareness and understanding.

It’s interesting to me that before agile; many people believed that if they just followed the Rational Unified Process and did use cases, UML static state diagrams and activity diagrams for the whole system, the result would be that magically, high quality scalable and maintainable software would descend from the heavens, and it would meet all the requirements they hadn’t thought of yet.

Unfortunately it’s not quite that easy.

Incrementalists and Completionists.

My good friend Justin sent me this article insightful article titled “Incrementalists vs Completionists“.  This seems to neatly highlight one of the ways that smart people can end up disagreeing about the next steps in a situation.  I recognise a little of both traits in myself, and it also relates to the “Perfect is the enemy of the good” aphorism.

Surprise Wrenching Visitor! The Tesla Model S

Occasionally, something truly special happens at wrenching.  Last Tuesday night, a new wrencher who works for Tesla stopped by with a prototype Model S, and proceeded give a couple of test rides and let us crawl all over it.Tesla Model S Prototype @ Wrenching.  Photo courtesy of Telstar Logistics. I’ve gotten more interested in electric cars recently, so I was curious to see if it was any good.

From the outside the S is a decent looking car.  It has gynormous wheels – this model had 21″ rims.  I don’t really buy into the enormous wheel thing, but hey! Whatever floats your boat.  It looks like a modern luxury car.  It’s proportions are similar to a 5 or 7 series, but it has a slightly longer wheelbase.

Getting into the car you already get the idea you’re looking into the future.   It’s got futuristic gadgety door handles which will probably be expensive/difficult to replace when they go wrong. When you get in to the car, it’s still a car, but the floor is mostly flat because there’s no drivetrain underneath, which is nice.  The cabin is spacious, modern and inviting.  The 17″ flat panel multi-function touch screen in the center of the dash jumps out at you, as does the flat panel guage cluster.

Ergonomists may point out that touchscreens in cars are suboptimal because you have to look at them to know what button you are pushing.  I’ve spent some time using non-touch complex avionics controlled by buttons and knobs, and I’m not convinced this is any easier for a complex system, although cars are a different ballgame than aircraft; where you can safely bring your eyes into the cockpit for a few seconds without fear of beaning a cyclist.  I suppose we will learn fast weather this is a good idea or not.

When you’re ready to move, the S takes of effortlessly and silently.  The model we rode in is the less powerful one which produces around 300 Nm of torque; or about 220 foot pounds.  This is enough to propel the car to 60 in under 6 seconds.  There a little whooshy whiny noise when this is going on, apparently caused by the motor consuming around 900 mind-boggling amps of alternating current, but it’s not loud; perhaps just awesome.  The result is the same as doing the same in a gasoline powered car: grins all around.  The ride is smooth, the tires sticky and it takes corners certainly as well as my BMW 3 series, and possibly a little better.  Getting on the 101 was just as much fun as it is in my Subaru Turbo, and we were comfortably able to dart around traffic in adolescent fashion.  The pull of the motor is strong, and it feels good to keep pushing it at every opportunity.

The car we rode in had been charged in Palo Alto and then driven up to the city, and had picked up an additional person on the way to my house.  The computer said it had about 180 miles of charge left in it after the second ride of the evening.  I might expect only a further 140 or so, but even so, this is a solidly respectable range, and would be more than enough for the vast majority of my driving, especially given that it would be fully charged every morning.

One thing that did surprise me is that, like the humble Porsche 914, the S has 2 trunks; front and rear.  The lack of hazardous emissions means this is a perfect place to store the kids*; allowing for quiet transportation with minimal fighting.  In seriousness; there is an option for a rear-facing seat in the rear trunk, which would allow the transport of 7 people, which makes the S extremely practical.

All in all, I was extremely impressed with the car.  It’s clear that with a little improvement in battery tech, this is exactly the future; and it will be better in every way.  We’ll give up the noise, smell and unreliability of gas engines; but motors, power and driving still have character and evoke emotion.

(Hat tip to Telstar Logistics for pictures.)
(*No, I do not transport my children in the trunk, and you shouldn’t either.)

Apple’s tiny iPhone charger is well engineered.

I pay more for Apple products because I believe they are designed and produced to a higher quality level than most other products.  My experience using them seems to support this.

Ken Shirriff has done a nice investigation into the iPhone charger, and found that it is, indeed a high quality piece of kit.  Check it out….

The Potrero Tunnel

Whilst trying to find a 4yr olds birthday party on Google Maps recently, I was telling a coworker how amazingly awesome Google Maps is when I noticed this strange diagonal line that goes through Potrero hill. I know there are train tracks at the bottom of Potrero, but never really though about where they went to.

It turns out there was once a tunnel underneath Potrero Hill; which collapsed in 1960. E writes in a blog comment:

The tunnel you’re describing under Potrero Hill was originally dug by the Ocean Shore Railroad in the early 1900’s. When the Ocean Shore went bankrupt in the early 1920’s the Western Pacific inherited the tunnel and some of its industrial trackage. In the early 1960’s the tunnel under Potrero Hill caught fire and burned. The fire caused parts of Potrero Hill to cave in and pictures of sinkholes caused by the collapsing tunnel can be viewed on the San Francisco Public Library’s website. In the early 1990’s a new building was constructed on 18th st between Deharo and Arkansas. Prior to this buildings construction an empty lot with rails leading into the hill marked the location of one of the tunnels sealed entrances. A newer patch of pavement leading straight into this newer building can still be seen on 18th st directly in front of it. This marks the location of the tracks leading to the tunnel. The other side of the tunnel is on Private property and cannot be viewed or accessed.

Pics are excerpted from Google Maps and copyrighted as such. The first shows fairly clearly the path of where the tunnel used to be. The second shows a train still hiding at the base of Potrero.

In researching this blog post I also learned about another arterial railroad into the city and the cause of many of our oddly shaped buildings in this excellent peice of imagery. (Big image, but worth examining)

It’s amazing how much history is right under our noses.

Adolf Gasser – The Photography Company

At some point; I think it was the trip back from Alcatraz; I managed to get dirt on the sensor of the DSLR camera. I headed to the largest camera store in town to try and get it cleaned maybe only a year after this happened expecting a $300 fee and maybe just to be told that nobody did that anymore.

On the contrary, Scott in the repair department at Adolf Gasser was extremely helpful, and I was able to pay about $45 for a sensor cleaning, since I didn’t need it done in a hurry (you can pay more for faster, which is an excellent pricing model IMHO). They also were able to handle getting Susan’s compact sony camera fixed; which had a broken sensor and a dented and slightly crooked lens fixture. I’m a very happy customer – we got both things done and we were ready to write off the compact.

I had to ask Scott about the name “Adolf Gasser”; turns out the business is named after it’s founder, who unfortunately passed away about 2 years ago. The store started out as a toy repair store before Adolf’s good friend (and best man) Ansel Adams persuaded him that there was a gap in the market for camera repair, which apparently was a good call on Mr Adams part since the business still seems to be doing well. I’m told there is an original Ansel Adams print in Adolf’s son’s office, who now runs the company.

I’m told Mr Gasser also prepared the cameras in the Enola Gay that took the pictures of the bombs that were dropped on Japan in WWII.

Scott spoke very fondly of Mr Gasser and told me they would call his wife when he left work in the evening since he looked like Mr Magoo driving his Chrylser back to Marin in the evenings to make sure he got home alright. He worked right up to the end of his life; and it’s confirmed was named well before WWII. He’s missed; and I kind of wish I’d been able to meet him too.

Long Solo Cross-Country Flight

Yesterday I finally managed to do my long solo cross country flight. It went pretty well. I was planning to fly to Los Banos, Castle, Modesto and then back. The wind at Los Banos was 12 gusting to 18 knots which is beyond my solo limitations; so I skipped that and flew direct to Castle. The handoff from NorCal to Castle went well; I’m getting better at spotting airports from the air; which is helpful :). The landing at Castle was uneventful; I taxied to transient parking, shutdown the plane and headed in for the bathroom. It’s a quick hop to Modesto from Castle, and then a longer flight back to Palo Alto. All in all – everything went smoothly and I’m pretty happy with how I was able to handle the flight.

Photos! (entire album is here)

Monterey Peninsula

Unusual Attitudes?

Castle Airport – Made it!

Mount Diablo from the South East

Altamont Raceway
Altamont Raceway

Why the BMW sits low on one side.

I always wondered why the BMW sits slightly lower on one side than on the other. I thought it might be years of sitting lop sided because of the fact that the handbrake only grips on one side. It’s caused the fender liner to get all torn up as well (I thought this was because of me driving over those annoying concrete things in parking spaces….

It turns out there is an explanation….

The spring has snapped. Damned Previous Owners!!

The truly annoying thing is that I’ve had both the BMW dealership and a tire/alignment shop examine the car to look for exactly this kind of thing, and neither of them found it. I’ll be ordering springs today :).

Learning to Fly & First Solo.

After flying with Hans back in January – I quickly got to thinking about how cool it was to fly, and how accessible it was to do so. I had tinkered with flight simulators a lot when I was a kid, but I always just assumed it would be utterly unthinkable to actually consider flying a real airplane.
It turns out that learning to fly is not cheap, but it is doable. Since it takes a while to learn, the cost can also be spread over a few months. There are various numbers out there, but think about between $10k to $20k to obtain a private pilot license at the current time. I also live in the San Francisco Bay Area, which increases the cost some.

The first thing I did was to figure out which of my friends had any contact with the aviation community and find a good instructor. I had worked at Viant after Vance Cochrane was there. Vance recommended Dominique Marais as an instructor at West Valley Flying Club – so I took a discovery flight with her in an old Cessna 172. Since I wanted to broaden my horizons a little, I also took a discovery flight with Tim Stingle in a Diamond Katana. My flight with Tim was much more intense than the flight with Dominique, as he took more of a “drop you in the deep end” kind of approach, plus the Katana is really a very light and maneuverable plane. I like the variety of planes that West Valley has available, and I think Dominique’s teaching style works better for me – so that’s how that decision was made. In retrospect Diamond Aviation is no longer listing the Katana’s on their site, and I more often fly out of Palo Alto, so I’m very happy with my choice, and Dominique is a great (and patient) teacher and a fun person to be around.

The next issue I ran into was getting a TSA clearance to learn to fly. Since I was still a green card holder when I started my training I first had to get a new UK passport, and then apply to the alien flight student program. You don’t need this for your first “discovery flight” with a flight school, (you can also log your discovery flight, so get your logbook first), but for any subsequent flight training in the air, you need this. I kept my frustration to a minimum by doing a lot of ground study while this was going on.

My early training was thick and fast. The learning curve is steep at the beginning – and there are a lot of things to remember, and new things are introduced almost every lesson. This makes the process very rewarding, and the first time you execute a takeoff, or a steep turn, it is all memorable and fun.

After a few months of training, Dominique felt that I was ready to solo, and my confidence level also started to improve to the point where that was possible. I left it a little late getting my Medical certificate. This was a big mistake. The fact that I am asthmatic meant that I had to go to the hospital for a ~$2000 set of lung tests before I could get my medical certificate. Having done that, I’ll have to have the same batch of tests done again this year, since they only issued me a single year certificate. The delays and issues with getting this done meant that it took about 3 months from start to finish and was quite stressful and difficult to organise.

Having gotten my medical and preparing for the solo phase check; naturally all my skills fell apart in a ball of nervousness and anxiety; so some more time was then spent correcting this.

Finally, on November 2nd, 2007 I did my first solo. 3 laps of the pattern at Palo Alto airport. This was a huge moment for me and I enjoyed it immensely. I’d always messed around with flight simulators on the computer when I was a kid. I never even considered it would be possible to actually learn to fly. I also didn’t expect it to be one of the most rewarding things I’ve done.