Blog History



March 6, 2003

I'm working again--at tiny Detigo Systems in downtown Los Gatos.  The whole read the paper/take a shower/out the door by 8:30/back at dark thing. This morning the Verizon guy put in our phone lines, and soon we should have DSL up and running.  Knock wood. Right now we're just two programmers in a small room with some ideas, cheap furniture, and a huge whiteboard.  A couple of years from now, who knows.

But I still get to fly from time to time, and yesterday I made the solo grand tour, flying to three of the four airports I am legally entitled as a student pilot to land at.  Each leg of the trip went well, but I learned something on each.

First, south 20 nautical miles to Monterey, a class C airport.  It's a challenge for me because class C airports require a lot of radio work--approach, tower, ground, clearance, ground again, tower again,'s more intricate than one would expect for a field that's not that busy.  My radio work was generally good.  Landing to the west at Monterey is interesting because the airport is built next to a ravine--at the edge of runway 28L the ground drops off suddenly a hundred feet or more.  This plays tricks with your depth perception as you look down at the field.  On final I was too low--I had to drag it in with power, and then I waited too long to flare--so I landed fast and hard.  A mediocre landing doesn't qualify as a mistake in my book. Landing is about 95% feel and I am still learning the ropes.

Then it was on to Frazier Lake, a grass field a little north of Hollister, tracking a direct course with my GPS.  This time, I was high on final but made it down softly with full flaps.  If I had to critique my performance at Frazier Lake, it would have been the takeoff.  Soft field technique requires that you get the plane airborne early, then fly along in ground effect, maybe 10 feet above the ground, until you accelerate to the speed needed to climb normally.  I flew out of ground effect too soon--like a mediocre landing, it's easy to do. Then it took longer than I expected to get to the normal climb airspeed, and more importantly, climb rate.  Interesting.  I've read about this very situation in accident reports.  Also, the other three planes I saw there either didn't have radios or weren't using them.  That's a little unnerving.

The last stop was Salinas Muni, a class D airport with exactly one controller to talk to.  This is more my speed. After checking in, the guy tells me to report a "4 mile left base to runway 13."   It took a couple of minutes to fully comprehend what he was telling me, but I got down.  I was neither too high or too low on this approach.

Another lesson from yesterday--watch that fuel.  This was the first flight I've made where fuel was even a minor issue.  Normally I fly a 1-2 hour training mission with a generous 4.75 hours of gas on board.  Yesterday when I departed Watsonville the plane had 2.5 hours of fuel, maybe a smidgen less, and running out was possible, had I been up there having fun and not paying attention.  I didn't forget, but with 1.6 hours logged on the Hobbs, got a taste of running out of gas paranoia.  It didn't taste good.

February 22, 2003

Watsonville to Turlock and back.  This 63 nautical mile mission seemed simple enough when I sat down with my charts, plotter, and E6B Thursday night to lay out a course.  But actually flying to Turlock Municipal Airport yesterday afternoon turned ugly.  In three words, I got lost.  A day later I have the perspective to analyze what went wrong.


The Salinas VOR--the lynchpin of my plan--isn't usable in the Central Valley.  Too many mountains between you and it.  The worst thing is that I suspected this might be the case as I was planning the flight.


Without a radial to track, you must maintain precise compass headings.  I didn't--especially at first when I was learning that the SNS VOR wasn't available.


You must keep accurate timings over checkpoints so you know how fast you are going, so that you can predict where you will be in M minutes on heading H.


Small airports make terrible landmarks.  They look obvious on the map, but some are nearly invisible from the air.  If you spend too long looking for a landmark and don't see it, precise navigation is doomed.


The world looks different from the air, and the map isn't as much help as you'd think.  Modesto and Turlock and Merced look surprisingly similar in the hazy air.


You can't land if you haven't found your destination airport.  I lost altitude as we got "close to the airport," having not yet seen Turlock Muni out the window. The lower you are, the harder it will be to find.


Once lost, it didn't occur to me to execute the 5C's--Confess, Communicate, Circle, Climb, Comply...

Better planning and precise execution, that's what I need.  And/or a GPS on the yoke. (Just kidding, Shawn!)

February 14, 2003

I passed my written test Wednesday down at Ocean Air. The PC-based test setup there, apparently blessed by the FAA, is directly out of 1989: It's a white-on-black character mode app, ad-hoc downloads via a 19.2 KB modem, 13" display--with a mouse.  It was like running Sidekick Plus or something.  Yeehaw. But I passed, thanks largely to John and Martha King and their excellent training materials. Now I can forget everything I know about ADF gear and the Savannah VOR.

Today I went up solo for an hour.  The ceiling was too low to do much of anything except pattern work, but I did learn a couple of things.  First off, when you slip to a landing, watch that airspeed.  You may be close to the ground and headed for the numbers, but if you're doing 85 knots when you get there, that's not so good.  My second lesson was more general.  After one lap, I took my new Garmin 196 GPS out of the bag and put it on the dashboard.  In spite of myself, I spent so much time watching the thing that my next pattern was terrible.  I was a good 1/4 to 1/2 mile farther from the airport on the downwind leg than I should have been, so I turned base early and suddenly realized that I was high, high, high.  Were it not for the tremendous "get-downability" of a Cessna 172 with 40 degrees of flaps out, I would not have made it to the ground.  Moral: Pay attention to what matters--flying the plane.

February 10, 2003

The flying is getting interesting now as we head for the home stretch.  Today I flew my solo cross-country--95 nautical miles to Paso Robles with three full stop landings at Salinas thrown in on the way back. The flight was uneventful--two hours of droning a few thousand feet above the Salinas Valley, watching the hazy countryside pass under the wing struts.  The Paso Robles airport was pleasantly deserted, with pleasantly calm winds.  Pick a runway, any runway.

Allow me some light fellow pilot bashing.  Today I had finished my pre-flight runup at the appropriate spot of blacktop near the departure end of runway 20.   A King Air (big turboprop) went by just as I was finishing up and took the runway--as he should have; he's not the problem in this story.  I then taxied up to the hold short line, ready to go.   A Cessna Citation (light jet)  comes up behind me, and slips around to my right. Now we're both at the hold short line.  I'm waiting for the King Air to leave the ground, when the impatient Citation pilot, who is clearly behind me in line, has the gall to ask on the radio if I am ready to go. Implying that if I wasn't, he was.  It's obvious as hell that I'm next and that I'm ready to go.  I've been holding short for all of 30 seconds, waiting for a plane to leave the runway.  I should have hit him with some biting sarcasm, but I didn't--just told him, "Yep, we're going right now."

February 8, 2003

Last night Shawn and I flew to Oakland.  At night.  In the dark.  It was 40 exciting minutes descending into the huge bowl of lights that surround black San Francisco Bay on three sides.  A couple of things could've gone better.  My radio work was shaky, and it didn't help that our transponder didn't work as we crossed the stream of jets on final to San Jose airport.  But we made it, staying roughly west of the hills and east of first Highway 101 and then 880, as we made our way north to Oakland.  10 miles out we were cleared to land, runway 27 right.  There's a VOR at the field, so if you load that frequency into the nav radio and tune the 270 degree radial, it will lead you right to the runway.  Sweet. My very first night landing went well, and 5 minutes later we were parked next to a King Air at Kaiser Jet Center--sort of a rich man's truck stop.

The most eventful event of the evening came when we tried to fire up the engine to head back.  It wouldn't turn over--apparently, a dead battery (probably a marginal battery pushed below the limit by the cool temperatures).  I figured we'd have to get a jump from the Kaiser guys--but no, Shawn hops out of the plane and starts to hand prop it.  I sat there with my hand on the throttle and feet on the brakes, and after five minutes of trying, I had our chances for success at about 0.1%.  But on the 20th crank or so, the engine fired and soon we were on our way.  Going home I did a better job on the radio, but still missed calls telling us important stuff, like do we see the 737 heading for us 7 miles out at ten o'clock? 

After climbing up and over the Santa Cruz mountains that separate the Santa Clara valley from the coast, I flew a five mile final back into Watsonville's runway 20, losing 4000 feet in the process for my second night landing.  The airport was dark, quiet, and cold.  Packing up my stuff and locking up the plane took all the organization I could muster.

Summary: At night, you have to work even harder to stay organized and ahead of things.  The cockpit is dark and you can't see your notes, maps, pens, or... flashlight.

February 5, 2003

More flying adventures...  We've been having exceptional (read dry and sunny) weather around here lately.  Today Shawn and I did short field work at probably the sorriest excuse for an airfield in the western world, a rutted, 2000' dirt strip known as Monterey Bay Academy.  From there we went to San Jose airport--a busy class C airport half an hour to the north.   Talk about about your studies in contrast.  It was wild to hear American and Northwest pilots talking to the same controllers as yours truly.

As if you didn't know, today is National Letter of Intent day, when high school footballers commit to their respective colleges.  Lance Smith, Alex's kid (OT-TE, 6-3, 260 and growing) signed with East Texas Baptist University of Marshall, Texas.  Way to go, Lance.

January 30, 2003

Yesterday I flew my first cross-country, from Watsonville to Paso Robles.  Before leaving the ground I got weather briefings online and over the phone from a helpful guy named Joe, and painstakingly filled out flight planning forms. We had a good tailwind going down and covered the 110 miles in maybe 50 minutes.  Except for a little confusion figuring out what runway to setup for, the flight went well.  (Limp windsocks are hard to interpret from 2000 feet up.)  We navigated along two VOR radials and flew at a relatively high 5500 feet.

Coming back, we flew lower to stay out of the wind and kept basically to Highway 101, flying over the various Salinas Valley towns like Greenfield and King City.  There's a big military base and oilfield down there you never sense from the road.  Also, you get a good look at Soledad Prison.  We overflew Salinas airport and soon were back in familiar country.  I made a nice nose-high landing on Watsonville's runway 20--2.6 hours on the Hobbs and another milestone notched.

January 16, 2003

I am driven to comment on the sad news that one of my idols, guitar god Pete Townshend, has been arrested for possessing child pornography.  Say it ain't so, Pete!  This intelligent, gifted man has brought a lot to the world and to me, personally, but I don't buy his alibi that he was doing research on child abuse that may have happened to him "when he was 5 to 6 and a half."  Pete--feed your good dog, not the bad one.  The one you choose to feed gets stronger.

On a lighter, but still unhappy note, the 49er organization saw fit to fire one of the NFL's best young coaches.  All Steve Mariucci did was take a salary cap-crippled 4-12 team to the playoffs twice within four years.  He'll be appreciated five years from now after his successor starts losing eight games a year with the very average talent on the team.

I flew today--Watsonville to the Marina airport.  I didn't land because the cross wind was gnarly and the air was damn choppy in the pattern--and I wasn't going to do anything there other than take off immediately.  So I headed west and north, up past Santa Cruz to Scotts Valley and then over the Bonny Doon ridge. I saw the little private airport on Empire Grade up there in the trees.  I came down over Davenport and then flew down the coast back to the barn.  The winds were favoring runway 8, so I got a little practice seeing the airport from that vantage point. 1.6 hours on the Hobbs meter.  Tomorrow Shawn and I will do a cross-country.

December 10, 2002

Last night I met Alanis Morissette in Los Angeles at the premiere for her Feast on Scraps DVD. All I had to do was cough up $560 for two tickets.  I flew down in the afternoon on a mostly-empty Southwest flight from San Jose (boy, it's great traveling on empty planes).  My bargain car rental was a brand-new Suzuki, of all things, and it took thirty minutes to drive to the Silent Movie theater in West Hollywood. 

As usual, I was titanically early--I got there at 5:30 and they didn't let us in until around 7:00.  But I was chatting with other fans and the time went quickly. 

Cinnamon Girl   While waiting in line I got the idea to give her the Neil Young biography I had been reading on the plane.  Sort of a prop in case I couldn't think of anything to say when the time came to meet her.  (The book was in good shape and could pass for new.)  Hey, dig the parallels between Neil Young and Alanis Morissette: Both are Canadian; both moved to Southern California in their early twenties to find success in American rock and roll. Both favor spontaneity and groove over studio perfection.  Neither is reluctant to speak out on political and music industry issues. And needless to say, both are all-time favorites.  Maybe she'll find something interesting there.

They formed us into two lines outside the theater--about 30 fans who'd won passes from an LA radio station, and another 30 of us who'd won the tickets at auction. Eventually they opened the doors and we filed through through the small theater into a outdoor patio at the back where they were serving drinks and (very little) food. Most of the current band was back there (but not Alanis). After a half hour of mingling, we were lined up again. First the radio pass people went up to meet Alanis. After 15 minutes or so, it was our turn.

A road manager-type led our group (pushy Charlie, first in line) up a narrow stairway from the concession stand to a reception room--grand piano, food laid out--and Alanis--standing right there, looking taller and thinner than I expected. The remains of the last group were still waiting to talk to her, but after a minute or two, it was my turn--I can't really even remember what I said--I gave her that book--she laid it on the couch behind her. She said something like, "Oh, I've been wanting to read that..." I gushed a little about how much I liked her music, and I thought my time was up so started to walk away. But the road manager noticed the camera in my hand and asked if I wanted to take a picture. You bet!  For the next 10 minutes I sat in a chair and watched her meet the rest of the folks... Sigh...

Soon we were back down in the theater. Michelle, the nice girl from Bakersfield who had bought my extra ticket, saved a seat for me on the front row. A Maverick guy spoke quickly, then introduced a woman from the Women's Rights group that was benefiting from the event--a striking, thin Indian woman. Then Alanis came down the aisle and talked for a couple of minutes about the DVD--thanked lots of people, most of whom were there--rounds of applause. Then she ducked off the stage and the lights went down and FOS began.  I had a plane to catch, and can watch FOS anytime, so I hit the road. 

The flight back was also pleasantly and I made it from SJC to the house in thirty minutes.  That's got to be a record.

November 20, 2002

My Blog is turning into Diary of a Young Pilot.  Today's lesson was humbling.  The seemingly innocent mission: fly the 20 miles from Watsonville to Salinas--the birthplace of John Steinbeck and home to a towered airport.  But it wasn't that simple.  First Shawn asked if I minded if we gave Bob and Robin a lift down there.  I said sure, it won't bother me.  Wrong answer. Shawn had  me work the weight and balance numbers with these two big guys in the back seat.  Ahah!  Couldn't safely fly with that much weight in our fully fueled 172.  By a long shot.  Then he asked me to plot a course down to Salinas.  I picked a strange, but workable route that followed Hwy 129 through the pass to Hwy 101, then turn and follow 101 down to Salinas. 

Soon we were airborne and the error-fest began in earnest.

We tuned in the ATIS frequency for Salinas and listened about 10 times to the message.  The guy talked fast and I wasn't getting anything.  Plus I hadn't dug out the frequencies from the map while we were on the ground and gotten them dialed into the radios in advance. We leveled out at 2000 feet, one of the few operations I did pretty well.  I had no pen and spent too much time listening to the message instead of doing it carefully once and writing down what I'd heard.

Then, right about where I should have made the turn to follow 101 south, I became convinced that I could already see Salinas out beyond the nose, and kept flying east.  Shawn correctly let me do this.  Eventually I realized that the city I was flying towards was Hollister--and Salinas was nowhere in sight.  Cities of 50,000 people, you'd think, would be easily visible from an airplane 2000 feet up and maybe 5 miles away.  But not necessarily--not on the hilly California coast.

Salinas was tucked in behind 3000 foot Fremont Peak. So as we backtracked, Shawn taught me the five C's of navigation mistake handling: Confess (to yourself) that you are lost.  Circle so you don't go farther in what is potentially the wrong direction.  Climb, so you can see better and your radios will work better.  Communicate: ask for help.  Fifth C: Can't remember.

Eventually Salinas and its airport appeared and I stumbled through my first call to an air traffic controller.  We basically did a six mile final directly in to runway 13.  I was high.  I started putting out flaps and Shawn shouts, "Airspeed!  Careful!"  We were going about 100 knots--too fast to put out the flaps--the wind can rip them right off the plane.  Not good.  By the time I slowed down, a go-around was in order.  We made right traffic back to 13, and this time I got it down.

Nothing too gross happened the rest of the way, although a crosswind had come up back at Watsonville and I was blown right of the centerline a good bit during my too-high flare--thank goodness for wide runways.  But I learned:


Prepare, prepare, prepare.  Pick a good route.  Understand the compass headings and times it will take to get there.  Know the runways and frequencies at the airport you're headed to.  Have the radios ready before you leave the ground. Stay ahead of things.


Watch your heading and stick to the plan.  From the air, things may not look like you expect--but it may be your expectations that are wrong.


Practice that tower-speak.


Don't put out flaps until you're in the white arc. Important!


Keep the plane in the middle of the runway, cross-wind or no.  Don't drift.


Flying is tough.  Just because you've soloed, you're not Chuck Yeager yet.

November 18, 2002

"Watsonville Traffic, Cessna 435 is taking two-zero for right crosswind departure." I flew again this afternoon--my third solo flight.  This time Shawn let out the leash a bit and let me fly the exciting and beautiful 15 miles to Santa Cruz and back.  I put my mini-camcorder on the dash and recorded the action.  See it here.  It's not edited and will take a while to download.

November 14, 2002

Yesterday was a damn good day.  At approximately 1:00 PM, I soloed for the first time--three perfect takeoffs and landings at Watsonville Airport with no one in the plane except me.  On that first downwind leg, looking down at the perfect little airport, I felt... exhilarated. Once back on the ground at United Flight, there was high-fiving, pictures, and the traditional t-shirt cutting.  I be a pilot!  And if that wasn't enough, that afternoon we hosted an early Thanksgiving meal.  Guests: Dad and Mary; Roger, Julie, Milli, and Geneva Schlafly; Pat Kittle and Linda Broadman, and the great Arthur Carroll.  It was the full 2500 calorie deal: the good dishes, huge turkey, massive bowl of mashed potatoes, three types of stuffing, gravy, rolls, fresh pies, yada yada yada.

November 7, 2002

Our first winter rain has arrived, right on schedule.  I'm still waiting for the magic words from my flight instructor: "Pull over and let me out. You're ready to solo."   I'm close--I just need some better rudder work 10 feet from the ground in the last few seconds of landing.  It's tough to learn those last few seconds because each landing takes 10 minutes to set up.

October 28, 2002

October is fleeting.  They caught the jackass DC snipers.  Some super crooks they turned out to be--a homeless guy and a teenaged illegal alien sleeping in a borrowed 1990 Chevy Caprice. 

The Giants went down in seven games.  Thanks for the excitement, guys.  They went a lot farther than I thought they would.

October 21, 2002

A new coat of paint for the old web site!

Now, on to my flash memory standards rant.  In the last three years, I've owned four flash memory devices, and so far, they've all taken a different format.  My old Olympus digital camera used Smart Media.   The Canon PowerShot prefers Compact Flash.  The Sony digital voice recorder Arthur brought me back from Japan, Memory Stick.  And my new Panasonic digital camcorder requires Secure Digital.  Don't they have phones in Japan?  Can't Mr. Sony call Mr. Canon on the phone and agree on  a standard?  It'd be more of a problem if prices weren't falling so fast.  Who needs an old 8 MB card when 128 MB is going for sixty bucks?

October 18, 2002

A good day today.  At today's flying lesson, my instructor Shawn Kelly let me land the plane a few times.  I was too busy flying to verify this, but he claims that he never touched the controls on two of the landings--so I appear to be making progress.  Video of Shawn shot post-lesson with my new toy, the tiny Panasonic SV-AV10 solid state camcorder, here.

On the way home from the airport, I stopped by the local cable TV company office and picked up a cable box.   Within ten minutes of getting home, amazingly, everything worked and it looks like I will get to see tonight's Alanis pay-per-view concert at 6:00.   Life is good when things work.

October 14, 2002

I'm back from a weekend visit to Houston.  I watched from the 50 yard line as tight end Lance Smith and his Deer Park High School teammates whipped formerly undefeated Pasadena 30-12.  Way to go, Lance!  (His mom Wanda works for Continental Airlines, and arranged for me to fly in on a buddy pass.  It's amazing how pleasant air travel can be when the flight is free.  Even the food tastes better.)

Speaking of football, this season West Texas sports authority Dr. Scott Starks and I are picking selected NFL and college games against the spread.  After yesterday's games my record stands at a gaudy 19-9-2.   Had I been betting actual money, which I'm not, a starting stake of $100 would have morphed into $145.  Or, somewhat more impressively, $1,000,000 into $1,450,000, and I'm paying cash for a brand-new Cirrus SR-22.

October 2, 2002

It's birthday month.  My mother, father, grandfather, brother, niece, and yours truly all entered this life in the last half of Festive October.  

A less happy note: The need for reading glasses has been slowly creeping up on me the last few years.  This morning, I made sure I had a pair on my head before I went down to read the morning paper.  I don't need them for reading all the time--just smallish print when the light isn't good.   I could probably install a 500 watt bulb over the kitchen table and get by for another year.

September 26, 2002

As mentioned earlier, I'm learning how to fly.  And I've already learned that a scheduled flying lesson has only a 40-50% chance of happening.   Reserved aircraft are mysteriously missing.  The flight instructor has a family emergency.  Or most commonly, it is too damn foggy to fly. 

This has been a gray September. Today the sun never came out, and yesterday's 3:30 lesson was cancelled at 3:32 when the first wispy foglets began to move over the Watsonville Airport.  Arrrrgghhh!

My golf game is faring better.  After suffering multiple humiliations this spring and summer, I have given myself over to building a brand new swing.  I've hitched my dreams to a slim $22 paperback: "The Keys to the Effortless Golf Swing: Curing Your Hit Impulse in Seven Simple Lessons."  I am getting some leg action and shoulder turn that just wasn't there before, and the results are already showing.  It's shocking how far and straight you can hit a golf ball once you stop trying to kill it with your arms and hands. Look out, high 70s!

I almost forgot to mention: Robbin and I went to an Alanis Morissette concert in beautiful Santa Barbara Sunday the 22. 

September 11, 2002

One year ago today, the phone rang early in the morning.  It was Alex from Houston.  "Go turn on the TV," my friend said. "Just go turn on the TV.  Now."  Groggy, I settled in front of the small set in Robbin's office and within minutes saw the second WTC tower hit, live.  It was unthinkable, unreal, amazing, one of those every-ten-year things like hearing that we were bombing Iraq, or that John Lennon had been shot in front of his apartment building.  In repeated slow motion replays, the huge airliner was seemingly absorbed into the lattice of the tower without a trace, like it had flown into jello--only to burst out in a cinematic fireball a heartbeat later on the opposite side.  

Thinking I had seen it all, that the fires would soon burn out, I went down to the kitchen for breakfast.  Minutes later, Arthur called and said that one of the towers had fallen down.  Impossible, I thought.  Those buildings are steel--they can't collapse.   Back to the TV and the dismaying sight of the huge silver and white columns yielding their hard-won space in the sky with surreal slowness,  collapsing into the mother of all dust clouds.

September 6, 2002

I'm taking flying lessons again down at Watsonville airport.   Two days ago I flew around Santa Cruz county for 1.1 hours in a 30 year old Cessna 152.  It's exhilarating and a little scary, but this time I mean to see it through.  It's nothing like flying Microsoft Flight Simulator.  Nothing.

August 29, 2002

I played golf this morning.  Only nine holes, and only Valley Gardens, but still...  It was fun!  I hit the ball straight and far.  I chipped and putted with confidence.  I had three tap-in pars and a birdie.  Look out golf world:  I'm back.

Tech note:  In an effort to conserve disk space on the third-party server that hosts,  I've moved some files to my home machine--for now, only the larger jpegs that appear when you click a thumbnail in one of the galleries.  The ramifications of this change are as follows:  Pictures that have been relocated will download more slowly, as I have limited bandwidth.  Images will not appear at all if the home server is turned off or has connectivity problems.  On the other hand, I am no longer bumping up against the 100 MB limit that my web hosting fee buys me at  The new limit is more like 60 GB, a number  I don't figure to challenge anytime soon.

August 6, 2002

The pictures from Portage Lake are up.  Check them out here. 

Got back yesterday from four days at Lake Tahoe.   Rode the new Heavenly Gondola over my hotel's pool all the way to moonlike rocky desolation  (looks better during the winter).  Hiked the Desolation Wilderness.  Casino crawled.  Gambled.  And lost.  Saw a great  Heart concert.   Ate too much.   Side trip to Reno. 

July 31, 2002

Our last day in town before the summer's third trip, a long weekend jaunt to Lake Tahoe.  Robbin and I will rendezvous with Dr. Scott Starks on Friday and presumably have a grand old time gambling, boating, and who knows what all.  Today I have some oil to change and that makes today a relatively busy day for me.

I'm still working on the Maine trip pictures.  Stay tuned.



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