Archive for November, 2006


Yet More Blue Origin Test Flying

Thursday, November 30th, 2006

It looks like Blue Origin is going to conduct another test flight of their ‘New Shepard’ vehicle.

I wish I had the time and money to fly out there and orbit the test site at 10,001 feet, it would sure be interesting to see what they are flying.

Hat tip: Personal Spaceflight


Why Would God Need A Starship Gulfstream?

Thursday, November 30th, 2006

The great theological question of God’s lack of need for Starships (the space kind, not the airplane) has been well covered.

I must confess that in spite of my life long interest in religous studies I had no idea that what God has been wanting all along wasn’t a Starship, it was a Gulfstream IV. And he’ll sell you a model of his airplane for only one thousand dollars!

I also now realize that I’ve been mis-reading one of my favorite Bible verses for years.

It turns out that the New International Version

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”
And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”

should have read:

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”
And I said, “Here am I. Send me in your G-IV!!!!!!!!

I learned about God’s Airplane from a thread on FlightInfo.


I Voted – I Thought

Tuesday, November 21st, 2006

             Photo by ihorner.

As a software developer I’m scared to death of electronic voting machines. I don’t know what it is about government people, but it seems they tend to be suckers whenever some vendor shows up with a handful of magic beans.

Paperless electronic voting machines have a lot of the same problems as civilian unmanned aerial vehciles. They are a bad solution to a non-existant problem.

I’d don’t subscribe to the moonbat “Dibold Steals Elections” school of non-thought. I do subcribe to the “writing software for use by millions of people is very, very , very hard” school. I know how hard it is, because its what I do in my day job. On first glance one might think that voting machine software must be the simplest thing in the world, nothing like so hard as something like Photoshop. But that’s wrong.

Photoshop has an undo. Voting machines don’t. Voting machine software is in the same class as Space Shuttle flight control software! It has to be perfect! In fact, at least the Space Shuttle’s software developers can count on their code be used by trained people. Voting machines have to work perfectly when set up and used by any random person!

A voting machine must be taken out storage, set up by a person of uncertain training, and must operate correctly the first time. There is no ‘undo’. Most of these voting game consoles provide no audit mechanism.

It certainly should be mandatory that all voting machine source code be provided to the customers (i.e. you and me). If you can’t audit the code, you can’t audit the election.

What if an exception is thrown during the voting process? Does that voter get to vote again on another machine?

On election day I chatted with my fellow developer Todd about voting machine software. I think it’s fair to say that both us are very concerned about these closed box paperless ballots.

Todd votes in Travis county, which has gone whole-hog for the unauditable magic box game consoles/voting machines.

I was a little smug when I explained to Todd that I live in Williamson county, a much more conservative place, not given to grabbing the latest new gimcrack being hawked out of a trunk by itinerant salesmen salesmen for the Uneeda Biscuit and Software company.

I was very pleased that I voted on an old fashioned #2 pencil fill in the oval paper ballot. I’m still pleased about it, but apparently I was lucky. It turns out that Williamson county is on the road to game console voting also. And they got bite bigtime:

The Williamson County Elections Department said in a press release Tuesday there was an error with Nov. 7 election results in the number of votes calculated. The press release stated that election results were not altered because of the error.

The problem occurred in the Election Systems & Software (ES&S) software, which tripled the number of electronic votes submitted. The elections department said the same percentage was submitted for Republicans and Democrats, therefore the results were not affected. (Ha! The software has bugs. They have no idea what really happened! – Jim)

Voter sign-in sheets showed that approximately 84,500 people cast ballots, but the computer software that counted both paper and electronic votes recorded more than 91,000 votes.

“We are currently reviewing our process in order to make recommendations to the commissioners court for changes that would prevent this problem from occurring again,” said Debra Stacy, county elections administrator, in the press release.

A second press release said canvassing of the results will be postponed until Nov. 20 at 10 a.m. Some election judges raised questions about the vote counts in the precinct-by-precinct tallies, according to the press release.

“It’s to make sure everyone feels very comfortable with the election results before they’re canvassed,” said Connie Watson, county public information officer.

Hill Country News

This just turns my stomach.

We don’t need electronic voting. File in the circle paper ballots can be recounted. Game console touch screens can’t.

The government pisses away zillions of dollars on all kinds of wasteful pork. It can afford to buy paper to use for ballots!


High Pressure Assignment

Sunday, November 19th, 2006

                  photo by ccgd

I was thinking about performance under pressure. There are few qualities I admire more than the ablity to function under pressure.

I’ve been pretty lucky in my life. I haven’t been in very many pressure situations. In my civilian life I’ve had job interviews, business negoitations, and even have testified in court.

My flying has been pretty much routine, even with 1500 hours in fighters. I had only one serious emergency the whole time I was in the Air Force, and even that wasn’t a super big deal. The problem (asymmetric slats and stuck wings in an EF-111) was well documented in the flight manual, all we had to do is follow the checklists and not screw up. We got a little skosh on fuel when we were denied landing clearance so that the Wing Commander could get out to the field to watch the fun, but it all turned out fine.

I do recall some exciting flights though. I recall one adventure when I was a fairly new Lieutenant Electronic Warfare Officer in the F-4C Wild Weasel . I flew a mission in Exercise Cope Thunder, the Pacific Air Force’s version of the famous Red Flag, then held at Clark Air Base. I was flying with Ken Culbertson, an experienced ‘100 mission’ Viet Nam vet, and the best pilot I’ve ever flown with, before or since.

We were number three in a four ship of Weasels. As always, we would be ‘first in, last out’ in the target area. Our flight lead was also mission commander of the 36 fighters and recce airplanes.

This was a pretty big deal to a young EWO. It became an even bigger deal when our flight lead’s airplane broke in the arming area and Ken and I were elevated to lead to the whole package. This put some pressure on for sure, anything I did wrong would have to be explained in the mass debrief to over a hundred of my peers and bosses.

I confess to feeling some pressure when lead aborted and I was now ‘1 Bravo’ for such a high visibility mission. I didn’t have time to fret much, it was only a matter of about three minutes after lead dropped out before Ken and I took off at the head a 36 ship formation.

After refueling the whole gaggle we started our attack on the bad guy high value target (Crow Valley Range, RP).

We were quickly jumped by Aggressor F-5s, but Ken fought them to a standstill and we escaped alive. Our particular mission was to preemptively launch a simulated Shrike anti-radiation missile at a radar operating next to the target. The desire was to launch the missile about 20 seconds before an RF-4C would overfly the target at low altitude for pre-strike BDA. After that we would ‘Weasel Around’ suppressing SAMs until the strike package cleared the target.

We were a little behind the timeline thanks to the F-5, but we made it up and I recall that just as we pulled up from low altitude to fire the Shrike that I saw the two RF-4Cs down low going the speed of heat towards the target.

I think we had another F-5 engagement before we RTB’d to Clark.

I recall walking out of the Cope Thunder building and practically floating on air. The mission had gone so well, I was replaying in my mind over and over again. I hadn’t screwed up! I was so pleased with myself that I didn’t notice the white topped sedan in the parking lot. Fortunately for the preservation of good order and discipline, the Clark Air Base Wing Commander was sitting in his car, apparently waiting for me to pass by. He jumped out of his car and we had nice little review of military customs and courtesy, which include the need for Lieutenants to salute offical cars with white roofs, least said Lieutenant be smoot by an angry Colonel.

Yes, occasionally there were times I experienced a little pressure back in my service days.

But last week I had an event that far exceeded Cope Thunder, stuck slats, court testimony, or darn near anything else I’d ever done. None of that stuff can hold a candle to being a Wedding Photographer!

I was invited to a wedding of a young couple we are friends with. It wasn’t a large wedding, but I just assumed that there would be a professional still photographer there. I took my Nikon D-50 intending just to experiment a bit. My plan was to follow the pro and just sort of do what he or she did.

As it happened, the professional still photographer never showed up. Fortunately they did have a professional video guy.

Since I had the only digital SLR I was sort of elected to take as many stills as possible. I did the best I could, but I have to say the pressure was overwhelming. This was a once in a lifetime event. If I messed up a shot there would never be a second chance.

I wound up shooting about 80 images, of which maybe 10 are decent. I went through them one by one and enhanced the better ones with Adobe Elements.

If in the future I have a problem in an aircraft, face a hostile lawyer, or confront an angry Colonel I will have an advantage. I can think to myself ‘This could be worse, I could be the Wedding Photographer’!

The whole experience was exhausting.

No more wedding pictures for me. From now on, I leave wedding photography to experienced professionals.


A Victory For Iran & AQ

Saturday, November 11th, 2006


The IraqPudit observes that both Iran and Al Qaeda have proclaimed the Democrat takeover of the house and senate to be “and obvious victory for the Iranian nation”.

I haven’t heard any Democrat respond to these cheers from the people who want to kill as many Americans as possible.

I don’t expect any response from the Democrats, because Democrats won’t face the fact that  Iran and AQ are correct.  A Democrat win is a win for terrorists.


More Bezos Watching

Friday, November 10th, 2006


The Wall Street Journal has a nice write up on Jeff Bezo’s spaceport in West Texas

Even more interesting, a commenter on the Hobbyspace forum notes an interesting notice to airmen from the FAA, informing pilots to avoid “space operations” near Van Horn, Texas:

TX TFR: 11.10.06 - 11.13.06 NOTAM Number: FDC 6/5575
Issue Date: November 07, 2006 at 2:59 UTC
Location: Van Horn, Texas near SALT FLAT VORTAC (SFL)
Beginning Date and Time: November 10, 2006 at 15:00 UTC
Ending Date and Time: November 13, 2006 at 20:00 UTC
Reason for NOTAM: Space Operations Area
Type: Space Operations
Replaced NOTAM(s): N/A
Pilots May Contact: Albuquerque (ZAB) Center, 505-856-4500
Affected Area(s)
Airspace Definition:
TFR Center: 26 nautical miles from SALT FLAT VORTAC(SFL)
on the 127 radial (Latitude: 31o25'15"N, Longitude:
Radius: 5 nautical miles
Altitude: From the surface up to and including 10000 feet
Effective Date(s):
November 10, 2006 at 15:00 UTC - November 13, 2006 at 20:00
Operating Restrictions and Requirements
No pilots may operate an aircraft in the areas covered by this
NOTAM (except as described).
Restrictions are in effect 1500 - 2000 daily for the
period indicated.
Other Information:
ARTCC: ZAB - Albuquerque Center
Authority: Title 14 CFR section 91.143
Depicted TFR data may not be a complete listing. Pilots should not
use the information on this website for flight planning purposes.
For the latest information, call your local Flight Service Station
at 1-800-WX-BRIEF.


The Bezos craft is a vertical takeoff and landing craft, it sounds like they are test flying it.


First Pictures – Van Horn Spaceport

Sunday, November 5th, 2006

Space Blogger ‘Carried Away’ visits Van Horn, Texas and provides the first pictures I’ve seen of the Blue Origin Spaceport.


You Can’t Hate Your Customers – No Matter How Much They Deserve It

Saturday, November 4th, 2006

If you own, manage or work in a business then you know that it is very easy to hate your customers. People can be real jerks at times.

For some reason small shops in resort areas are often very open in their distain for their customers, as seen on the door of this souvenir shop in Sedona, Arizona. What kind of customer experience do you think you’ll experience if you dare to walk through a door marked “NO! NO! NO! NO!” in large black letters?

I see customer hatred showing through in business large and small all the time, but overt customer hate seems to manifest itself more openly in smaller businesses.

If you own or manage a small business you have to strap yourself to the mast, plug your ears, and ignore the siren call to hate your customers.

You probably pay a lot of money for marketing and advertising. If you get a lot of people in your store who want to go to the bathroom, or use their cellphones then maybe you ought to think about accommodating them, rather than putting up a sign that will run some of them off. What’s the point of putting up a sign or buying an ad, only to make the target audience feel uncomfortable if they do venture into your business.

When you think about it objectively, 90 percent of your customers are decent people who just want to get on with their life the same way you do. It’s just that small minority who make you want to go for your Uzi.

What to do to maximize your profit without losing your mind? The secret is to fire the bad customers. When you are interacting with a customer ask yourself if this customer is going to wind up costing you more in time and aggravation than he’ll ever make you in money. It may not be his fault. Maybe your people just got off on the wrong foot with him and the situation is beyond saving.

If the customer is mad the successful business makes a real effort to win back trust. By ‘real effort’ I mean something more than words, like a refund or real discount on future work. Customers who are upset for a real reason will usually calm down when they see you genuinely want to make things right.

If you make a real effort to win over the customer you will still occasionally encounter a customer who just doesn’t want to be won over. It could be there is some subconscious personality conflict that is so deep that nothing rational will ever save the situation. Or it could be that the customer is one of those types who just like to stink up a place.

When you realize that you are getting nowhere it is time to just call it day. Be honest with the problem customer. Tell him or her that you would rather have him happy at a competitor than unhappy with you. Send them to the competitor you know to be the best. Avoid the temptation to send him to the guy you know to be an overpriced crook.

You’ll gain valuable karma. Unless the customer really was a total jerk he or she will, in the fullness of time, realize you did your best for them. Best of all by firing the ‘bad’ customers you’ll have more time and energy for the good ones.


Help Us Mr. Carry!

Wednesday, November 1st, 2006

Hat tip: Charlie Sykes on Free Republic


I’m Back, Bright Eyed, Bushy Tailed!

Wednesday, November 1st, 2006

Well, it has been a very hectic two weeks, but I’m back, bright eyed and bushy tailed.

 I’ve been super busy. Week before last I worked very long hours through the weekend getting some software for our startup done. It was new code, which to a developer means ‘fun code’, but it took some time and concentration.

I had to kind of rush because last week I went to Phoenix along with She Who May Not Be Named for income tax refresher training for our tax preparation business.

It seemed like a great idea, leaving Austin at 6am and getting into Phoenix at 620am. When I scored a cheap first class upgrade I felt like a genius.

Problems started when I worked until almost 9pm the night before departure. I got to bed about 2345 for an 0330 wakeup.

The flight was on time. The seat was comfortable but the service was disappointing. What passes for ‘first class’ service now is far below the economy service of a few years ago. You’d think that in first class you’d at least get a whole can of Coke, but no. You do get a cookie.

Anyway, I didn’t feel too bad when we got to Phoenix. We cleared the airport about 0715 in an Avis provided Pontiac Grand Prix.

This Grand Prix convinced me that General Motors Must Die. I didn’t like the form factor with the low roof and high door sills. I’m not tall, yet the top of my head was only an inch or so from the roof. I suppose some folks like that style of seating, so I can’t totally blame GM.

The thing that broke my heart was the squeak.

Every time I hit the slightest bump in the road there was a cheap plastic on cheap plastic squeak from the dashboard. This on a car with less than 20,000 miles.

In this day and age there is just no excuse for this lack of basic quality. The cheapest Korean cars don’t squeak. My Ford Explorer Sport with 120,000 miles doesn’t squeak. Modern well made cars just don’t squeak, especially when they are almost new.

Every time I hit a bump this pathetic excuse for a car just screamed “We don’t care! We’re GM/UAW!”. As far as I’m concerned this car is proof positive that GM Must Die.  That this car got out of the factory shows that GM is not worth saving and should be immediately liquidated.

Anyway, since we got to Phoenix so early there was no way the hotel had a room for us that early. So for no particular reason we drove to Sedona.

Sedona was a nice setting for a bunch of souvenir shops.

There is a decent cafe at the airport.

Back in Phoenix, we checked in to a pretty nice hotel.  I was tired, but for some reason I just couldn’t sleep well.

 The bed was softer than I like, but even though I was tired I just didn’t rest.

After one early wakeup to go to Tucson to watch my old friend Craig fly his R/C airplanes I settled down to our tax law seminars.

I was pretty much in a daze for much of the time but I do remember one important tax tip. If Dennis Rodman kicks you in the groin during a basketball game, and he settles the law suit for $200,000, then only part of that amount is non-taxable.

We got back from our trip Saturday. I was still sleepy all the time, but Saturday and Sunday nights I still just couldn’t sleep. I have no idea what the problem was.

Monday I had long day. I was productive both in the software startup during the day and the tax office in the evening. When I finally got home I was dead tired, and with the help of half of an Ambien I finally got a good night’s sleep. I think I slept about 9 solid hours.

 I woke up this morning feeling really great.

That brings me to the subject of traitors.

I made a quick scan of the blogs before going to work, and saw that John Kerry had once again made some kind of idiot statement insulting GI’s.

That’s not really news, Kerry has often had harsh words for military members. I really didn’t think much about it.

Leaving the office for lunch, I turned on the radio and there was Kerry’s voice, whining and complaining about those rascally republicans who ‘never served’.

Whine whine, cry, cry, “I’m a victim”.

He babbled on like this for some time. I realized objectively that Kerry was helping the Republicans, but the squalid performance still made me sick at my stomach.

To think that this silly, spoiled rich kid was almost President!

I had to turn the radio to the FM classical music station to get my blood pressure down.

Returning from lunch, the rest of the day went well. I’m really having a lot of fun with the new stuff we’re doing at my software job.

Coming home there was more Kerry on the radio, which again upset me. Between handing out Halloween candy to kids I checked into the members only pilot forum I frequent.

There was a thread there on Kerry’s latest tirade.

I finally got Kerry out of my system with a post in this thread. Since Flight Info is private, I’ve uploaded a copy of my response to a Kerry apologist here.

This posting got Kerry out of my system in time to enjoy tonight’s Simpson’s episode, so all’s well that ends well.