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Quick Notes about my WorldFlight 2013 Experiences

Here’s some quick notes about my experience flying some of the legs from this year’s WorldFlight on VATSIM:

Flying the 777 during high traffic events:

Man, this plane is amazing!  FMC programming was a breeze and takeoff/landing was relatively straightforward.  I had some issues landing at some airports due to my scenery files were not updated but the FMC navigation data was.  One of the flights had the ILS localizer about 100 feet to the left of the scenery’s runway.  A quick dance to disengage the autopilot and a slide to the right and all was well.

Knowing how to program a HOLD at a fix in the FMC:

I was quickly able to program a random, non-published hold in the FMC while on approach.  That was mainly due to reading the manual and having it open while working the sim.  I got about 5 minutes warning before reaching the fix:

“FedEx 4345, a delay is required.  Hold at fix TUBBY, one minute circuits, left hand turns, maintain flight level 350”

That was reasonable simple, but I had never done it and it was nerve-racking for sure.  Luckily it was one circuit so within a 5 minute span of time, I programmed the hold, completed the circuit and exited the hold, with aircraft in front and behind me.

Tips for flying in events:

  1. Don’t be afraid to say that you don’t know how to do something or declare unable.  It’s more important to say what you can/can’t do so controllers know how to handle your flight.
  2. Don’t trust the FMC and autopilot to fly the plane.  When you’re in a densely populated area of air traffic, set the heading and speed as “fixed” and wait for the controller to tell you direction.  Most of all, it’s up to you to slow the plane for the arrival and landing UNLESS given speed restrictions.
  3. Make sure you understand engine de-rates an climb thrust for your airplane.  On two separate takeoffs, I used assumed info when programming the flight and that left me woefully underpowered for the climb out.  A quick trip to the FMC to program an override was my solution.  Others were not so lucky.

ATC Coverage:

The WorldFlight ATC team was great and worked very hard to keep everyone on track, inbound and outbound.  I’ve got some ideas about helping these guys out for next year, but I’ll save that for a future post.

Initial thoughts: Flying the PMDG 777

I bit the bullet last night and purchased the PMDG 777 add-on for Microsoft Flight Simulator X.  It’s nearly $100 and worth *every* penny.  Here’s some initial impressions:

  • I now know why PMDG charges what they do.  From the installation experience to the docs and the actual flight, it’s clear they made a silk purse out of the sow’s ear that is FSX.  My older PC with a low-end NVIDIA card handles the aircraft without breaking a sweat.  It’s every bit as usable and fun as the default C172.
  • I was able to make a flight from Memphis to Springfield without much of an issue within 10 minutes of finishing the install.  I already knew the basics of FMC programming but this was my first real exposure to it and it’s very logical and easy, once you have the right mindset.
  • I can see that this would be easy to fly for both long and short flights.

What iPhone should I buy?

As the family’s tech authority, I frequently get this question:

“What iPhone should I buy?”

The answer is easy, but most people don’t listen.  For the family reading this, do yourself a favor and read this twice before making the decision.

1. Buy one with the biggest amount of storage you can afford.

The most important feature you should be shopping for is storage.  Most of the people I come across use their phone as their primary camera.  That means it’s jammed with photos.  I mean *jammed* like 2 to 4 GB of photos.  When you have a 16GB phone and the OS/core apps take 2GB-ish, that means almost 20% of your phone will be photos–more if you take videos.  The speed of the iPhone 5S is meaningless to 90% of the users out there and the fingerprint sensor is “first generation” so skip that for now and wait for the 2 year upgrade to get the much better version of what’s out there now.

2. Buy it outright if you can afford it.

It’s expensive to do it but you should buy the phone outright without the burden of a contract.  That will allow you to move between carriers and/or upgrade more often if that’s your thing.  Don’t buy into the carrier’s “upgrade once a year” plan–it’s a money trap.

3. Buy iCloud storage that matches the amount of your device, maybe more

If you have a 16GB device, buy iCloud storage equal to or greater than the device so that would be 10GB additional for $20/year.  That will ensure all of your photos are stored at Apple in case your device is stolen.  It’s cheap and easy to do right from the device.

4. Buy iTunes Match if you have a music collection.

Adding iTunes Match ($24.95/year) ensures your music is safe, just like iCloud for your photos.  Even better, your Music app will show your iTunes library of music, but without actually storing it on the device.  Want to listen to a song? Tap it and it streams from the cloud.  You can even flag songs to be stored on the device.

iOS 7: Steve’s Take

Tammy and I traded up to the iPhone 5 a couple months ago, knowing new phones were in the pipeline.  I had a pretty good idea where things were going, and the “5S” to be was still mostly a mystery.  I figured a solid “5” in the hand was a better choice.  Now, with iOS 7 on board, I can see I made the right decision.  Here’s a few observations, in no particular order of importance:

* Siri is better — Using Siri for the same tasks as before is much better.  From more accurate speech to faster transcription, Siri is now at a mature baseline of behavior for me.  Using Siri for texting is fantastic.  The first time I used it was in the car, while driving, windows down and it nailed every word.  Later on, while in the office, it guessed at a poorly pronounced phrase and when I tapped the word to change it, it suggested the correct 5 words to replace it.  Simply amazing.

* Control Center replaces three laborious tasks —  I used to do three things frequently and Control Center has reduced my workload.  The flashlight button allows me to delete a non-essential Camera+ app.  I can now set a timer with one tap to hit the Timer app and go (skipping Siri too).  Finally, the toggles for Wifi and Bluetooth allow me the control I need for power management.

* Visual cues with app loading/switching give me confidence — The interface cues when I load apps, switch apps and go back to the home screen are a big win.  These small visual tricks give me mental reassurance as I quickly navigate the system, allowing me to focus on speed and not steps.

Overall, in the short 24 hours I’ve had the upgrade, I’ve concluded I would have paid money for this upgrade.  Fantastic work, Apple!


I don’t write much here anymore and that’s OK.  I usually wait until I have something important to say.

Yesterday was my 17th wedding anniversary.  Looking back, it’s the longest time I’ve spent committed to anything or anyone in my entire life.  I can’t imagine living life any other way.

My wife, Tammy, wrote a great blog post that sums up things nicely.  I wish I could write as well (or as often) as she does.  I’ll let her speak for me–she’s the best friend/wife/partner that I could ever ask for.  When I’m asleep, dreaming of the future, she’s always at my side.

Here’s to 17 more…

Favorite ATC Phrases

I listen to live air traffic control audio to relax.  Yes, I’m weird.  Most of the time, I’m lurking on the Las Vegas Approach/Departure feed on LiveATC.  Favorite phrases:

“Descend via the Sunset 3 Arrival”

“Caution Wake Turblance”

Bonus–sometimes they have to control USAF traffic out of Nellis as they enter and exit Las Vegas Class B airspace.  The callsigns are great.  Usually they coordinate with a KC737 that’s pulling AWACS duties.  Truly insane amounts of words and traffic passing through there each day.

Hard Drives Fail

So, what’s your backup strategy? Do you have one? Luckily, I did because the two year old hard drive in our home iMac failed on September 1st.  I’ve had a Time Machine backup drive in place for awhile (with backups on that drive back to March of 2011!) so we lost a grand total of 1 hour’s worth of data.  In reality, nothing was really happening when the drive died, so actually, we lost nothing.

Here’s what makes it weird, though.

Our iMac has a special version of a common hard drive, one that I could replace off the shelf from Best Buy, but Apple has locked it with a special firmware. That means I’m forced to take it in to an Apple Service Provider for them to replace the drive.  That makes a professional geek like me a little frustrated to say the least.  With everyone closed for the US Labor Day holiday, I’m living in suspense of the final cost.  Here’s my guess for now–$250 including labor.  Ouch!

For now, I’m running off an old external 80GB hard drive, connected by USB to the iMac.  It’s got a fresh install of Mountain Lion and is happily working along.  In fact, I really can’t tell much of a difference in speed. Tammy and I can access all of our old data from the backup drive and, if we’re lucky, we’ll be back up and running by the end of the week. Considering we have the external drive to run things, we can safely put off the repair so we can plan ahead and not be without the system for any longer than needed.

The Ongoing

Sometimes the “ongoing” stuff in life catches up and forces me to post updates.  This is one of those times:

1. I’ve picked up vintage audio gear that’s starting to stack up on the workbench.  I need to write some blog posts that show what I’ve snagged and what I’m going to do with it.  The latest?  A Dual 1229 for $1 at a yard sale.  It’s pretty beat up, but the basics are there.  I posted at Vinyl Engine with some of the notes about the gear, looking for advice about where to go next.

2. It’s time to redo Tammy’s business website, and I’m looking for hosting.  I’m thinking Dreamhost.  Ideas?

3. Cleaning out old gear is fun and sad.  Fun because I get space back.  Sad because it’s stuff without a good use anymore.