Thursday, October 02, 2008

Well, true to my own distracted form I realized about a month too late that this weblog turned five years old last month. I didn't get a chance to wish it "happy blogday," so I'll do so belatedly. Five years is quite a bit of time, yet it also seems as if it was all that long ago that I started this thing.

The site has gradually changed in terms of how I "use" it over time. Recently I've written less frequently than at times in the past, but when I do write I tend to write more in one sitting. I'm also writing (and speaking) elsewhere occasionally and splitting my time among a variety of other life activities these days.

Some of my favorite posts are from a few years ago (although some recent posts are on that list, too). My first post was decidedly non-technical (and reading it now I'm not even sure I'd write it today (but I'd probably say something on Twitter)). Well, okay - maybe I would write it. :)

I've gone through the server stress of being "slashdotted" and all sorts of other mega traffic deluges, and have been running dasBlog the entire time, thanks to the influence of my good friend Scott. I've written about some very personal topics as well as random technology tidbits that interest me. In five years I've authored 1,762 posts and people have commented on those posts more than 2,800 times. Somehow I've attracted a fairly large readership and Internet audience over the years (frequently over 600,000 page views a month), and for that I'm grateful and a bit humbled.

At any rate, it'll be interesting to see what's happening here (and on other weblogs, for that matter) in five more years.

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Thursday, October 02, 2008 7:39:16 PM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
 Saturday, September 27, 2008

I speak English natively. My friend that I want to chat with in IM speaks German. A chat-helper service called MTBOT (Microsoft Translation Robot) allows me to type in English, yet my friend sees and reads what I wrote translated into his native German language. Likewise, when he types in German, what I see is his messages machine-translated into English.

If you use Windows Live Messenger, you too can add to your buddy list. When you want to chat with someone who speaks another language, add them to a "conversation" with your TBot. You and the other person are asked to specify your native language, and after that you just start typing.

There are a number of commands you can issue to control TBot's behavior. To see a list of commands, just type "TBOT ?" in the IM window. You'll then be presented with the list of available commands:

Cool stuff. Check out the Translator information posted over at the Live Search blog.

Currently-supported languages:

  • English to/from:
    • Arabic
    • Chinese Simplified
    • Chinese Traditional
    • Dutch
    • French
    • German
    • Italian
    • Japanese
    • Korean
    • Portuguese
    • Russian (Russian to English only)
    • Spanish
  • Chinese Simplified to/from Chinese Traditional

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Saturday, September 27, 2008 8:08:44 PM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)

Call your Congressional rep now (202-225-3121) and ask them to support H.R. 7084, the Webcaster Settlement Act of 2008. Pandora and other similar services need your help.

I called last night and left a message for my Congressman in Oregon, David Wu. If it's your first time, calling just know it's easy: The operator will answer the phone, you ask for your congressman by name, and they transfer you to the correct office.

I left a message for Wu last night stating that I wanted him to support the resolution because it was of a timely nature and it ensured fair ad reasonable competition, and that industry lobbyist attempts to defeat it or stall it were anticompetitive in motivation.

If you use online streaming music services like Pandora or other similar ones, their very existence may depend on this resolution, so make your voice known now. It really does make a difference.

If you don't know who your Congressperson is, you can look them up quickly here. All you need is your ZIP code.

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Saturday, September 27, 2008 7:13:48 AM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
 Thursday, September 25, 2008

Note: While I'll likely cross-post the occasional flying post here (or maybe I'll just mention a few highlights), I've started a whole new blog called Coordinated Flight where I'll publish all my flying-related stuff. That way this blog won't get overloaded with long, detailed flying stuff.

The past couple days I've spent a little time down at Twin Oaks Airpark, a small private airport located on the far west side of Portland, Oregon. Yesterday I spent an hour there, and today I went for about two hours. Both days I learned and flew with my new flight instructor, Kelly. I've always wanted to learn to fly and over the years I've spent quite a bit of time in small aircraft. But now I'm going to put the time and effort (and expense) into learning and practicing everything one needs to know to safely fly a small aircraft.

Yesterday was what they call an introductory ride. Kelly met me and we went to the airpark office, where we chatted with Betty Stark. The Stark family owns the airpark which is on an old dairy farm and has a single runway, several hangars, classrooms and a fuel station. Then we went to our aircraft for the day, a Cessna 150. Kelly showed me the aircraft and together we went though the walk-around checklist. The Cessna 150 is a two-seater and is a smallish aircraft, but is a very common trainer. After checking out the aircraft we climbed in and started the checklist for starting the aircraft. I turned the key and the prop started spinning. Kelly explained some more necessary details about the controls and told me what was going to happen. And then we were off.

We taxied from the ramp to the end of the runway and did the engine run-up and final checks on the list. Kelly radioed the local traffic to let anyone flying in the area know we were departing, and he told me to put my hands and feet on the controls so I could feel the aircraft as we departed. He explained each task he was doing as he performed them, from the time we walked up to the aircraft until we were in the air. I think I've found a great instructor. He clearly knows his stuff and is confident. That gave me a feeling of confidence, too.

Once we were in the air, he told me he was going to hand the controls over to me. The next thing I knew I was flying the airplane. Of course, Kelly was still there, light on the controls in case I screwed something up. He didn't overwhelm me with information, but instead balanced the doing, the explaining and the having fun and looking out the window. We spent about 30 minutes in the air (and a little rain from the clouds that were well above us) and then returned to the air park. I learned about the traffic pattern for Twin Oaks (it's a left pattern with a 45-degree entrance). It was a lot of fun, and probably just the right mix of time, information and experience for a first flight.

Kelly gave me a quick-read intro book with some basic information to learn: Controls, attitude, parts of an airplane, climbs and descents, turns. He assigned it as homework and we arranged to meet again the next day at 3pm for two hours - starting with a quick ground lesson followed by some time in the air.

When I arrived today, we went into the small classroom and Kelly explained some of the performance numbers I need to start getting familiar with. It clear to me that there are a lot of pieces of information that will need to become second nature. Today's classroom lesson focused on common airspeeds and engine RPMs for different basic flight maneuvers, plus an introduction to flying the traffic pattern and the proper aircraft configuration for landings. I had a chance to ask questions and took some notes and we headed out for the aircraft (another C-150, but not the same one).

Today our time at the aircraft was a bit different than yesterday. Kelly handed me the checklist and rather than having me following him as we did the first time, he followed me as I did the walk-around inspection, checking the aircraft from nose to tail, top to bottom. He told me that the next time we meet, he may have me do the pre-flight walk-around on my own (I'm sure he'll check my work, too). After the outside inspection, he then moved the plane to a safe spot on the ramp and we climbed in. Once properly buckled up, we returned to the checklist and started the process of making sure everything was working, properly configured and ready for flight. I turned the key and Kelly showed me how the ground controls work. It's pretty counterintuitive to get out of a car and climb into an airplane: To steer in the ground you use the two foot pedals (and toe brakes when needed). If you put your hands on the control yoke (wheel), nothing happens on the ground. I'm sure looked pretty funny when my brain automatically told me hands to turn the wheel left or right. I had to force myself to use my feet. Once I took my hands completely off the yoke, however, it got a little easier.

I was taught how to do turns on the ramp, with and without brakes. After that, Kelly had me taxi the plane down the taxiway to the end of the runway, where we then entered the runway and taxied all the way to the end, did a couple turns, and then did the same thing all over again. It was a good opportunity to try to get my brain around driving the aircraft on the ground with my feet. I think some future practice will be helpful in overcoming some of the counterintuitiveness.

Kelly then had me stop on the ramp at the end of the runway, where we did our engine run-up and other checklist items. Then he made the radio call and told me to taxi onto the runway and line up on the center line for take-off. I managed to line it up and then let it point left a bit. After correcting for that (I bet it looked pretty dumb from outside the plane, heh), Kelly walked me through applying full throttle and he controlled the plane with his feet as we sped down the runway. "Okay, you feel that? We're doing a wheelie now," he said as the nose started to lift. A little pull back on the yoke and we were in the air, climbing out. When you depart to the south out of twin oaks, you have to start a turn soon after departure due to a noise abatement area (you'd think if you buy or build a house next to an airport you'd know what you're getting into, but oh well). So after a gradual left turn we straightened out and continued climbing. The airport is at about 270 feet above sea level, and we climbed to about 2200 feet.

The main in-air lesson consisted of progressively moving through various maneuvers and maintaining proper attitude of the aircraft: Climbs, gradual turns, medium turns, descents, trimming the aircraft for hands-off flight, and then combination maneuvers: climbing turns and descending turns combined with ending each of the turns on specific compass headings and returning to straight and level flight. It was really fun.

We were almost right on top of the airport before I even recognized it. That whole awareness-of-where-you-are thing comes with time, they say. For now, it;s enough to pay attention and apply what my instructor tells me.

By the time we were ready to enter the landing pattern, my brain was on the edge of overload. 45 minutes of information and sensory load was enough for my feeble brain I guess, so it was good that Kelly was handling all of the landing. I just kept feet on the pedals and fingers on the yoke to feel the controls move. Kelly explained what he was doing as we followed the landing pattern (upon passing the end of the runway on the downwind leg turn carb heat on, throttle to 1500 RPM, flaps to 10 degrees (three seconds pressing the switch), add nose-up trim... then on turn to base leg, dial in 10 degrees more more flaps, engine speed will increase as work load decreases so a little less throttle to maintain RPMs, maintain 70mph, look for the end of the runway on your left and prepare to turn to final... then your final turn, check airspeed and ensure you're moving straight for the numbers on the end of the runway (that they're not rising or sinking), add or subtract throttle as needed and line up... after that, work some voodoo magic, flare the aircraft a bit and put the wheels on the ground without breaking anything - I figure the details will become more clear as I get more experience, heh... then keep the aircraft moving straight down the runway with your feet (back to those feet again) and when all the tricycle wheels are on the ground and it's safe apply a little gradual brake as needed to slow the airplane and taxi off the runway...)

Now I have my first textbook in hand, which is the basis of the ground school lessons (which I am looking forward to). I took a ground school class several years ago at Portland Community College when I was thinking about learning to fly helicopters (I then did the financial math and decided maybe I should wait), and I am hoping some of that will come back and help me this time around. I'm flying to Philadelphia this weekend for a family get-together, so I'll have plenty of time for reading the first couple chapters and answering the questions for each - while on the plane.

I borrowed all the pics here from the Twin Oaks web site. Sometime I hope I'll get comfortable enough to be able to take some quick pics of my own (but for now all I can really think about are the tasks at hand in flying that chunk of metal through the air).

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Thursday, September 25, 2008 8:55:22 PM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
 Tuesday, September 23, 2008

On Wednesday morning (September 24th, that is) at 9 a.m. Pacific time, Ed Bott will be joining Microsoft Technical Fellow Mark Russinovich and others for a live IT Springboard panel online discussing Windows Vista performance, a topic of interest to many and (based on my observations) understood by few.

You can ask questions live or email them to the panel ahead of time. The panel should be located here when it happens. The Springboard Virtual Roundtable Series is a great IT resource, worth keeping an eye on. Here's some detail:

Springboard Series Virtual Roundtable
Under the Hood: Windows Vista Performance…Need Answers?

Join Mark Russinovich and a panel of industry experts for a LIVE virtual roundtable to explore your top of mind performance issues, common misconfigurations, and tips on how to fix them. From boot times and applets to disk performance and battery life, find out how to optimize Windows Vista and what you can do to improve overall system performance.

Submit your performance questions live during the event or send them in advance to

Save the date!
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
9:00am Pacific Time

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Tuesday, September 23, 2008 9:59:14 PM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
 Friday, September 19, 2008

It's Talk Like a Pirate Day (as happens every September 19th), and Google's jumped into the fray with Pirate search. Try it here. Enjoy.

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Friday, September 19, 2008 8:15:41 AM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)