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“Pilot’s watches” and the modern world

One of my pet peeves (I have many) are ads for multi-10s of thousands of dollar watches that seem to indicate they are a requirement for flying high performance aircraft. They typically show someone in a full pressure suit or at least G-suit in a high performance cockpit with the sky outside, and indicate that this watch is how you get there. Or an antique fighter or racer with the same message. These ads have about as much truth to them as your average beer commercial.

Allow me to interject some reality into this situation. My aircraft has 6 video displays in the cockpit, all of which can display the time from the GPS constellation down to a level where they correct for the Time Dilation effect from the speed of the satellite in orbit. Moreover, from the time of my first GPS (which was about the time I started flying, they became more common about the time I got my license), I have never looked at the clock in the aircraft again. The GPS tells me where I am at, when I will get to my destination and what time it will be when I get there (local and Zulu). All without removing my glove (a complex maneuver in a G-suit) while trying not to crash or rip the wings off the plane in the process.

Chronograph watches? Please. I don’t carry a buggy whip when I fly either…

Safety Tech warnings in Indradrive using Safety Technology

With the Indradrive product, you get a whole new range of error reporting (as evidenced by the 5 digit error codes, one more than the earlier Diax04 product). Some of these errors are the same (F8022 is the same as F822 in Diax04 and 22 in Diax02, it’s always the feedback cable), some of these errors are more granular than before. Sometimes there is a whole new class of error.  Safety warnings are part of this new class. E3xxx series errors have to do with Safety Technology add-ons to the drives, options that allow the use of more positive safety control. Some of these errors show that there is a problem in the external safety wiring (E3100 is an example of this) or a problem in the safety hardware itself. These errors have to be approached with some caution, as this falls into the same class of problems as an Estop failure, something that must be resolved properly for the safe operation of the machine.

Proper repair of these units is also critical. Compare the cost of an injury with the cost savings from using a 3rd party repair shop, the choice will be clear.

Third party repairs again

So after the dust has settled a bit on a customer, let me tell you about their problems, relating to improper installation of a regenerative power supply and a third party repair of a motor. Get a call a few months ago for a regenerative style power supply. Talk to the customer a bit and they had a raft of F860 faults before the power supply finally gave up. F860 is a short, either in the drive, the motor power cable or the motor. They were worried about just putting in a power supply, and I was too, but they meggered out the motor and cable and everything looked ok. Power supply in and they started running just fine. For a month. Then the drive blows. At this point I hear the story of the third party repair of the motor, but they will not hear of sending the motor out to have it checked as it was done by a local shop that “they have good luck with”. So, we send them a drive. It will not start as it is getting a F860 constantly. We send them new cables, and tell them they should get the motor checked again. New cables are installed, they run about a day and then blow out the drive and power supply. So we send everything in for repair and eval, including the motor. For the motor, freshly “Repaired” we get…


– Physical condition: Fair condition, Output shaft has light grooved damage.
– Pre-repair assessment: Thermo check is within Bosch Rexroth specification, HiPot test passed,
Winding test passed, EMK test passed, brake test failed.
– Operational Test: Failed, Encoder give out 89 fault and 22 fault.
– Disassembled the motor for visual inspection and found that Front beairng is severely worn out,
Bearing cup race is worn, Encoder is severely worn out and contaminated with dust. Rear bearing
and brake are worn out. Brake is overheated. Brake resistor is missing. The cooling fan has been
modified, Instead of cooling fan blowing the cool air to the motor, it instead it is pulling the air out.

So the “repaired” motor needed – Replaced: Front and Rear bearings, Brake, Front flange, End shield, Encoder, Supporting disc, Shim, Rotary shaft lip, Shim ring, O-Rings, Brake pins, Brake
connector and resistor, Cooling fan.

The interesting thing is that this didn’t even fix the problem. We had one more iteration to go before noticing that this motor was of a date code that had extended windings which required a different end plate. That was listed per serial number and was only something the manufacturer of the motor would have had (along with the special extended plate).

End result, customer down 4 weeks because of a badly repaired motor. The money they saved on the first repair was pointless, as it had to come back in for repair.

The iPhone6s+ and battery life

So after a couple of weeks of use of the 6s as a business phone, I came to an inescapable conclusion. The battery just wasn’t up to par for a business phone. I was stomping this phone flat every day, and my headset still had power when the phone battery went into the red. Not a problem I want to have. So, I went to the iPhone6s+, giving the 6s as a long needed but avoided upgrade to Mrs Dr Thinking Engineer. The 6s+ is about the size of my Lumia 1520, so it wasn’t like the form factor was alien to me. Switching to the larger iPhone points out a couple of issues with iOS.

  1. It doesn’t scale very well.  If you look at a 6s and a 6s+ side by side, you will notice the icons are the same size, and the same number of rows, but more space between the icons. Unless you are getting a bigger phone for the ability to see more of your background pic, this is useless.
  2. For the bigger size, the battery isn’t THAT much bigger. Some of the issue is the screen, which always is the biggest power user on the phone. Some of it is just the phone battery itself. I do have to keep a backup battery around using this, something to plug into in order to get a midday boost.

On the good side, Siri is almost as good as Cortana on her good days and unlike Cortana, actually works most of the time. This points out the other thing about all of the current crop of smartphones. With a good headset, the system will allow you to do most things without actually pulling the phone out of your pocket. Add a watch (I have used both the Microsoft Band and the Apple Watch) and you can nearly go all day without looking at the phone itself, depending on your usage profile.

As with all iOS devices, you now get the best Microsoft experience on the iPhone. All of the Office programs run well, the new Outlook is a better mail client than the native one and the more esoteric programs are ONLY available on iOS.  It’s odd, but I guess you go where the money is, and with Win10 Mobile still being a hot mess at best, this is where the users are.

The 6s+ isn’t perfect, but it is, at least for the moment, the best phone I have found out of the current crop of competitors. The 950xl is a disaster, and Android is still not my cup of tea. On the other hand, I never thought I would be using an iPhone for business either.

iPhone6s as a Business Phone – A review

In a previous post, I listed how we made it to this point. Now I would like to talk about using the iPhone 6s (on ATT) as a business phone. I have been using this about 2 weeks so far, not long enough to have all the answers, but I have had a 6 as a backup to my Windows Phone for years, so it’s not like I don’t know the platform either.

My usual rig is a Plantronics Edge BT Earpiece with the phone of my choice. Here, changing from WM to the iPhone 6s was not a big deal. I moved all of my email over to it after loading Microsoft Office onto the phone (much superior to the native Apple mail app in my opinion). My phone book was populated automagically, as I keep my contacts on my paid Google for Business email accounts.

The Good

The iPhone 6s is a fast phone, with good storage (if you pay for it) and a universe of high quality apps to do anything with. Since I have kept an iPhone 6 as a backup, I had not actually missed these apps on my primary phone, but they are nice to have anyway.

Apple has improved their call handling since the last time I tried this. I had previously found trying to juggle a couple of calls to be a problem, not with the iPhone 6s.

Siri can do some stuff at least as well as Cortana (and Cortana is supposed to be coming to iPhone soon)

The Bad

The battery on the iPhone 6s has very short legs. My 1520 could talk my Plantronics headset under the table, with the iPhone 6s the phone is in the danger zone while the headset still has 3 hours of talk time left. Grabbing a bit of charge here and their (even in the car) is much more important here than with the 1520 (which could be pressed to 2 days sometimes). I keep a couple of spare battery powerbanks around, I now expect to be using them.

Not having separate icons for each email account is a major step backward. Having them lumped into one email app is not entirely what I would call acceptable. I will have to work more on this, possibly even getting another app for the lesser emails.

You can’t voice dial a number from Siri, nor take messages. On the other hand Cortana’s ability here seems to come and go depending on which rev you are talking to.

I figure I will continue using the iPhone 6s until the end of the year (at least) when (hopefully) the W10m version will be stable and the new 950xl will be out. After that, may the best phone win.

A funny thing happened on the way to Windows 10 Mobile

I have been using WindowsPhone, Window Mobile, Windows CE (all various names of various versions of Windows for a Mobile Device, possibly a phone) for a long time. I have been using Nokia Cell phones since I moved from a bag phone. When the Microsoft purchase of Nokia happened, I was not entirely unhappy, although I was worried enough that I had picked up a iPhone through a different carrier (Verizon) as a backup. I was using the Nokia E72 at the time, and was quite happy with it, although using the iPhone (as a step up from the iTouch) as a manual repository and backup cell and data signal. So Nokia still brought out the E7, which I got, and which was a disaster. So, I went back to the E72. Then the 920 Windows Phone came out. Looked great, so I got one. After loosing 2 days of business to it (not because of startup issues with me, the damn thing just wouldn’t work), I put my ATT sim BACK into my venerable E72, and went back to work (albeit after buying 2 more). About 6 months later, I tried the 920 again, and this time (after several software upgrades) it worked fine.

So, when W10m started making the Beta rounds, I had been here before.  I knew that it was going to be rough, it would not be suitable for use as a Daily Driver, past performance is not a guarantee of future returns, safety not guaranteed and please keep your arms and legs inside the ride at all times. By this time I was using a 1520 as a primary phone and quite happy with it, with a couple of caveats.  My main source of malcontent had to do with email. You could, I understand, using a methodology slightly less complex than launching a nuclear missile, email an attachment file (pdf, in my case). I had been able to do that exactly once, then I kept getting lost about step 25. My second issue was that while you could display excel spreadsheets and word docs, you couldn’t actually edit them. About that time Microsoft started having problems with Windows Phone in general, there was word that they would be dropping the line, the new CEO had rumored commitment issues with WP or WM or whatever, and they also started offering almost all of Office on iPhone and Android. The Outlook App on iPhone let you <gasp> email attachment files. My entire catalog of manuals, the company billing information file that I send out daily, the company W9 even, could all be sent from anywhere I was at, even the toilet (Ok, work/life balance or lack thereof will be the subject of a different post).

So, I picked up a second 1520 to try W10m Insider (beta) on. The 920 that I had was too slow for it, and the 1020 was too good a camera to mess up. So, I got it loaded up, and it was crap. No prob, turn it off and wait for the next version. Which was crap. So I went through that about a dozen times before one of the Insider versions got to a level I thought was worth pulling the Sim in my 1020 and switching it over. That made it my backup ATT phone. Went through about 4-7 more versions and it started running fairly well. About the same time my primary 1520 started having screen problems. Not uncommon with that phone, after a while (almost 2 years in my case) the digitizer starts separating (or at least that’s the most plausible answer I found on the web). So with one phone going down, I decided to try W10m Insider as my primary phone. I would also have the second 1520 as a backup (and I ordered a third one just in case). There were a few problems, but it was usable. It never failed me as a phone, and the email worked fine and OneNote was great on it. I was actually pretty happy with it. The next Insider build put a wrinkle in. The voicemail didn’t register a message unless you rebooted the phone. That was a disaster, I rebooted a couple of times to pick up one message just to find I had missed a second call while waiting for the boot. Then they dropped the “final” build, the one the new Windows 10 phones would be released with. “This”, I thought, “will be the one that gets it all right.” The build release rate had dropped off, so this MUST have been what they were focusing their efforts on. Notsomuch. The release build had the same issue in it.

So, now I was faced with an interesting choice. I could either live with rebooting every 30 minutes or so to check my voicemail, or go back to W8.1m. I instead did what I usually do when presented with a binary solution set, I jumped the tracks instead. In this case I went and bought an iPhone6s on ATT.  This would do 2 things. It would let me try the latest iteration of the iPhone as a Daily Driver in my business, and it would give me a reason not to throw a screaming fit about the issues I was having with W10m, and the Glacial Slowness (pre-global warming) that Microsoft was working on them. If I liked it, I would keep on the new path and re-evaluate W10m at some future date when it had time to congeal a bit (or not). If I found some issue that made it less than usable, I could give this phone to Mrs Dr ThinkingEngineer, who so far had held onto her iPhone4s with the zeal of a Second Amendment advocate to their last pistol.

The results of the iPhone experiment will be detailed in a future post. But, it took the new version of Windows Phone (Mobile or whatever) to drive me back to an iPhone. Like I say, I’ve been here before.

Charity giving and the pitfalls therein

This year, I started the giving a bit early, mostly because of the bombing of the MSF Hospital in Afghanistan. MSF (Doctors Without Borders) is one of my “Usual Suspects” in charity giving, I have given to them for several years. They are a great organization, and I upped the donation this year because of the problems that the USAF caused them. Sending the donation to MSF got me on a roll, and donations to Fisher House, The Salvation Army and Planned Parenthood followed. My donations are based on the good that I feel an organization does, and how well they use the money. Which brings me to the point of this post. How do you donate wisely?

I will ruffle some feathers here, and will preface this by saying that my opinions are my own, you can donate to whomsoever you like and any comments sent here about the organizations that I donate to (or dis) will be deleted with extreme prejudice. With that out of the way, lets proceed.

The first thing I do when thinking about donating to a group is to go to the website

It is a website devoted to gathering all the information you should check on when donating, in one easy site. It gives you information about finances (How much of the money you donate actually goes to a cause? You might be unpleasantly surprised), transparency and pay of the CEO. They also give information about problems with an organization (Red Cross, I am looking at you) and the mission of a group. Giving money without checking on a group might be better than just tossing it out of a helicopter, but not by much.

“What about the United Way” you might ask.  The United Way is an organization I will never, ever give to. I have had too many employers try to force contributions out of me, all to a group that ranges from 2 to 4 stars depending on what location you are in. The ultimate insult was “Your Fair Share”, a proposed giving rate. Let me tell you, when just out of school in an entry level job, “My Fair Share” was, in my estimation, a very damn small number. Nowadays, it’s a pretty large number, but the United Way will never see any of it. On a less personal note, the United Way is a cop out. It is a way to donate, without actually doing any work on where your money goes or how well it is used. Time to jump in the helicopter again…

I don’t like places that have palatial headquarters. The local Red Cross just built a new building, in an expensive part of town. That didn’t come cheap. The local Salvation Army, on the other hand, is in a 1960’s building in the poorer part of town. I will let you guess which one fits my idea of what their mission is.

So, how much should you give? That’s a personal question that only you can answer. My personal number has gone up to about 5% of net income over the years. However, I feel that is probably not doing enough. On the other hand, the people I admire take their own time to work for the charities. Donating your time is a much larger thing to me, and I wish I had the time to do exactly that. Writing a check seems paltry by comparison, but as I have pumped up the amounts over the years, I feel like I am helping somewhat.

My final answer on what you should give? Whatever you are able to, and whatever makes you feel good about yourself. I find that giving money to groups gives me a lot better outlook on life as a result. That makes it cheap, at any price.

The Importance of Airports in Small Towns

I spent yesterday training back up on instrument flying. It is a Sisyphean task, especially in the Midwest. I have been instrument rated for about 12 years. Of that 12 years, 6 of them have seen the plane down,  and most of the rest have been working back up to “comfortable” with instrument flying after an extended period out of the clouds.

My current instrument instructor is also a lawyer (no, really, he is a nice guy), and a graduate of the most excellent OSU aviation program. He has a very good “real world” attitude about flying, he was the first instructor who has us do at least one approach on full automation (and one with all the movie screens turned off) that I have had. Instructors are very much a personal flavor. I have had some really good ones, and some really bad ones. I fly over an hour to train with this guy, just because he and I mesh well. Stay with me, we are getting to the point…

I typically meet up with him in Hope, AR, at airport M18. Hope is a relatively small Arkansas town, mostly famous for being the childhood home of Bill Clinton, and the place (on the airport) where they stored all the FEMA trailers at one point. The airport is a ex-WWII military facility and has the possibility of being quite nice given a bit of attention from the city. Instead, it looks about like what it is, a neglected piece of infrastructure, that the city is making money off of renting one runway out for storage. The runway markings are unreadable, and the runways themselves are in need of attention. In a town of 10k people, in need of additional business injection, that is very nearly unforgivable, considering how much money the airport has and could bring in.

On our flight, we landed at Magnolia (KAGO).  Magnolia is also a 10,000 pop town, but is a completely different town than Hope. There are several small and medium businesses in Magnolia, the town is quite dynamic, and the airport reflects this. There are about 10 hangars, mostly new. The runway is freshly repaved and marked, there is an AWOS II being put in and the fuel is working and reasonably priced. The terminal buildings are fresh and in very good shape. Altogether, it is the type of place that if you were on a quick trip around several towns, in search of a place to locate a business,  you would remember. It’s a showplace for the town, and the first step to luring business into town.

A good airport will always help support a town. A bad airport is barely better than no airport at all. You look at Hope, and you see a town that has given up. You look at Magnolia, and you see a town that is working hard at getting to the next step, whatever that is.

I know where I would want to live…



Shoelace Length, and solutions

I walk about 4 miles a day on a treadmill (actually a walking desk, an amazing invention. Look it up, it will change your life). For a FAA 170 lb human, shoes are supposed to last about 400 miles. As you get heavier, the mileage you can get out of a shoe drops off substantially. Since the FAA considers me ~1.5 human, my shoe mileage runs about 300 or so miles, meaning I am getting a new pair of shoes about every 3 months. That’s not actually too bad, before my knee replacement (aviation injury, but not nearly as sexy as it sounds) I was walking 10 miles a day and blowing through a new pair every month. I use NB shoes exclusively, besides the company’s attempt at keeping things American made (or at least designed), they have a better selection of widths, and fit better. Bad shoes for distance walking, running or whatever are murder on your feet. I also wear Injinji “toe socks” to keep my toes from blistering each other. But, I digress.

The last couple of pair of NB shoes I have purchased have seemingly had shorter and shorter shoelaces. This is not just an opinion, I pulled one old set and compared them to the new ones. I am not sure if NB is getting shorted by a supplier, decided that they could save a penny or two per hundred shoes or just ran out of longer laces, but the laces supplied with the shoes are no longer usable for me as supplied. I bought a couple of new sets of laces, but then came on a better solution.

On the Internet, there is everything. For people who want to look, you can find recipes, cars, and sites specifically devoted to lacing shoes. My solution to the NB problem is to switch them to straight bar lacing, a method that allows for 28% longer lace ends. With the shorter shoelaces, this comes out about right.

But I would prefer getting the right laces for the shoes.



So, how good is that Engineering School again?

As the school year starts, I think a bit of a commentary on school quality needs to be made. Schools are in a bit of a pickle these days, and not just because of rising tuition. I am familiar with a couple of schools, but let me rail on one. The school shall remain unnamed, to protect the guilty.

There are, in my opinion, only two factors in the quality of an Engineering School. The quality of the faculty, and the size of the classes. The quality of the faculty is difficult to judge from the outside, but certain assumptions can be made. Young faculty (under 30) isn’t going to have much actual experience teaching, so the students are going to get to learn while the professor does. That may not be the best environment. Watch out for a number of classes being taught by grad-students, or post docs. These can be told usually by the instructor being listed as “Dr Smith” as opposed to “Professor Smith”.  These folks are usually on their first or second class. In a reasonable environment, they will be given notes and previous tests to look at to work up their own material. The lazy ones will just take a problem from each of the previous tests, leaving people with access to previous tests (Greek Houses have extensive test files, although often not of engineering classes) with an advantage. Smart ones will take a problem from each of the previous test and make a subtle change to it, leaving people who have memorized previous tests running off a cliff like the coyote in the Road Runner cartoons.

Famous faculty is also problematic. A good friend of mine told me of his days at MIT, where he took a class with Prof. B****, of stereo fame. The only problem was he saw Prof B, one time on the first day of class, and after that, the class was taught by a post-doc. There are at least 3 professors that I know of at a Land-grant school who have paid out for teaching so they could do research. Herein lies a problem. If you took a job at a land grant school, you should know you aren’t going to be able to devote your life to research. You are gonna have to teach. If you wanted to be a researcher full time, you should have gone to Sandia or one of the other national labs. Don’t get me wrong, I have had great professors at land grant colleges. They can, however, be overwhelmed by…


You want to know how good your school is? How big is Thermodynamics I course? If the answer is under 40, you are in good shape. If the answer is under 50, you are ok if it is taught by a real Professor with tenure (hopefully). If the answer is over 50, you have a problem. If the answer is over 70, you need to find a new school, no matter who is teaching it.

So I know a land grant school, with new stadiums and a great sports history. They just scraped past ABET accreditation, so tightly that the student body knew how tight it was. The website says the average class size is 24 in one place (but says “hard to pinpoint” in another). The Thermo I class size was over 80 the last semester, taught by a first timer. If you look at education in “bang for the buck” you are getting a wet firecracker here.  What sort of bang are you getting for your buck?

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