Hear Ye! Since 1998.
2
Oct 17
Mon

Star Trek: Discovery

It’s been over a decade since Star Trek: Enterprise, the last series of the Trek franchise, has graced our television screens. I grew up in the 1990s, which was the heyday for Trek. The 90s had 3 series running almost concurrently (TNG, DS9 & Voyager) and featured 4 films (Star Treks VI to IX). Back then, I binged watched seasons with a friend during sleepovers. (Binge watching then meant going to Blockbuster and renting a stack of VHS tapes.) I spent countless hours with high school friends discussing all the ideas, themes, and concepts that Trek introduced us to – astronomy, astrophysics and other sciences, “what if” questions about the universe, ethical issues, so so on. The sorts of stuff that most teenagers pseudo-philosophically discuss, but through a geek’s sci-fi lens. I also used to attend Trek conventions and had a pretty encyclopedic knowledge of Trek trivia (like, memorizing Starfleet ship registration numbers). At the turn of the century, the output of the Star Trek universe slowed down, and that obscure knowledge started to mothball in the recesses of my brain.

When news broke of Star Trek Discovery, I was excited that my sci-fi franchise of choice was going to be back on the small screen with new content.

Television has evolved a lot since the 90s. We’re in the so-called Golden Age of television, and the episodic nature of TNG has long since been replaced by grand story arcs, sophisticated treatment of themes, and great acting. I wanted to see what Trek might look like given the advances in television story telling over the last half of my life.

After watching the first two episodes of Discovery, I am disappointed. Like Enterprise, Discovery is a prequel, and the problem with prequels is that they are constricted by events that have already happened in the future, so to speak. The new Star Trek movies try to avoid that by splitting the timeline and creating an offshoot universe. But Star Trek is about the future, and I do miss forging even further ahead in the future and exploring more uncharted territory.

With Discovery, what we get instead is an opening few episodes where we are introduced to the start of hostilities between the Klingon Empire and the Federation. Perhaps the writers will eventually make this a compelling story-line, but it’s not one that they have managed to grab my interest with. In the future Trek story-line, there is peace between the two civilizations, and how that came to be was an interesting concept.

It also doesn’t help that all the episodes so far are lacking in personality. The characters and acting feel wooden. I just don’t care about any of them, and none of them stand out.

The focal character is, for the first time, not the captain of a starship or space station, but it remains to be seen if something interesting comes from this shift in perspective. Michael Burnham’s initial personal theme of an internal conflict between emotion versus logic, child versus parent, has been done before: Spock, Data, 7. Simply reversing the dynamic by thrusting a human child into having a Vulcan upbringing feels like a gimmick.

The Klingons are also somewhat boring. Their dialogue is slow and stilted, and even the font selection for the subtitles (ALL CAPS, SERIF, BIG) felt like a crutch to supplement the acting.

Even the theme song played during the opening credits is bland and meek. The only memorable part of it is when its closing bars throw back to the original Alexander Courage theme.

The story itself feels jumpy and contrived, unfolding unnaturally as you try to make sense of where it’s trying to go. A Klingon from nowhere shows up, recruits another houseless Klingon to be a “torchbearer” because he can hold his hand in fire for a while, and suddenly they reunite the Klingon empire. They blow up a bunch of Federation ships and then warp out of there. What?

As critical as I’ve been so far, it’s Star Trek, so I’m going to keep watching. But I do hope it starts to kick into gear.

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29
Sep 17
Fri
1
Jul 17
Sat
26
Apr 17
Wed
28
Jan 17
Sat

Hear Ye! turns 19

Yes, but not much has been going on here lately…

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7
Jan 17
Sat

Cities over the last 365 days (2016)

Here’s the annual list – pretty sparse last year:

Maui, HI
Sydney, Australia*
Bangkok, Thailand†
Tokyo, Japan†
San Francisco, CA*
Dublin, Ireland
New York, NY†
London, UK†
Abu Dhabi, UAE
Dubai, UAE
Yulara, NT, Australia
Los Angeles, CA†
Hong Kong, China*
Minneapolis, MN†
Bayfield, WI

All places had overnight visits, unless marked with ††.

* Multiple entries, non-consecutive days.
†† Daytrip only.

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13
Dec 16
Tue

Arrival

This movie review is a guest post by Andrew Lau

Arrival is executed in the style that fools most film critics into thinking there’s a lot more going on than there really is.

That understated style where the camera lingers a lot longer than it should on everything. Where dolly moves and zooms are slow and seemingly deliberate to imply depth and meaning.

Where the camera is placed wide and never cuts into the emotion. Where people talk at one end of the room but are photographed (with an extra long lens) from the other side in silhouette. Yes, that style.

Amy Adams, translator extraordinaire, is called by the military to communicate with aliens upon their arrival on Earth. She meets with the over-sized squids and tries to decipher their language of circular, squiggly, inky lines.

Meanwhile, there’s a little confusion about what the inky lines mean. Suspicious and jittery, the Chinese decide the aliens have come to blow our planet away. They gather their military forces to blow the aliens away first… but Amy works it all out before the shit hits the fan.

Not giving anything away here. All this is in the trailer.

The film has a fabulous aesthetic — the spaceships and aliens are unlike anything we’ve seen before. The music is GREAT and the tone is consistently mournful keeping within the theme of loss.

Max Richter’s “On the Nature of Daylight” is effectively used, anchoring the emotions of our heroine, allowing the audience into her state of mind.

But if you watch the film carefully, you’ll see the film is mostly style. There’s little tangible substance. There’s so little story content in this film it could, and should have been a 45 minute short.

The film lacks in conflict and drama between the cardboard-thin characters. What you see in the trailers isn’t the tip of the iceberg. It’s what you get. Cut and dried. That’s it.

Denis Villeneuve (Sicario) directed this and makes these choices deliberately. He’s just being himself. I’ve decided he’s more a minimal stylist than story-teller.

After the initial awe and excitement of the alien landing and first-contact, whether or not you enjoy this film will depend on your taste. Whether or not you are bored, will depend on if you’re just happy to go along with style.

If you’re into films where people gaze into the distance mournfully or stare at computer screens with deep bewilderment for long periods, this is the movie for you. If you’re a film-maker or film-geek who gets excited by long-lens silhouette shots, this is the movie for you.

If you want a concrete story with in-depth characters and tension, this is NOT the movie for you.

Arrival is about the importance of communicating. Communicating with honesty, integrity and transparency. It takes time to understand what doesn’t make sense and points of view that are opposite or different to our own.

Arrival was released days before Donald Trump was elected into office, making these ideas all the more poignant for these politically divisive times.

I can say I love what the film’s story is about, but not how the film goes about telling its story.

Arrival gets 7 out of 10, for style.

* * *

Stu’s note: Based on a Ted Chiang short story, the concept for this movie was instantly interesting to me. However, it’s a slow-paced film with many contemplative shots that linger too long. As Andrew mentions, the style of this movie makes you think there’s more to the story than there really is. After the movie, I felt like there was something deeper that I was missing, but additional probing with friends failed to turn up much. Many science fiction movies of this type provide a fertile seed for “what if” conversations about free will, predestination, and soothsaying, but Arrival didn’t feel like a typical sci-fi movie in that respect. Instead, it focused on exploring the idea of communication – both intra- and interspecies – while doing so in an innocuous manner that didn’t provoke the “what if” kind of curiosity that I love about sci-fi.

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8
Nov 16
Tue

  stuloh I can hardly believe it but he's won

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  stuloh WTF America

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  stuloh It's looking good so far...

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8
Sep 16
Thu

Upgrading the iPhone

Now that iPhone carrier subsidies have ended at all the major carriers, most people are going to be paying full freight for a new phone. For a 256GB iPhone 7, that’s $849 (or closer to $925 after you include California state sales tax). Apple also allows people to pay this amount off in monthly $35.37 installments over 24 months, without any interest charges. However, if you want to sell your phone within those 2 years, I haven’t looked into how the installment plan affects that.

Other options include going on Apple’s iPhone Upgrade Program, or a carrier upgrade plan like AT&T Next.

iPhone’s Upgrade program is a 24 month contract which generally allows you to upgrade to a new unlocked iPhone every 12 months, and comes with AppleCare+ over the same period. AppleCare+ covers two incidents of accidental damage, subject to payment of a $29 service fee for screen damage and $99 for any other type of damage, plus tax. For the 256GB iPhone 7, the upgrade plan is $40.75/month.

After you’ve made 12 payments on the plan, you can trade in your iPhone with Apple for a new one, and the 24 month clock starts all over again. If you complete 24 months of payments, the phone is yours to keep.

Rumor has it that the next version of the iPhone is going to be a significant upgrade (I’m guessing it won’t be the iPhone 7S, and it might not even be called the iPhone 8). So, might it be worth going on the upgrade program to take advantage of this?

The easy way to look at it is that if you upgrade after a year, you’ve essentially leased the phone for 12 months for $489 (or slightly less if you remove the AppleCare component, which is baked in at essentially the $129 retail price).

Because the phones are now sold out-of-contract and unlocked, you could instead simply buy a phone outright and then next year attempt to sell it on eBay or similar. As long as the phone hasn’t depreciated more than $489 (or $414 if you factor in sales tax), you’ll be ahead. In other words, the target sales price is $435.

I’m thinking that as long as you keep your phone in good condition, you’ll be able to sell it for more than $435 in a year’s time. An eBay search shows used 128GB iPhone 6S models regularly selling for $500 and up.

You can think of the difference in your actual resale price and $435 as the fee Apple is charging you to buy the iPhone from you instead of you having to go out and sell it yourself.

It’s interesting to note that Apple also offers a trade-in program, which currently values an unlocked 128GB iPhone 6 in good condition at $225, so you can see where the margin lies there.

In summary, now that carriers aren’t subsidizing new phones, locking them, or locking customers into 24-month contracts, you can essentially run your own upgrade program if you’re comfortable with selling your phone at the end of the year if you want to upgrade. You could do this before, but now that we don’t have the option of buying a subsidized plan (which essentially gave a very substantial discount for getting locked-in), this approach becomes a lot more attractive.

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6
Apr 16
Wed

  stuloh RT @sm_app_intel: We're live! You can now access free usage metrics for 1,000s of mobile apps. Check us out: surveymonkey.com/business/intel… https://t.co/X7FH7gQ58I CfXKfIcUEAAAGC4

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27
Mar 16
Sun

Private Pilot Checkride

I passed my private pilot checkride on Friday! The checkride, otherwise formally known as the Practical Test, was the final step to qualifying as a private pilot, which allows me to take passengers with me.

After getting postponed a couple times due to poor winter weather, spring rolled around, the weather was sunny, and the checkride was finally on. I had chosen a Friday based on examiner availability and not having to battle the weekend air traffic.

The examiner would arrive at 8.00am, so I turned up at the airport at 7.00am so I could do some last minute prep work. John, my instructor, arrived minutes later. “Did you see what’s happening outside?” I walked outside to see a workcrew with a huge drill opening up a hole in the tarmac – right in the middle of the ramp and right in front of 2407N, the plane I had booked. “Let’s hope they’ll be gone in a couple hours.”

John retrieved the plane’s maintenance logs from the hangar while I borrowed the Pilot Operating Handbook from the plane. We then spent some time fiddling around with an online FAA application form – you have to report the hours you’ve spent doing various things, and it was a chore making sure all the numbers were right.

Tom turned up at 8, and we sat down to do the administrative work. Turns out that our application form was still not quite correct, so after two more attempts we finally got that squared away and the test could begin.

The exam starts with an oral portion, followed by a practical portion where you actually do the flying (with the oral exam technically continuing through the practical portion).

The oral is open book and I had all my notes and materials arranged in front of me. But, I had drilled this stuff quite a bit so it turns out that I didn’t need to refer to the notes very much. The examiner, Tom, tossed out a few questions about documents and other requirements needed to fly – thankfully, fairly straightforward questions. He asked when the weight & balance data expired, and I had to um and ah about that for a while before I half-guessed out that it’s only going to change if the aircraft is modified.

Tom gave me a METAR to decode and left the room while I did so. I made relatively short work of it given that I had printed out the METAR decoding section of the FAA’s Aviation Weather Services document, which makes the decoding process very easy. I was done after about 10 minutes and sat there twiddling my thumbs for another 10 minute before Tom stepped in. “Oh sorry, most people take 45 minutes to do this.” Tip: Bring the AWS document to checkrides – you’ll need it to decode thorny PIREPs and METARs.

I got through the rest of the orals pretty unscathed, except for when I was stumped but what I needed to do if the altimeter setting reported was 32.10, since the plane’s altimeter adjustments don’t go that high. Turns out there’s a Part 91 rule that says you need to check the NOTAMs to figure out what to do. He asked some questions about charts (“point to one place where you can fly with 1 mile visibility, 500′ below clouds, 1000′ above clouds and 2000′ lateral to clouds”), aircraft performance, aircraft systems, the FAA’s special emphasis areas, and a few other things that I can’t quite remember now.

The oral was done after a couple of hours, and then it was on to the practical test, which was the bit that made me the most nervous.

The drilling crew had disappeared from the ramp, but they had left behind an orange cone, again directly in the path of my plane. I picked it up and saw it was covering a hole.

Someone suggested that I pull the plane around it instead of trying to taxi around it, so I did so after finishing my preflighting.

As I prepared to start the engine, a problem arose that threatened to end the exam right then and there (and I would have to pay $350 to resume it another time). A big red X appeared through the right digital fuel gauge. I had seen this problem before – it was an issue with the fuel tank being overfilled, and it would be X’ed until the fuel level dropped a little. However, the plane was not flyable with an inop fuel gauge. It was not, in pilot-speak, airworthy. I groaned.

“What’s wrong?” Tom asked.

“The right fuel gauge is inoperative,” I replied, pointing at the screen.

“Can we fly with that inoperative?”

“No,” I sighed.

“You’re right.”

I was pretty sure the slight slope the plane was on was causing the gauge issue. To make matters worse, when I wiggled in my seat to get the fuel sloshing inside the tanks, the gauge would flicker between being dead and coming back to life. So frustrating.

“Look, if you can go back in and sort this out, I’m happy to continue.”

We went back in and a discussion ensued between John, Tom and myself. I was pretty sure that the problem would be fixed by draining the right wing of a half gallon of fuel. But there was no easy way to siphon it off.

“You’re PIC [pilot in command], it’s your call,” Tom said. It was my call, and I was still being tested. If I made the wrong call, Tom could end the test right then and there.

In the end, I decided that I would take the plane out to try and burn some fuel off. I decided I would not attempt to take off, but instead just took it for a drive around the airfield. Fortunately, the regulations state that “no person may take off an aircraft with inoperative instruments or equipment installed,” with the emphasis being on “take off”, so it was ok to operate the aircraft as long as it stayed on the ground.

After starting a lap of the field, the fuel gauge corrected itself and I brought it back and shut the engine off.

I told Tom it was working again, only to find out that when I restarted the engine it was displaying the angry red X of disappointment again. “Look, I’m ok with you taking it out to the run up area, and if it’s working then, we can go,” Tom suggested.

We were now ready to go, and Tom got into the plane as I started the engine. He had had me plan a cross-country flight to Lodi (which he would divert me from), so I asked ground control for a Right Dumbarton departure that would send me over East Bay into the Central Valley.

As expected, as soon as we started taxiing, the gauge sprang back to life and stayed that way. Phew.

In the run-up area, everything went smoothly. Tom noticed that the plane to the right of us in the run-up area had a door loose, so he called into the tower to report that and it was fixed. (Incidentally, if a door comes ajar in flight, there is a procedure in the manual for dealing with it.)

We took off and after reaching the Dumbarton Bridge, I turned right and started the timer to track time to the next waypoint, over Sunol Golf Course. I had estimated 7 minutes.

Tom asked me to stay at 2500 feet. The air was smooth and I trimmed the plane for level flight. Tom tapped twice on the standby altimeter. “I think this thing is broken.” I glanced down and was pretty sure he was joking. “Private pilots aren’t meant to hold an altitude this steady.” The air in the East Bay was incredibly hazy, but seemed to clear up as we got closer.

Forecasted winds were double of what they were when we were in the air, so I made a course adjustment to compensate, and 7 minutes 10 seconds later we were over the golf course.

At Sunol, Tom asked me to plan a diversion to Salinas, which mean that I needed to estimate the course bearing and fuel needed to get there from my present position. “And you can’t use GPS,” he added. I unfurled my chart, which is always an unwieldy exercise, while sneaking quick glances back at my heading, altitude, and out the window for traffic. Unfold map. Check instruments. Check outside. Look for Salinas. Check instruments. Adjust pitch. Check outside. Use thumb to estimate chart distance. Check instruments. Adjust pitch. Check outside. Use hand to estimate heading. “150 degrees and 60 nautical miles, which is about 30 minutes and 5 gallons of fuel,” I declared. Tom was satisfied with that answer and told me to bring it in for a landing at Livermore, which was now quickly approaching.

(Incidentally, I checked after the test what the actual distance was from Sunol to Salinas and it turned out to be 57 nautical miles and 153 degrees!)

I turned to avoid entering Livermore’s airspace and got ATIS. I had a quick reference chart on the back of my kneeboard with frequencies of Bay Area airports. Much easier to look up than the chart. I called Livermore tower and was told to enter left base for 25L.

As I began my descent to pattern altitude, Tom said, “If the engine gave out here, could you make the field?”

“No.”

“Then why are you still descending?”

When I brought the plane in for a normal landing, the deceleration caused by my braking sent everything loose in the cabin shooting forward, including the kneeboard, chart, nav log and pen that were on my lap. By instinct, I took one hand off the yoke to try and catch the airborne paraphrenalia, which I half succeeded in doing. Unfortunately, I had also succeeded in losing control of my rudder pedals and the plane swerved to the left. I had to quickly adjust, and we skidded side-to-side on the runway. Crap. I decided to let go of everything and concentrate on steering the plane, dropping everything to the floor.

“Yeah you don’t want to do that,” Tom said.

A little bit shaken, I exited the runway and promptly dialed in the wrong frequency for ground control. Twice. “No, it’s point 6.” Tom mentioned. I had a mental block. By convention, when a ground frequency is given as “point something”, the three numbers before the decimal point are standard. And right now I couldn’t remember what they were. After an interminable 5 seconds, my mind become unstuck and I punched in 121.6.

We taxied back to 25L and he asked me to do a soft field takeoff. That went smoothly, and then on the downwind leg he asked me to pull the throttle to idle and called in to the tower to alert them we’d be doing a short approach.

I was having trouble judging distances (and 25L didn’t have VASI or PAPI lights), so I erred on the side of caution and kept high. As I circled onto final, I hit full flaps and realized we were still way too high. I put the plane into a forward slip.

“Not at 55 knots, you’re not,” Tom mentioned.

Shit. I immediately pushed the yoke forward to pitch down and gain speed. I always have trouble remembering to do that.

By the time I released the slip and rounded out, half of the 2700 foot runway had passed us and the end was looming. A short approach is meant to simulate an engine failure, and in the real world, I would only have one shot at landing. I might have been able to make it. But I wasn’t going to find out one way or the other.

“I’m going around,” I said.

“OK.”

Tom was silent on the next circuit.

“What sort of landing would you like?”

“A normal one.”

We were meant to be doing performance landings, so I thought he was going to let me land before telling me I had failed.

When we landed, he told me to show him a short field takeoff, so I guess I hadn’t failed. And when we came back around, he asked for a short field landing.

Finally, he told me to get a left crosswind departure and perform a no flaps takeoff. I had actually never done a no flaps takeoff. John had always taught me to take off with 10 degrees of flaps, and Cessna recommends that take offs have those flaps in. There’s not much difference, but I suspected there could have been a difference in rotation speed. I thought it was 55 knots, but I seemed to recall it being 60 knots for no flaps. So I hedged, and took off as the airspeed indicated about 57-58 knots. (Turns out that it should be 55 even with no flaps.)

On the climb out, Tom took the controls and I put on foggles. He gave me some vectors to follow. Then he was on the radio with Livermore Tower reporting that he was seeing a fire on the ground and did anyone know about it. He took the controls from me temporarily to check it out and reported back that it looked like it was a controlled burn. With foggles on, I didn’t see any of it. When I got the controls back, I was battling the turbulence coming off a ridge of hills trying to maintain my altitude and heading.

After some more vectors, Tom took the controls from me again, asked me to close my eyes, and put the plane in an unusual attitude. I came out of my seat at one stage. After Tom barked “Recover! Recover!” I opened my eyes and saw we were in a dive. I recovered. We were now heading back to the Bay.

Tom had me do slow flight, followed by clearing turns in slow flight, a power off stall, and then a steep turn to the left (which turned out quite well). Tom then simulated a medical emergency and asked me to perform an emergency descent to 1500 feet.

After recovering the plane, we headed towards the salt ponds and he had me do turns around a point at 1000′. I slipped to about 950′ at one stage, which technically broke altitude requirements over congested areas (although also technically, we were over a field so it wasn’t really congested).

Then it was back to Palo Alto for a no flaps landing. I circled a couple times to get ATIS, joined the traffic pattern, struggled a bit with getting the speed correct, but had it mostly stabilized by the time I was on short final. I landed long and had to use the last runway exit. I just needed to taxi back to parking without hitting anything on the way, but then I was done!

Tom was silent all the way back to parking. After I shut the engine down, he turned to me and remarked, “Congratulations. I’ll see you inside for the paper work.”

The club’s printer was low on toner, so Tom had printed me out a temporary private pilot certificate complete with white streaks down the middle of the page where the toner had run out. The FAA would send me a permanent certificate within 120 days, but right then and there, I was a brand new pilot!

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28
Jan 16
Thu

Celebrating 18 Years of Hear Ye!

Apparently, this blog has now reached the age of majority.

23
Jan 16
Sat
6
Jan 16
Wed

Cities over the last 365 days (2015)

Haven’t done this for a couple years, but here’s the list for last year:

Phoenix, AZ
Moab, UT
Four Corners, UT/AZ/NM/CO
Monument Valley, AZ
Sydney, Australia*
Brisbane, Australia
Boston, MA+
Washington, DC+
Beijing, China+
Osaka, Japan+
Kyoto, Japan
Dublin, Ireland
London, UK
Copenhagen, Denmark
Hanover, Germany+
Porta Westfallica, Germany
Berlin, Germany
Abu Dhabi, UAE
Doha, Qatar+
Panama City, Panama+
Seoul, South Korea
Panmunjeon, South Korea+

All places had overnight visits, unless marked with ††.

* Multiple entries, non-consecutive days.
†† Daytrip only.

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23
Dec 15
Wed

Employees falling prey to unicorpses

A few articles have been written recently about the sale of Good Technology, a mobile security startup, to BlackBerry for about $425 million, after having attained Unicorn status through a previous round of private financing.

It’s a sorry tale for the employees, who saw the value of their common stock fall about 90% in a matter of months. To make matters worse, some forms of equity compensation require employees to pay taxes when they vest, meaning some employees were paying large amounts of tax on illiquid stock – the income tax withholding rate can be around 45% in California – only to find out that the tax they paid was more than what the stock was ultimately worth. Worse still was that some employees had purchased shares on the secondary market in the months leading up to the sale. (Good appears to allow its stock to be traded privately – not all companies allow this.)

Good had a layer of preferred stockholders – presumably all of them are financial investors – who had first dibs on the sale proceeds, leaving the common stockholders – which is what employees were – with the scraps. Good’s board is now facing a lawsuit from its common stockholders citing breach of fiduciary duty (most of the board were de facto representatives of financial investors – which is common, but does lead to a perceived conflict because directors are meant to be looking out for the company and not their funds, especially as the interests of the two may sometimes diverge). Employees are also complaining that executives painted a much more rosy picture of the company’s health than it really was, essentially misleading them as to the value of their stock. From a corporate law perspective, that is all very interesting stuff to me, but that’s not what I’m writing about.

Good filed to go public in 2014 so its financial statements were public. I am far from being a finance or accounting expert, but if I was going to buy more of my own company’s stock and further concentrate my position in it, I would take a very good look at its financials. I took a cursory look at Good’s 2014 financials. The following analysis is based on my shaky and questionable understanding of financial statements.

As with a lot of unicorns, Good showed strong revenue growth, rising from 117m to 212m from 2012 to 2014. However, revenues are only part of the picture. Good was not profitable. It was actually making large operating losses at 89m, 116m and 84m from 2012-2014. Earnings (or rather, losses) after interest, tax and depreciation were roughly the same. Large losses, by themselves, are not necessarily bad, as long as there is a good reason for them. If the losses are caused by investment and R&D activity, that can be positive, as long as you see positive results from the investment. If the losses are occurring because the things the company are selling are inherently unprofitable (and that includes all the support infrastructure that goes into selling and supporting things), then that’s bad. Good’s sales and marketing expenses were high, but they had actually pared down on that expense in 2014 while increasing revenues (a good sign), and reducing its losses. So if that trend were to continue, Good would eventually get to profitability.

But an 84m loss is a lot of  money to be burning through to get to profitability, and so we look at its balance sheet. And that’s where I see a problem – going into 2015, they only had 25m in cash available, plus another 50m or so that its customers owed it. That’s not a very long runway, when in the previous year they were burning through about 7-8m a month.

Sure enough, they were struggling in 2015, and by the time BlackBerry was circling, they had apparently exhausted their short term assets and needed bridge financing of $40m to tide them over during acquisition talks.

As a company employee, you’re at the coalface, so you are normally operating at an information advantage to an outside investor. You can see what is happening in the company on a day to day basis, and you know the people that make the company tick. So to double down on your employer can be a reasonable decision to make. But I feel that a lot of employees in the Bay Area don’t really make use of all the information that’s available to them. There’s perhaps an overreliance on what they get told by management:

At an all-hands company meeting in June, Ms. Wyatt again said Good was spending responsibly. Thanks to the cash from a recent $26 million legal settlement, she added, the company had “a ton of options,” including an I.P.O., according to a video of the gathering.

“We were under the impression that Good was doing well, that there was nothing wrong with cash flow and that we had a lot of options,” said Igor Makarenko, Good’s chief information security officer, who has been an employee since 1997.

If I was told that, and I was looking at the financials, I would have been nervous and asking some very specific questions.

In a part of the world where equity can make up a large percentage of employee compensation, I sometimes find it jarring how little an understanding there is among employees of how it works. Silicon Valley startups give equity to employees to incentivize performance and make them feel like owners – as the company’s fortunes rise and fall, so too do yours. But it’s also a financial investment, and you have to act like a financial investor if you really want to understand it.

(Or you can just join a company like Netflix, which replaces the typical equity component with cash compensation, leading to very high salaries. They do have an option purchase plan, but you have to consciously allocate some of your comp to equity.)

 

good-bs good-pl

 

 

 

  7:55pm  •  Business & Finance  •  Tweet This  •  Add a comment  • 
22
Nov 15
Sun

Inching towards a license to fly

Still inching along towards getting my private pilot license. The weather hasn’t been cooperating lately, and there was a stretch of about 6 weeks where I only flew once. I’m currently sitting on about 55 hours of flying, which is about average for the stage I’m at. It’s definitely taken longer than I thought it would, given that I started in mid-March.

I took the private pilot knowledge test a couple weeks ago. It’s a computer-administered test. 60 multiple choice questions over 150 minutes. There’s an outline book you use to study it, and you can get through it in a couple weekends. Compared to the MBE for the bar exam (200 multiple choice questions over 6 hours), this one was a piece of cake. Took me 60 minutes for a 97%, but I think if you eyeball the questions requiring chart reading and calculation and make educated guesses, you should be able to get through the whole thing with a passing grade in under 40 minutes. Not that a pilot wants to just scrape by on a test like this – the main person that’s going to lose out if they don’t actually know the materials is the pilot.

KPAO-KSTS-KPAO: 7.00pm Thursday 11/19 (3.1 hours) – 824LB

Earlier this week, I met my night flying requirements. Before you can take the checkride (the practical test that’s the final hurdle to getting a license), you have to clock 3 hours of night flying, including a cross-country flight of at least 100 nautical miles. You also have to perform 10 full stop landings at night.

John was kind enough to accommodate my request to fly north up to Santa Rosa in Sonoma, which would be a much more interesting route than going south to sleepy Salinas (another popular training route). The weather over San Francisco is always a bit iffy, but fortunately the weather held and we had a beautiful calm, clear night under a waxing quarter moon.

By the time I arrived at the airport after work, it was almost completely dark. John was caught up in rush hour traffic on the 101, so he texted me that he would be a bit late. Preflighting was a challenge, as was seeing around the cockpit. There wasn’t enough gas in the tanks, and fuel service had closed for the day, so we had to taxi over to the fuel island where I got my first chance to refuel a plane. It’s almost exactly like refueling a car, except that you first need to ground the plane with a metal cable, there are two tanks to fill, and there’s no auto-shutoff valve so you have to watch the tank closely to see when it’s getting full. The Cessna I was flying holds 53 gallons of usable fuel.

With the tanks all full, we were ready to go. The route we plotted would take us into San Francisco’s Class B airspace, up along the 101, over the city, between the Golden Gate and Alcatraz, into North Bay and up to Santa Rosa. On the way back, we would fly via the Skaggs Island VOR and Oakland.

Flying at night was equal parts beautiful and unnerving. Shortly after we took off, we were handed off to San Carlos Airport’s tower and were directed to transition their airspace while keeping the 101 off our right side. Ahead of us, two trickling streams of white and red – El Camino Real on the left and the 101 on the right – traced their way up the Peninsula through the glistening city lights.  On the right we could see the black surface of the bay waters, framed by the lights of East Bay towns flickering in the haze. On the left, city lights extended for a short distance before abruptly terminating in an inky darkness. The foothills were there, but it was disconcertingly impossible to see them.

The night both sharpens and hides. While during the day other aircraft are difficult to see – beyond 3 miles, it’s difficult to spot anything other than large jet airliners – at night the distractions and background fades away, leaving just the moving flashes of airline strobe lights. Traffic becomes less of a concern, and focus turns more to “terrain avoidance” and hoping that there isn’t a stray cloud right in front of you.

San Carlos Tower handed us off to San Francisco Airport’s tower and, for the first time, I got to speak with the same people that speak everyday to the airline pilots who take us to lands much farther than Sonoma.

“San Francisco Tower, Skyhawk 824LB, Level 1500.”

SFO Tower cleared us into their airspace and then went back to directing the big jets. “United 455, San Francisco Tower, Wind 290 at 5, Runway 28L, cleared to land.” Off our right side, we watched as pairs of airlines landed on the twin runways of 28L and 28R, while pairs took off on 1L and 1R, alternating in a graceful aeronautical choreography. “American 218, Wind 290 at 6, Runway 1L, cleared for take off.” Two points of light, Skywest 312W and American 218, started crawling down the runway, followed by a small shift in angle indicating that they had become airborne.

“Cessna 4LB, fly to the control tower and then make one left 360.” They wanted us to make a circle to create some spacing for the jets that were taking off. I pointed the plane directly at San Francisco airport, flew overhead, and then started my left turn, 1500 feet above the ground. We had an amazing view of the airport.

“Tighten up the turn a little bit,” John said, as the plane pointed towards the foothills, still cloaked in blackness.

With the turn completed, we resumed our course and flew over the city, the Golden Gate and Bay Bridge extending like arms from downtown San Francisco. Then we were in North Bay, with the city lights rapidly fading behind us, and the terrain rapidly becoming more rugged and less populated. It felt like we were leaving civilization – and more so when we were handed over to Oakland Center.

Airspace is carved up into different pieces for air traffic control to manage. Generally, the busier the airspace, the smaller the chunk that gets sliced off for an air traffic control facility to handle. Airport towers deal with the areas immediately surrounding the airport (and potentially neighboring untowered airports) and Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) facilities can control airspace spanning thousands of square miles around them. Oakland Center, the callsign for the Oakland Air Route Traffic Control Center (ARTCC), is responsible for millions of square miles of coverage – a staggering amount of almost 10% of the Earth’s surface area, mostly over the Pacific Ocean. It spends the majority of its time directing jet traffic at altitudes where even the tallest mountains don’t reach.

It is not unusual, but it is relatively uncommon for an ARTCC to be watching over a small Cessna crawling up the California coast at 6,500 feet. It was just an indication of how relatively remote things were even a short distance north of a major world city.

Mount Tamalpais was supposed to be off our left side but, without any lights, land, sea and sky had merged into an inscrutable void. Ahead of us, small islands of lights – the towns of Novato, Petaluma, and Santa Rosa – speckled in the void as beacons to our destination.

By the time we were about 25 miles out from Santa Rosa Airport, Oakland Center told us that the airport tower had closed for the night and then terminated our radar services, meaning that they were no longer tracking us. We were alone in the night.

At night, airports can sometimes be difficult to make out among the other city lights, but Santa Rosa airport was pretty easy to see. A slowly rotating green and white light beacon marked the airport. The airport had what’s called pilot controlled lighting. You tune your radio into the airport’s frequency, press your microphone button several times and then, magically, the runway illuminates, emblazoned with a frame of light. There’s a certain sense of satisfaction that comes with being able to press a button at a distance of 10 miles and turning on a whole bunch of bright lights.

We landed at Santa Rosa and then returned to Palo Alto Airport without incident. Landing at night was not as difficult as I thought it would be and, after I had dutifully made ten landings, we called it a night. This was the longest flight that I had done to date, and although it was tiring (especially after a workday on which someone had decided to schedule a 7.30am meeting), it was one of the most fun flights I’ve had.

So, what do I have left to do? I have a couple hours of solo flying to complete, as well as an hour or so of hoodwork, and then it’s all down to preparing for the checkride. Winter is coming and with it, if you believe the meteorologists, the rains, so hopefully I can get it done before they hit.

  1:46pm  •  Travel  •  Tweet This  •  Add a comment  • 



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