Hear Ye! Since 1998.
Oct 15

The Martian

Just saw The Martian. Best movie of the year for me.

I watched it with a group of five friends – each with a PhD* in various fields – biology, quantum physics, applied physics, and two in electrical engineering. (They could’ve stood in for the crew in the movie!) They thought the film was pretty legit in the science department, so I’ll take their word for it.

If you like science or space, go watch it. If you have young kids and you want to see if you can kindle or stoke their interest in science, go and watch it with them. Really enjoyable, engaging movie.

A couple other thoughts.

I found their casting decisions to be really positive – it felt more diverse on the racial and gender front than I would have expected for a Hollywood production. I think it must have been a conscious decision to cast a woman as the mission commander – she has to make some very tough decisions to make in the movie, and she makes them in a way that unambiguously shows she’s a strong leader. Fictional characters can make great role models, and the women leaders in The Martian can inspire the girls who watch the movie to aspire to the same.

I also found that the Chinese tie-in was interesting. There’s of course the heartwarming angle about scientists cooperating free from politics (and it’s a good reflection of how scientists around the world really do collaborate on all manner of projects). But ironically, politics has also probably influenced those scenes being in the movie.

That’s because the political climate of the day often dictates who plays the villains in movies. During the Cold War, the Russians were always the bad guys. These days, the Russians are making a comeback of sorts – there are so many movies and TV series these days where the Russian mob is involved. On the other hand, I think Hollywood has backed off from casting Chinese as the bad guys. My theory is that it’s driven by financial interests. The Chinese movie-watching market is a huge one, and you don’t want to alienate such a large audience by casting their country in such an antagonizing way. The Chinese are also starting to reach out to Hollywood with financing (did you notice the Alibaba Pictures logo at the start of the latest Mission Impossible?). It’s also not good to antagonize your funding sources. The Chinese tie-in also recognizes the rise of China as the world’s second largest economy and the ascendancy of its space program.

The movie also kind of gave a shout out to lawyers as well! I actually studied space law in law school and participated in an international space law mooting competition, so it was cool to hear the bit about space pirates!

Anyway, go see the movie.

* Yes, I am the Wolowitz of that group:

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Sep 15

Where do you come from?

“Where do you come from?” is an awkward way to ask someone what their origin is. For anyone who has a multicultural background, it’s hard to figure out if you’re being asked where you were born, where your parents came from, where you spent your childhood, where you currently live, or what’s your ethnicity. Adding “Originally?” to the end of that question only removes one of those possibilities, and it also can generate snide comebacks. “Yes, I was originally from Australia too.”

I find when I ask that question, I’m trying to find out where the person spent most of their formative years – where they got their accent, where did get their early education, where they were with their parents. I heard someone ask a version of this question a while ago that has now become my go to question: “Where did you grow up?” This invites the person being asked to answer how they want, without loading the question with any awkward assumptions.

Then, if you want, you can follow up with – did your parents grow up there too?

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Aug 15

  stuloh I HATE @comcast. Worst company ever. I would lose them in a second if they didn't have a monopoly on Internet in my area.

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Jun 15

First Solo Flight!

Haven’t posted for a while, but thought this lesson warranted one.

On Sunday, John told me that today was a possibility for my first solo flight. He would go a few rounds with me, and if he was happy with my landings, he would step out of the plane. On Monday night, the weather forecast was showing IFR conditions and mist at 8am, but happily the sky was pretty clear when I woke up.

John jumped in the plane after another battle with traffic on the 101 which allowed me to catch up on some work emails while I waited for him after pre-flighting, and we took off. Even though my flight was at 8am, someone had taken the plane out for a couple hours earlier in the day so the fuel tanks were only half full. As a result, the lighter plane handled differently and I ballooned the first couple of landings quite a lot. John was silent the whole time, and I know he was just trying to simulate me not having him next to me on a solo, but I was struggling not to interpret the silence as sullen disappointment at the landings.

We then did a short approach and I came in way too high and had to go around.

To my surprise, after another couple landings, John said that he was going to step out of the plane and let me try flying it alone – the standard three take offs and full stop landings for the first solo. But we were going to taxi over to transient parking first to refuel so that the plane would handle more familiarly (especially given that John would no longer be in the plane). John signed my solo endorsement, wished me luck, and I was alone. It was very quiet in the cockpit.

“Palo Alto Ground, Skyhawk 501SC is a student pilot on first solo, at transient parking with Foxtrot, taxi for closed traffic.”

I was a little nervous, but far less than I had expected. I forgot to lean the mixture after starting up the engine until I got to the run up area, but otherwise I got up into the air fine. The traffic pattern was thankfully fairly quiet – a few others coming and going, but nothing confusing.

The first landing attempt felt wonky during the round out and I went around.

On the second attempt I had what was probably my best landing in a long time – a greaser. I pulled into the parallel where John was observing with his dog, and he gave me the A-OK sign.

My second landing was not so good – I dropped the plane in a little at the end. Taxiing back down the parallel, John was waving his hand at me, palm down. I didn’t know exactly what it meant, but I’m pretty sure it had something to do with mediocrity.

My final landing was ok – a few issues with the rudder saw me bounce a bit from wheel to wheel on landing, but the flare was fine. Done!

I taxied back to the club and was switching off the plane when John arrived and congratulated me. I have to say, it felt pretty awesome.

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Jun 15

  stuloh Things are at the stage where every second day at work I'm telling people, "Hey that happened on an episode of Silicon Valley!"

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May 15


After eyeing this place for the last 6 years, I finally bit the bullet and visited Baumé in Palo Alto last week. I posted my review on Medium.

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The Restaurant at Meadowood

We had the opportunity to visit The Restaurant at Meadowood up in Napa a couple months ago. I posted my review on Medium.

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May 15

Cancelled Flight

No flight today (Thursday 5/22). On my preflight inspection, I discovered a big chip in the propeller of 824LB, so that was that and we returned to the club to issue a grounding squawk.

We instead covered the pre-solo written test materials and a single engine checkout form that my flying club requires to be completed before first solo. At least it was a step towards solo!

No lessons until Sunday next week as I’m heading to Japan for a week.

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Flight 19: PAO-PAO

7.00am Tuesday 5/19 (1.0 hours) – 824LB

Today was a good day for landings. Much better than Sunday, which was pretty shite. John wants to use the next lesson to head out to refresh maneuvers. Getting close to the first solo flight now.

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Flight 18: PAO-PAO

9.00am Sunday 5/17 (1.0 hours) – 824LB

More landing practice. It’s been a case of two steps forward, one step back. Today was the step back. For some reason the worse days tend to be on the Sundays, and the better days are the early hours of weekday mornings – which is kind of weird because I’m so not a morning person. Flaring was all over the place for some reason and it wasn’t clicking like it did for the last two lessons.

There were a few interesting moments in the pattern when the tower momentarily ‘lost the flick’ of what was going on and spooked a bunch of people out. Interestingly, I totally stumbled across an awesome video shot by the student pilot of another Cessna 172 SP that was flying the pattern with us that day (N501SC), and it turns out that I was flying in the slot in front of him for a few circuits.

On one of the circuits I even got a critique of my flying from him as we were both on a long final and he was watching me from behind. We were high (definitely two white VASI lights), and we were also flying the full length of final at 65 knots for separation. Despite my unstabilized approach, I thought the video was pretty cool:

“Ok, I don’t see where is our traffic.”
“He’s way too high.”
“Oh he’s… eh.”
“And he’s flying, I don’t think he’s landing.”
“I think so, I think they’re coming in from the high side.”
“He’s climbing! … He’s gonna go around. … I don’t think they’re attempting to land.”
Number one, cleared for the option 31, 4 Lima Bravo.
“Maybe they’re doing a short field landing where you purposely come in a bit steeper.” (Alas, we were not!)

I find that listening to the comms takes up a huge amount of my mental bandwidth and if I tune it in and there’s a lot of comms traffic (as there was during downwind), I get sloppy with the flying, and of course if I tune it out, I miss radio calls (which you can hear when tower calls me number 1 and John had to jump in to respond – we had already been cleared as number 3 so I wasn’t listening for a further clearance call). You can hear both instructors (John and Mark) also jumping in during the periods of confusion during crosswind and downwind.

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May 15

Flight 17: PAO-PAO

7.00am Friday 5/15 (1.0 hours) – 824LB

Second day with a few decent landings to start off with, but I seem to get worse the more I do in a row. Fatigue?

John introduced me to power off landings today as well. They are basically short approaches simulating an engine failure when you’re roughly abeam the numbers on downwind. Some differences to a normal landing:

  • The turn to base is done sooner (accounting for wind). Flaps are kept up, pitch for best glide speed and trim.
  • The turn through base and final can be less squared and more rounded (cutting the corners, so to speak)
  • By the time you reach final and aiming at the numbers, you can be coming in at a slight angle instead of straight in.
  • Flaps full only when landing is assured.
  • If too high, need to slip to lose altitude without picking up too much additional speed
  • If you come in too fast, you’ll need more runway (obviously)

Slipping is a bit of a weird sensation that I’ll need to get used to.

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Flight 16: PAO-PAO

6.30am Wednesday 5/13 (1.1 hours) – 824LB

Missed last Sunday’s lessons due to thunderstorms at DFW, through which I was transiting. After boarding the plane, we were notified of a ground stop due to thunderstorms in the vicinity. No personnel could work out in the open while there was lightning nearby, so basically we couldn’t load catering, luggage, or refuel. I was listening to DFW Ground and Tower on my iPhone’s LiveATC app for the hour or so we were delayed (which caused me to misconnect) and the usually busy frequencies were eerily quiet.

I also pushed Tuesday’s lesson to Wednesday because work was holding an early all hands to welcome in Zander as Exec Chairman.

Today, the landings finally clicked, like John said they would. First three landings of the day were good. Then the next few were not so good. But I know now what I need to look out for – not rounding out too soon, and not flaring too late when I sense the aircraft dropping, and then not flaring too quickly when I sense the aircraft dropping.

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May 15

Flight 15: PAO-PAO

7.00am Thursday 5/7 (1.2 hours) – 824LB – Winds 4kts – Skattered clouds at 1500′

The club just got three new planes – two of them are C172SPs with G1000s, so that will make scheduling a plane easier. They also had to get a new cash register drawer to store the new keys. When you check out a plane on the computer, the drawer automatically pops open so you can fish out the key, but today it wouldn’t give it up so I was left twiddling my thumbs for 20 minutes until someone came along and helped.

We had to cancel Tuesday’s lesson because John had a flat car battery and couldn’t make it up on time. Despite my protestations, John decided to comp this lesson because of the last minute cancellation. He’s really a stand-up guy. (Also, I better not cancel last minute myself and expect a hall pass either.)

As for the lesson, it was take off and landing practice today. First time taking off on runway 13. Then the winds changed and we switched back to 31.

Still having trouble nailing the flare.

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May 15

Flight 14: PAO-PAO

9.30am Sunday 5/3 (1.1 hours) – 824LB – Winds 4kts – Skattered clouds at 1500′ – Visibility 6 SM – 14°C

Landing pattern practice. The landing flare is still giving me a bit of problems. Gradually figuring out the right rudder and aileron inputs for the round-out but suffering from pilot-induced oscillations. I need to:

  • Apply left rudder in the round out to counteract the right-turning tendency due to p-factor
  • Apply ailerons to stop any lateral drift
  • Stop jiggling the yoke and let the airplane settle if it oscillates
  • Flare to level and wait for the plane to settle before flaring smoothly up to landing attitude
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Apr 15

Flight 13: PAO-PAO

Well it looked like a good day to practice pattern work – skies clear and wind calm. But at 600 feet the wind went from calm to 22 knots, which was enough for John to call quits on the lesson only three landings in. Only 0.7 hours on the Hobbs tach. The landings were ok, but still having trouble with radio calls.

A few planes struggled to land this morning – several go arounds, and one plane managed to overshoot the tarmac and end up in the dirt. Hopefully Sunday I can get some real practice in.

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SF vs NY

The difference between living in New York and San Francisco. Yep.

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Apr 15

Flight 12: PAO-PAO

9.00am Sunday 4/26 (1.1 hours) – 824LB – Winds 4kts – Sky Clear – Visibility 30 SM – 17°C

This was the first flight where we had a passenger. A colleague was visiting from Dublin office and he rode in the backseat today while we did our lesson. Interestingly, the extra weight made a noticeable difference in the way the plane handled.

Palo Alto airport finally reopened after completing a phase of runway maintenance, and the Sunday morning weather was great for flying. Unfortunately, everyone else had the same idea and the place was the busiest I’ve seen so far. The line up area was full and the radio chatter was almost non-stop. After I completed the run up, I switched over to tower and was about to request clearance to depart when I heard “824 Lima Bravo, Palo Alto Tower, hold short at runway 31″.

I was confused. I hadn’t even contacted the tower yet and he was clearing me up to the runway. I looked at John and gestured I had no idea what was going on. He looked a bit puzzled too. He took over the comms. “Ok, we didn’t call for take off yet, but we’re ready and will take it, 8 Lima Bravo.”

The tower realized he’d made a mistake and quickly corrected himself. “Correction. 2704 November, hold short at runway 31.” Then after it was read back, “824 Lima Bravo, you’re number 2.” And then only seconds later the departure queue was 5 deep.

We headed out to the coastal training area. This was the first lesson I’d had in almost two weeks, and it was immediately apparent I was rusty. John taught me the last two basic maneuvers I needed to know – power-on stalls (which are pretty straight forward) and emergency descents (which are also pretty straight forward). John had me practice a transition to slow flight (I drifted off my heading) and steep turns (which I really struggled with – the extra weight was throwing me off). We did a simulated engine failure as well, which was sloppy. So, lots of things I need to work on.

On the way back to the airport, the skies around the airport were a zoo. As I was focusing on flying the plane, I was vaguely aware of the stream of radio chatter in the background, but it all kind of washed over me. Apparently there were people missing radio calls and stepping on each other. Once we were on final, things were better. My landing was… passable.

Looks like we’ll be heading out to east bay to practice ground reference maneuvers in the not too distant future.

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Apr 15

Silicon Valley (TV series)

I gotta say, I find the HBO TV series Silicon Valley absolutely hilarious, but I wonder how many people outside of the Valley understand all the jokes?

The thing is, with a lot of the stuff on the show that seems exaggerated… that shit actually happens IRL. And, being a Valley lawyer, I found this exchange on the last episode priceless where the lawyer is listing out all the “boilerplate” things Pied Piper is being sued for:

Ron LaFlamme: “…breach of non-solicitation and the hiring of someone named Donald Dunn.”

Richard: “That’s Jared. We call him Jared.”

Ron: “Changing his name to get out of it. Clever, but irrelevant…”

And then in an example of how stuff seems exaggerated but it’s not:

“We’re going to have to lawyer up.”

“Waaaait. Aren’t you our lawyer?”

“I’m not a litigator. That’s what you need.”

“Another lawyer. Really?”

Lawyers, Richie. You don’t wanna mess around here.”

In recounting this exchange, one reviewer observed how LaFlamme “immediately distances himself from the hard work of the lawsuit,” but the truth is, that’s exactly what a corporate lawyer in the Valley (and outside the Valley for that matter), would say.

And in season 1 there’s a scene where Jared (the biz dev guy) creates a scrum board to manage the team’s projects. A couple weeks later, I walk into a meeting room at work, and the biz dev guys had put up a scrum board on the wall. (I then printed out the picture below and stuck it on their board. They took it in good humor.)


Click here to see the full scene.

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Apr 15

Ground Lesson: Weather

It’s never great when you’re scheduled to fly and the METAR prints “OVC 010″ and doesn’t change when you get to the airport despite the forecasts (that’s overcast skies at 1000 feet, which is no good when you’re a student pilot flying VFR). Fittingly, we did a ground lesson on weather instead.

I learned about Synopses, area forecasts, TAFs, AIRMETs, SIGMETs, pireps, MOS, and a litany of weather abbreviations.

I also learned about weather systems and the explanation for why San Francisco is so cold and foggy. The reasoning goes something like this: warm air rises and denser colder air tends to move in to take its place. Especially in summer, the inland Central Valley heats up a fair amount relative to the coastal waters (which are quite cold as they tend to flow down from the arctic). This draws in a mass of cold air from the ocean, but it typically is blocked by the coastal range of hills that extends up and down the west coast. The bay inlet that the Golden Gate Bridge spans is the only sea level break in the hill range for hundreds of miles in either direction, so the cold air and mist pours in through that opening and swamps the city in its trademark summer foggy coldness. When the temperature imbalance is too much, the mist can roll over the hills, but that’s relatively rare and explains why the peninsula can be so sunny when San Francisco is not.

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Apr 15

Flight 11: PAO-PAO

6.30am Friday 4/17 (1.2 hours) – 501SC – Winds Calm – Sky Clear – Visibility 10 SM – 10°C

I don’t normally fly on Fridays, but John had a student that had a Thursday check ride so we had to push. Apparently the student had been trying to schedule a check ride since February but it kept getting cancelled due to weather. He finally got to take it and passed.

We started a half hour earlier than usual today because I needed to get to work to take care of a transaction that was signing.

The airport is pretty quiet at dawn, so much so that I was cleared to taxi to runway 31 “at my discretion”. There are two routes to the runway from the flying club – via the hangar side (left) and via the terminal side (right). I got to pick today as it seemed there wasn’t any ground traffic.

Today was landing practice. John let me do 8 of them – I think all but one or two were unassisted. I had a string of decent ones, then a couple of terrible ones, then finished with a couple of ok ones.

PAO is doing runway maintenance works over the next couple weeks and also refreshing the paintwork. They are halfway through the repainting because it looked like a lot of the markings had been wiped off, including the demarcation line on 31, which threw me off on the first couple of landings. They also had switched the VASI lights off so I only had my eyes to rely on to figure out if I was on glide path.

I know what a good landing feels like now but, on average, I’m still hunting around a bit at each stage — timing when to idle and glide in (I keep thinking I’m too low when I’m not), when to start the round out (I kind of get this) and, most of all, how quickly to flare. I have a tendency to balloon after yanking back too quickly after the round out (especially when I see the plane’s shadow swoop in). Then, after the plane settles, I don’t flare enough and bump down hard.

Also, on my final landing, for some reason I pushed the yoke forward after the back wheels had touched down, which is always a no-no when landing.

I’ve gotten the hang of pattern work mostly now. Need to work on stabilizing the cruise downwind when levelling off at the 800′ pattern altitude — I get a bit confused when I’m turning into the crosswind or downwind leg, I hit the pattern altitude, and then I need to respond to the tower if they clear me for the option at the same time. The sequence is: hit pattern altitude, use yoke to set level pitch attitude, wait until speed picks up, reduce power to 2200rpm and trim. Steer the plane while doing it and monitor comms.

There wasn’t any traffic in the pattern today, but John said if there was, we’d extend downwind by slowing down – reducing power to 1600rpm, applying full flaps at under 85 knots, adjusting pitch to hold altitude, and then bumping the power back up to ~1900rpm to maintain pattern altitude at 65 knots. We’d then maintain that speed through the rest of the pattern.

This weekend John wants to teach me the last two maneuvers — power on stalls and emergency descents, then we can head out to Central Valley to do some ground reference maneuvers.

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