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2005/10/30 San Francisco Bay Tour Flight
π 2005-10-30 21:50 by Merlin in Flying

I didn't get to fly Saturday due to bad weather (very low ceiling, which means that the clouds were way too low and that I would have needed a special authorization and a rated instructor to fly through the clouds and end up on top).
But sunday was a lot better, so I went for my bay tour flight, which is really a flight into class bravo (San Francisco airspace) to San Francisco, the golden gate and so forth. While I learn from each flight of course, this was more a leisure and sightseeing flight.

No complaints on the sightseeing, I got to fly around the golden gate itself, and then through oakland airport (well above), and back to San Carlos and Palo Alto.
I used the rest of the flight to do some training (steep turns and navigation).
See the rest of the pictures there (in higher resolution)






The plane waiting to takeoff on Runway 19L is doing an engine runup test (see the water)







2005/10/30 The sad state of the US GSM cell phone network
π 2005-10-30 08:49 by Merlin in Public

Current Music: Les enfoirés - 2000 - La Bombe Humaine
Current Mood: Fair

I spent a fair amount of time yesterday with Cingular/AT &T; yesterday, for the 5th or 6th time.
This all started with me being an AT &T; customer, which was fine, until the day they got bought by Cingular. In theory, that means a bigger and better network to roam on, so that was good news.
In real life, this meant two networks that my phone could see, but this also meant that AT &T; turned off their closest tower to my house, leaving me with a far away tower with bad signal.
This turned out to be because Cingular Wireless had their own tower down my street with great signal. This was all great except that my old phone would not use the Cingular tower since it wasn't its 'home network' unless the AT &T; tower totally disappeared, which it seldom did (i.e. I had enough signal to get one unusable bar). Solution to that was to reconfigure my phone to manually lock to the (otherwise inferior) Cingular network. That worked for home, until I went out of Cingular coverage, and my phone wouldn't pick a working AT &T; tower until I put it back to automatic mode. Lame...

Solution from AT &T; : "you have to get a new phone with a new 64K Sim, along with cingular service". For quite a while, I just didn't bother since I was still using the old and reliable TDMA service on my Siemens S46 dual mode tri band phone, and one day they sent me a letter that they were going to turn that service off.
All, right, great: at this point I didn't have a choice anymore and bought a new Nokia Communicator 9500 (unfortunately it only did 1900Mhz in the US, no 850). Cingular asked me why I didn't buy one of their 850/1900 pre-programmed phones instead, and that's mostly because they were crap, like the Palm based Treo 650 (the Palmsource engineers, some of them I know personally , have since then fled the said company, confirming that that phone and its OS has no real future).
Anyway, the Nokia Communicator 9500 is a great phone, I went to Cingular to migrate my service from AT &T; to Cingular, went through more work to get everything working again, and ended up with a more expensive plan I didn't really need.
I then go home, and end up with the same exact problem: phone locks in on AT &T.; Grr!!!

More time with support on the phone, eventually I get a knowledgeable person from tech support who sends a reprogramming to my phone's Sim card to tell it to prefer Cingular over AT &T.; That was yesterday, the phone accepts the programming, I turn it back on, and still the same thing!
More time with support, more explaining why I didn't want to use their crappy phones, and eventually the support person tells me that my phone must be overriding the Sim's preferred network (i.e. Cingular) and that I should talk to Nokia to see if I can disable that.
I do so, and Nokia tells me that there is no such setting, and it must be a problem with the provider.
Joy...

Y'all suck!

Anyway, I'm back to locking my phone on one network, and having to change that every so often when I get out of Cingular coverage. It sounds that my only hope at this point is to wait for Cingular to actually merge both networks so that they only show up as one. With a little luck, that'll happen in a few months...

Of course, I could switch to T-Mobile, the other GSM provider, but they just have an inferior network and don't offer EDGE, just GPRS...

I'm so glad I live in a technologically advanced country.
2005/10/19 Didn't make it
π 2005-10-19 22:48 by Merlin in Flying

So, not very surprisingly, I failed today. I could not get decent sleep last night and have been feeling like shit and quite tired all day.
As a result, after doing the basic stuff, the examiner left me close to an airport, and gave me a bunch of things to do to overload me (which is expected and part of the exercise). The point was to redirect me to a nearby airport but I was about 30 seconds late getting everything done and calling the tower, so in the end, I had just penetrated their airspace by the time I called them (i.e. too late). If I had been awake, I would
- have been just a bit faster and would have had had the problem, or
- realized that I was just a bit too close and turned around until I had time to call

Well, I did pass ground (i.e. required knowledge) with flying colors actually and I still passed a bunch of things in the flying exam, so I won't have to take those again.

Basically, I know that while I can be very smart, my mental abilities are very uneven, and go way down with lack of sleep (much faster than others) or other physical reasons. I failed to be in the top 1/10,000 students in France and had to settle with 1/1,000-ish mostly because of costly and punctual brain farts. This has plagued me my entire life, and obviously it comes up in flying.
My goal however is to have my skill level be high enough that I will manage to do the right thing even if I suddenly become very tired or otherwise start losing mental "sharpness" while in flight (I shouldn't have left otherwise) and get overloaded with bad situations on top of that.
I have achieved that for driving since I do an instruct for high performance and track driving: I can manoeuvre at high speed and in dicy conditions (like opposite lock countersteering if I oversteer in a turn due to water or oil), even if I'm not much awake, because I've trained enough that I can do it out cold. I have to reach the same level for flying.

In the meantime, I'm just frustrated because I learned nothing that I didn't already know today, nor will this piece of the test really help me in real life, nor will another 20 or 50 hours of training really help with what happened today.
Now, I'll just take the missing pieces until I pass them, which is mostly until I either get lucky or a decent night of sleep the prior night, but that kind of defeats the purpose of additional training when the training is already enough, and additional training will not really help improve my odds of passing next time.

Anyway, I should be able to try again in a couple of weeks and in the meantime, I Emailed the controller at Livermore Airport to explain what happened (not required, just a curtesy), and filed an FAA form about the airspace incursion (not requested, but it's good practise).
If you are curious, here's the form, ( NASA 277B PDF header and report ), which is just an excerpt of the report I sent to my instructors , although that's more technical and mostly for pilots
2005/10/17 Damn, I'm a bit stressed
π 2005-10-17 17:48 by Merlin in Flying

Current Music: Dave 202 Presents Powerface - Abyss
Current Mood: See subject :)

Two more days before my flight test, so much I've learned, and so much I feel I still don't know (then again, with about 2000 pages of knowledge, rules and regulations, I guess that's normal).
The worst part is that if I fail, it will most likely be on some stupid brain fart mistake (i.e. something I otherwise know how to do).... I guess we'll see, more studying for the next 2 nights, and I have another flight scheduled tomorrow morning.
Right now, I currently estimate my chances of passing the first time, at 40%, at best. That's the perfect state of mind for taking an exam :)
2005/10/16 and a few parting words from cartman...
π 2005-10-16 00:01 by Merlin in Public

As we fight our way northwest into the great unknown, only one thing remains certain: is that I hate you guys with every tired muscle in my confederate bottom. We have taken topeka, and now I must rally the men en route to Missoura, because I will not stop until we have won it all, and you guys are my slaves, because I hate you guys, I hate you guys so very very much :)
This is why I love South Park :)

Another favourite is "I hate you guys, words just cannot express how much I hate you guys" :)
2005/10/15 I've been studying my butt off
π 2005-10-15 23:56 by Merlin in Flying

Current Music: Matt Darey - Pure Trance - 2005-07-12
Current Mood: Ok

I've been studying my butt off and training quite a bit this week, it's the last stretch before my final flight test with an FAA examiner next wednesday.
I did a test flight thursday, and it was actually fairly bad. I made stupid and compounded mistakes because I was tired....
I flew again today and did better, including a power off landing (simulated engine failure) including a split to landing, all a night, with a resulting smooth landing.
I think I also finally learned to do steep turns properly today so that I hopefully won't fail that on my check ride :)
Now, I'm back to studying, studying and more studying. Reminds me of school :)
(it is a lot of shit to know actually, and a lot of it is even important ;-p )
2005/10/15 New spam record, and 70,000 spam blocked
π 2005-10-15 22:49 by Merlin in Public

I was shuffling my SA-Exim logs, after realizing that I had more than 1G of spam mail saved, I also found the highest scored spam ever: 86.2!
In the meantime, I also found that my anti-spam software has blocked more than 70,000 spams on my server. Go me! :)

Subject: SPAM: 86.2: ºô¸ô¶}©±Àu´f¤è®×¡I ¦n§·m¥ý³ø¡I
X-Spam-Status: Yes, score=86.2 required=7.0 tests=BAYES_99,BIZ_TLD,
DOMAIN_RATIO,FORGED_IMS_HTML,FORGED_MUA_IMS,FORGED_YAHOO_RCVD,
HEAD_ILLEGAL_CHARS,HELO_DYNAMIC_DHCP,HELO_DYNAMIC_IPADDR,HTML_90_100,
HTML_CHARSET_FARAWAY,HTML_IMAGE_RATIO_02,HTML_MESSAGE,HTML_WEB_BUGS,
HTTP_ESCAPED_HOST,HTTP_EXCESSIVE_ESCAPES,MIME_BASE64_TEXT,
MIME_BOUND_DD_DIGITS,MIME_HTML_ONLY,MIME_HTML_ONLY_MULTI,
MISSING_MIMEOLE,MPART_ALT_DIFF,MSGID_SPAM_CAPS,MSGID_YAHOO_CAPS,
RAZOR2_CF_RANGE_51_100,RAZOR2_CHECK,RCVD_BY_IP,RCVD_DOUBLE_IP_SPAM,
RCVD_IN_BL_SPAMCOP_NET,RCVD_IN_DSBL,RCVD_IN_NJABL_DUL,
RCVD_IN_SORBS_DUL,RCVD_IN_SORBS_WEB,RCVD_IN_XBL,SPF_HELO_SOFTFAIL,
SUBJ_ILLEGAL_CHARS,TO_MARCNEWS autolearn=spam
version=3.0.3-mmrules_20041125
X-Spam-Report:
* 3.8 MSGID_YAHOO_CAPS Message-ID has ALLCAPS@yahoo.com
* 1.2 HELO_DYNAMIC_DHCP Relay HELO'd using suspicious hostname (DHCP)
* 4.1 MIME_BOUND_DD_DIGITS Spam tool pattern in MIME boundary
* 4.4 HELO_DYNAMIC_IPADDR Relay HELO'd using suspicious hostname (IP addr 1)
* 4.0 TO_MARCNEWS To marc_news
* 3.8 MSGID_SPAM_CAPS Spam tool Message-Id: (caps variant)
* 0.1 RCVD_BY_IP Received by mail server with no name
* 2.9 SUBJ_ILLEGAL_CHARS Subject contains too many raw illegal characters
* 3.1 SPF_HELO_SOFTFAIL SPF: HELO does not match SPF record (softfail)
* [SPF failed: Please see
http://spf.pobox.com/why.html?sender=rr.com &ip; =24.95.54.50 &receiver; =magic.merlins.org]
* 2.1 HEAD_ILLEGAL_CHARS Header contains too many raw illegal characters
* 2.7 FORGED_YAHOO_RCVD 'From' yahoo.com does not match 'Received' headers
* 0.5 HTTP_ESCAPED_HOST URI: Uses %-escapes inside a URL's hostname
* 2.3 BIZ_TLD URI: Contains an URL in the BIZ top-level domain
* 0.2 HTTP_EXCESSIVE_ESCAPES URI: Completely unnecessary %-escapes inside a URL
* 3.2 DOMAIN_RATIO BODY: Message body mentions many internet domains
* 0.0 HTML_WEB_BUGS BODY: Image tag intended to identify you
* 1.8 HTML_MESSAGE BODY: HTML included in message
* 0.1 MPART_ALT_DIFF BODY: HTML and text parts are different
* 4.0 RAZOR2_CF_RANGE_51_100 BODY: Razor2 gives confidence level above 50%
* [cf: 100]
* 5.0 BAYES_99 BODY: Bayesian spam probability is 99 to 100%
* [score: 1.0000]
* 3.0 MIME_HTML_ONLY BODY: Message only has text/html MIME parts
* 0.0 HTML_IMAGE_RATIO_02 BODY: HTML has a low ratio of text to image area
* 0.0 HTML_90_100 BODY: Message is 90% to 100% HTML
* 0.3 MIME_BASE64_TEXT RAW: Message text disguised using base64 encoding
* 7.5 RAZOR2_CHECK Listed in Razor2 (http://razor.sf.net/)
* 3.1 RCVD_IN_XBL RBL: Received via a relay in Spamhaus XBL
* [24.95.54.50 listed in sbl-xbl.spamhaus.org]
* 0.0 RCVD_IN_SORBS_WEB RBL: SORBS: sender is a abuseable web server
* [24.95.54.50 listed in dnsbl.sorbs.net]
* 2.0 RCVD_IN_SORBS_DUL RBL: SORBS: sent directly from dynamic IP address
* [24.95.54.50 listed in dnsbl.sorbs.net]
* 3.0 RCVD_IN_DSBL RBL: Received via a relay in list.dsbl.org
* [http://dsbl.org/listing?24.95.54.50]
* 6.5 RCVD_IN_BL_SPAMCOP_NET RBL: Received via a relay in bl.spamcop.net
* [Blocked - see http://www.spamcop.net/bl.shtml?24.95.54.50]
* 0.1 RCVD_IN_NJABL_DUL RBL: NJABL: dialup sender did non-local SMTP
* [24.95.54.50 listed in combined.njabl.org]
* 4.1 RCVD_DOUBLE_IP_SPAM Bulk email fingerprint (double IP) found
* 2.4 MIME_HTML_ONLY_MULTI Multipart message only has text/html MIME parts
* 0.0 MISSING_MIMEOLE Message has X-MSMail-Priority, but no X-MimeOLE
* 2.4 FORGED_MUA_IMS Forged mail pretending to be from IMS
* 2.0 FORGED_IMS_HTML IMS can't send HTML message only
* 0.5 HTML_CHARSET_FARAWAY A foreign language charset used in HTML markup
2005/10/12 How much science do you remember?
π 2005-10-12 20:30 by Merlin in Public

I was watching a Nova special yesterday on all the people who had been involved in discovering the science that led to the fundation of Einstein making his 5 groundbreaking discoveries, including E=mc2, and only years later, some German lady whose name I already forgot (bad me) was able to deduce that they had split Uranium 238/93 by looking at the mass that had been lost in the byproducts, converting that into energy with that formula, and finding 200 million eV, which is the strength of a neutron-neutron bond IIRC.
Anyway, it occurred to me, that if I would somehow end up 100-200 years in the past, I would not actually remember a whole lot of everything I was taught in math, physics and chemistry during all my years in school. Ok, I remember uranium 235 and 238 (rich), but didn't even know its atomic number (necessary to know the proton/neutron split), 93, or forgot about the 7 planes electrons orbit at. Don't ask me about maxwell's equations, much of anything on electromagnetism (at least I know that they're linked, which wasn't know at the time), and I would quite struggle to compute any differential equations, matrix multiplications, differentials, or dévelopement limités .
All in all, I'd be fairly useless 200 years ago, if I didn't get to bring my HP48SX, its library of all physics/math/chemistry equations, and a set of fresh batteries. Shame, shame...

Eh, at least I know the sun rotates around the earth, and that we have to send ships filled with hydrogen to refill it once in a while, that's already one thing :)
2005/10/09 Armin Van Buuren at Ruby Skye
π 2005-10-09 00:00 by Merlin in Clubbing
Considering how much I listen to his music (I just managed to get more than 140 episodes of a State of Trance, and almost everything from episode 78 onwards: 216, please drop me a note if you might have the 5 or 6 I'm missing), I could not miss Armin coming to San Francisco again this year (thank you for stopping by)
Turns out that I had actually been sick for the last 4 days including that sunday, and spent part of the day in bed, but I could not resolve to missing his set, so I doped myself up (that is with caffeine, aspirine, anti-cold symptoms medecine, and diet rock star), and drove up to San Francisco.
The warm up DJ was playing some quite nice stuff, and then Armin came up and took the crowd :-).
Armin played for almost 4 hours, a quite nice set I might add, and just kept giving more at the end, honoring several "one more tune", to the point where he played almost one hour after initial signs of him being about done (going from about 23:40 to 03:40)
I also got to be backstage, i.e. by the DJ booth, and hang out with Armin while he was spinning. This just gave me another chance to see how much of a nice guy Armin is, and how much he still enjoys his work, even when being the #3 DJ in the world (and quite frankly, he is way in front of PvD, who doesn't seem to care nearly as much anymore, and I also think he can give Tijs a run for his money :-))
All in all, it was a great night, and I forgot everything about being sick while I was there, which confirm that "Armin heals!" (ok, just kidding :-))

I should add that Armin's website now has a link to Audio Jelly/Armada, to let you buy Shivers, his latest album, online. I'm mentioning this because I don't care much for CDs and ripping when I can buy the MP3s directly. I think it's very cool that Armin is one of the artists who has now started offering digital medium over the internet.

Anyway, pictures and videos of that sunday night are here



















2005/10/04 Written test
π 2005-10-04 13:05 by Merlin in Flying

Tuesday morning, I showed up for my pilot written test at West Valley Flying Club.
I had studied a fair amount, but had had a pretty bad night due to being oncall.
Long story short, I only scored 88%, due to a mix of stupid mistakes (most likely), evil weather and what's that cloud's name questions, and I think an error in the test question and answers (which I reported)

Of course, I still passed, but with less than I was hoping for (at least 90%). Damn...
2005/10/03 Longer Solo
π 2005-10-03 00:13 by Merlin in Flying

After my first solo cross-country, which was a bit botched (I found out after the fact that I did it in 1.4H, which is probably some kind of record in a Cessna 172SP :) ), so I had to make sure my next X-country lasted long enough (I had to have a combined time of 5H minimum).
My co-instructor, Sergey, recommended Visalia , which was not all that exciting, but was far enough :) The exciting part was when I saw a jet airplane take off soon after I landed, and wondered why I never heard about him on CTAF, the frequency I announced myself on when approaching the airport and landing. When on the ground, I found out that I had messed up when picking up the airport info from the FAA airport list I had, and picked up Visalia Sequoia Fld (D86) instead of Visalia Muni (KVIS) . Doh!
Anyway, after checking on the ground that my right fuel tank was indeed emptying too (my plane was mostly emptying the left wing, and the right wing gauge was pretty flaky), I headed for the next point: Castle Atwater Airport (KMER) . That was a more fun destination due to the 11802 foot (3.5 kilometres) runway. This runway was about as long as my plane could climb in altitude, which is also close to the altitude where you need extra oxygen if you stay too long.
What was almost funny is the amount of time I had to taxi on the runway before I found the first taxiway that let me exit :)



at Visalia


Almost VFR on top over fresno (one could actually see through the clouds and they didn't go too far)


I landed and stopped the plane in the clear/whitish portion at the beginning of the runway


this is the runway left on takeoff, I could have landed and taken off another two times in that amount of runway


Wind turbine generators


The nice salt lakes over the Bay



The funny thing is that as soon as I landed, I recognized the sound of autocrossing, and indeed, American Auto-X was having an autocross on the other side of the runway. First I thought about walking there after tying the plane down, and then I realized that it would have taken more than 30mn to walk there :)
I ended up taxiing the plane there (which even at a "fair" taxiing speed, took a while :-D), and I wasted the rest of the Autocross ( picts here )







The fun part of being at Castle/Atwater was the aviation museum, and its walking tour narrated on tape. That made the trip well worth it. I even got to talk to a former pilot during the war, who showed me some cool stuff in the cockpit of an old bomber. All the pictures are here .













Eventually, it was time to head back. I wrestled with the auto pilot for practise instead of flying straight pilotage (I did the rest of the trip without GPS, just using landmarks, and one VOR for verification), and got nowhere with the auto-pilot (either it didn't work, or I was not able to couple it to either a VOR or the programmed GPS heading: it kept wanting to go somewhere completely different).
After a few landings at Livermore (KLVK) to burn some time, and not very fruitful steep turn practise, I got back at Palo Alto (KPAO) with more than 4.2H of flight, which is perfect for what I needed.

The pictures from the flight are here

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