Monday, March 29, 2004

i imagine it's hard to find a good mechanic for your MiG-17

From: - Aviation Portal - MiG-17 Crash:

"Searchers located Saturday the wreckage of a privately owned Soviet-era MiG-17 fighter plane that crashed, killing the pilot, while en route to the Arizona air show.

The body of George Cambron, 50, of Louisville, was found in the wreckage 12 miles northwest of Truth or Consequences, state police Lt. Pat Werick said.[...]First manufactured in Russia in the 1950s, the MiG-17 was used in the Korean and Vietnam Wars. The FAA said the aircraft often are brought to the United States and converted into airplanes used for pleasure."

...50+ year old Soviet technology seems like an all-or-nothing proposition for the private sector: it's either the very picture of reliability-through-brutish-simplicity or certain doom.


Sunday, March 28, 2004

marc pokempner, photojournalist

In an interesting twist to an otherwise hum-drum week, the Aircraft Owners & Pilots Association asked to use my photo and to quote some praise I wrote them in January in an upcoming issue of AOPA Pilot magazine. The praise was for flight planning product they offer free of charge to all members. Apparently it's going to be used in an "annual report" article of some kind. This came from deep in left-center field and was a pretty entertaining surprise. (The software, which I am still very impressed with as a benefit of being an AOPA member, only works with a valid member ID, otherwise I would suggest that anyone who has an interest in this sort of thing should download it and give it spin.) AOPA dispatched a freelance photographer for a scheduled "shoot" on Saturday; they wanted a picture of me "at my home airport," which happens to be Midway. I'm-too-sexy-for-this-Cessna / too-sexy-for-this-Cessna.


Now, this photographer was an interesting fellow and it turns out I should almost be ashamed of having such a vain indulgence sent my way when you consider some of the subject matter of his professional portfolio. Marc's done some impressive work in Chicago's inner city, documenting the plight of its homeless as well as its uplifting, legendary neighborhood blues music scene. He and I met at the general aviation ramp at Midway; Marc drove a VW van and had a friendly black dog, a shepherd mix i think, with him. I momentarily wondered if we were heading toward an airport police confrontation of some sort ("you don't seem to be hearing me, Lieutenant -- I do not work without the dog"), but he left the pooch to mind the van and observe the steady jet traffic working runway 4L, just on the other side of a nearby fence.

Marc spent about 45 minutes with me as we took some shots in a cessna cockpit I had access to, as well some others near enough to the flight line so that you could see major airline traffic trundling about in the background with me trying to meekly justify my place in the frame. I can only imagine that the surrounding environment is WAY more interesting on film than whatever glib expressions I brought to the part. Nontheless, I can't wait to see the pictures; if any ever become my property I'll post a couple here. Assuming the article in question will be online, I'll plan to link to that, too.

Photo-geeks: I don't have the hard details, but for the shoot, Marc was using a Nikon digital body SLR that had some ridiculously professional megapixel resolution value: 12 or 16M, I can't recall exactly. He shot with wide angle and telephoto lens bodies; I think at least one of them was from a standard SLR.


Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Good Luck with This One, United

Looks like Ted is coming to Chicago O'Hare. Not logistically surprising, given that United is ridiculously well tooled up for operations here. What strikes me as odd about this is how shark-infested the waters they're wading in are already. I thought Ted was a sun belt discount play only, bringing United's approach to discount flight to the west out of another powerhouse hub, Denver. Is United simply replacing its most profitable domestic routes with Ted service because that's the way the airline is eventually going to go? (Are they actually heading in a direction similar to the one I suggested a few days back? Oh for shame, ego.)

Maybe this is the start of a clinical product line cannibalization -- I can only hope Ted doesn't compete head-to-head with, well, United's service to their stated destinations (Tampa, Orlando, Fort Lauderdale, Vegas, Phoenix). But if Ted eventually becomes United's primary domestic arm and the new-look, long-distance fleet handles cross-continent and international duties, then that at least makes some structural sense. Thank God it's not my job to make the numbers work in that business. Yeesh.


Friday, March 19, 2004

SimCity, top this.

Some enterprising Microsoft Flight Simulator users have released a third party scenery package for Manhattan that rivals anything in the private sector, anyway, for fidelity and jaw-dropping realism. Having flown into Manhattan a bunch recently on business, I thought I'd see what was out there to enhance the look of the city from the somewhat blah default scenery Microsoft ships with FS2004; I wondered if someone else had rendered the city with all of its famous landmarks so that a VFR pilot like myself could take a realistic sightseeing trip out of LaGuardia on the ole PC simulator.

POW! I cannot believe the level of detail this team has lavished on the Big Apple. I mean, you could run an entire hour of SimLaw & Order (complete with opening credits Lennyism) on the ground here, by the looks of it. The only drawback I could imagine is that this is a massive framerate killer and might take a 3GHz box with the $400 video card to run at all smoothly.

Bottom Line: If you don't care about simulators, flight or otherwise, I still think you'll be impressed by the attention to detail.


Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Trying to sidestep "RSS for Dummies" entirely

I recently wrote About Feed Syndication as a content item at in order to provide a page of explanation and valuable links around the ever-expanding phenomenon of RSS. There's a lot of general excitement that's finally expanding well beyond the blogging community about RSS and its capacity to change how people interact with the web. It's all about more efficient access to your daily must-have information, and while serendipitous web-surfing will probably continue well into the future, syndication promises great advantages and a whole new space for innovative interaction design, commerce, and enterainment (this will eventually go WAY beyond just news and headlines).

If you have any comments about the piece or about your experience with RSS today and hopes for it in the future, I'd love to hear them.


Saturday, March 13, 2004

united's new livery

1) I actually like United's new look. I think the midline stripe, in graduated shades of blue, transitions nicely from the clean white top to the dark blue bottom of the aircraft. The only unfortunate point is the fact that there's really no accent color to counterpoint the general, well, blueness of the total design. that tiny bit of red in the logo isn't enough. A red-orange ring on the engine cowlings, or maybe on the trailing edge of the tail? Also, this brings United much closer to Ted in livery design, which may or may not be a good move. Delta and Song? Couldn't be more different unless Song flew Tupolevs instead of Boeings. In fact, the branding mash-up doesn't end on the flight line; is essentially with more orange paint. It's hard for me to think you're taking this discount thing seriously when you can't establish an identity that doesn't depend on the "old guard" parent's clout.
2) I agree with others who think it's madness that UAL is spending money on a general rebranding campaign at this stage in its fight for survival. Ted's a gamble I can see both sides of -- try making money in the new point-to-point game by starting with your most dominant hub. It's worth a shot. But do you need to be repainting your main fleet? If I ran United, I think I'd take it in the direction of "best overseas network: east and west." I'd sell off my domestic fleet and routes, maybe keeping Ted if I really believe I can make good pennies per seat-mile. I'd plow those revenues into new 777 and 747 leases, but keep an eye on the new airbus A380. My goal? Be America's best overseas and cross-continent carrier. Best service, best cost efficiency. Why shouldn't a stateside carrier take the Singapore Airlines motto of "More Anything? More Everything!" and make that work? United has international routes down to a cool science and the discount carriers just become a distant barking noise once they focus on global service alone. One other thing to consider: service matters -- not just price -- when you're on a plane for 8 or more hours. You can make your brand really mean something when the flight is a significant part of the journey's total time.
Sure, there are mortal risks with hinging a business turnaround on global travel in these days of terror threats and rogue states. And I have a feeling United's hellish labor structure and history would send my plan straight to the shredder. UAL employees, you tell me: would you prefer a leaner, internationally focused United to the belly-up alternative?


Wednesday, March 3, 2004

How you can achieve (temporary) success in amateur video

as dick noted, even the civilian sector can get the unexpected shock and awe treatment [WMV Video] from time to time. This bit of footage is merely chaos-as-voyeurism for the first two minutes, but then comes the Big Finish. Or, Grand Finale. In any case, it's death by fireworks.