Quorans like my hangar flying

quora_ga_mvI made it to the top-10 most viewed in General Aviation, this week.

While, like the most viewed writer in technical writing notice I got a few months ago, this wasn’t an intentional goal, but I think these notices represent what I like to talk and write about. It’s encouraging to know that they are also what people like to read.

For those who aren’t familiar:

  • Quoran is the term for someone who participates in Quora. I’m not sure if you have to submit content or if just reading it qualifies you for the label.
  • Hangar flying is the term for talking about flying, whether you’re doing so in an actual aircraft hangar or not.

Party like it’s 1995

Garmin GPS-III on table
My GPS-III Pilot getting to know the 21st century, again

A couple of days ago, I fired up my trusty Garmin GPS-III Pilot to take on a ham-radio trip. After it initialized and found itself, it declared the date to be Dec 2, 1995. I let it sit for a while, thinking that it might just be slow in waking up. After several hours, however, it remained convinced that Christmas 1995 was only just a few weeks away. I had another GPS (or 6) to use, so grabbed another one for the trip and I didn’t get a chance to investigate this temporal lapse until this morning.

It turns out, that this flashback was the result of a date-rollover error. Basically, the GPS uses a 10-bit number to count the number of weeks since January 6, 1980, when time began for GPS units. With 10 binary bits, you can represent 1,024 different things–weeks, in this case. After 1,024 weeks, after the GPS’ calendar returns to the beginning, back in 1980. This occurred in Aug, 1999, but was easily anticipated and GPS units manufactured shortly before that date could be programmed to accommodate the event by correcting for values that would result in a date that predated its manufacture. But, it seems that my GPS has lived long enough for that correction to no longer work as it did 15 years ago (i.e. the corrections to the current week values result in a date that’s reasonable to the GPS: 1995).

It turns out that many vintage GPS receivers manufactured in the mid to late 90s have similar problem, so it’s one that’s easily fixed by using a program written to update even older GPS units in preparation for the 1999 event. After running this program, my GPS-III Pilot is now living in the 21st century and is enjoying a morning in the sun on the back deck as it catches up with what’s been going on in GPS circles recently (i.e. it’s downloading the current satellite information from the GPS satellites).

This is interesting in that it’s a reminder of how even well designed software can surprise you, and it makes me wonder why I’m so attached to a GPS unit that’s almost 20 years old. It could be because we have had a lot of adventures together or it could be that I’m just a pack rat. Either way, we’re both sync’d up to the correct time.

Infrequently used but extremely critical information

Seattle at sunset from over Bainbridge Island
Seattle at sunset from over Bainbridge Island

I just finished the refresher training for my Flight Instructor (CFI) certificate. This is the eighth time I’ve renewed it since my last check-ride. Yet, for some reason, this time seemed unusually focused on mishaps. Granted, the lessons focused mostly on avoiding them, and surviving them (when they couldn’t be avoided), but mishaps nonetheless.

This year, I had lessons on avoiding and surviving:

  • mishaps in the mountains
  • mishaps in helicopters
  • mishaps in seaplanes
  • mishaps while teaching student pilots
  • mishaps in bad weather

Then, as a break in training, I watched the Weather Channel’s “Why Planes Crash.”

Yeah, that was relaxing.

Yet, after all this, I can’t wait to get to the airport and go flying, again. I really enjoy flying so why focus on all this negativity?

So it won’t happen to me. I hope that I never need to apply any of this information, directly. At the same time, I hope to apply what I learned about these mishaps all the time–not just while flying.

Most of the mishap scenarios could be summed up as:

Failing to plan is planning to fail.

Alan Lakein

Which applies to just about any aspect of life.

I’ve had a lot of flight training in the 40+ years I’ve spent hanging around airports. The bulk of it–70-80%, I’d guess–involved dealing with emergencies (the rest delt with how to avoid them in the first place). So far, fortunately, these emergency scenarios have only happened to me in training scenarios. While I have a story or two to tell about when things didn’t go exactly as planned, the vast majority of my flights were quite safe.

So, if the probability of an inflight emergency is very low, why spend a disproportionate time in training for them? Because, while they are very low-probability events (0%, ideally), they are very high-cost events.

Is it worth it to spend all that time training for something that is not likely to ever happen? You betcha!!  I’m sure the people who fly with me would agree!

What does any of this have to do with technical writing? It’s like I posted in this post on in-flight reading material,  some topics provide a little value many times, while other topics provide a great deal of value, but infrequently. The value of content that results, somehow, in a financial transaction is relatively easy to compute: subtract the cost of producing and promoting the content from the gain it provides. Computing the value of content that provides great value but only infrequently, much harder.

Like the flight training that’s kept me from having an accident, how do you measure the value of events  (accidents, misunderstandings, errors, etc.) that have been averted or costs that have been avoided?