Thursday, March 04, 2010

Ominous Signs

I probably blogged about this the first time I installed iTunes, but it makes me laugh every single time I see it.


Is there some way you can use Abba tunes to calculate an air position? Is there a way to stay on glideslope using country western lyrics? Is there some method of cross-connecting my iPod to the autopilot that will steer me clear of the Danger Zone? Should I turn off the iPod before making a course correction? I was given a POH to study once and the very first page of the manual, before the title page and the table of contents, the very first page warned me in all capital letters that I was never to put the propellers into reverse while in the air. The position and strictness of the warning told me immediately that (a) this has already had disasterous consequences, (b) quite a lot of people did it, so it must be pretty cool.

I'm clearly missing some vital function of the iPod shuffle, considering that I merely use it to listen to music during quiet moments. I hope it's okay with Apple that I sometimes listen to my music while navigating?

Also, message to iTunes: contrary to what you think, it's not all about you. You can stop putting up a "what should I do about this?" box every time I insert a CD ROM or add a peripheral. Your purpose on my computer is to manage songs on my iPod. You are not the operating system.

And I think it's lame that the iPod Touch has a whole app for managing YouTube videos, but all it does is bookmark them and play them back. What's the point if I can't save them to watch when I don't have an Internet connection? The Kindle is pretty cool, but I'm disturbed by the whole shift in the way published content is meted out to the consumer. Whole cultures have survived attempts at extermination because they preserved and hid their literature, in tangible printed form. Centralized control over access and content of publications is too 1984 for me. I don't want a corporation to decide for me that something is no longer worth reading or listening to; I don't want a seriously compromised server to wipe out a decade of literature; and I don't want governments to have a means of determining who is reading what. Whether or not they are using it for navigational purposes.


amulbunny said...

My kids were thinking of getting me a kindle, but I really can't get into reading by electrons, even though I do it on the computer. I had a weak moment and joined a hardback book club a day or so ago. Just to hold them in my hand and turn the pages.

And I guess I'll have to read all the facts when I get an update to my I Tunes.

sounddoc said...

at the suggestion of the finer points podcast ( I have in the past kept my steam gauge scan going under the hood by having "staying alive" in my head...move your scan to each instrument to the beat using whatever scan technique you like best.

also works with the beatle's eggman, fyi!

Anonymous said...

"Staying alive" indeed serves a meaningful purpose while performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation:

Keeping the beat

Some say that Queen's "Another one bites the dust" serves the purpose equally well (similar number of beats per minute). Murmuring this song while performing CPR, however, might not seem appropriate to bystanders...

Michael5000 said...

Aside from your valid concerns, the kindle concept seems like a epic foray into both fixing what ain't broken, and replacing a robust technology with a fragile one. And, the early models are clearly being kept artificially limited in hopes of customers buying their way through a sequence of incremental improvements. Also, I seem to be turning into a crankish, stodgy old crab. But whatever.

Rhonda said...

Some cultures do navigate by song. The australian aborigines as I recall are one that does that. I don't know that they would translate so well to aircraft speed though.

Also, re: youtube offline -

Aviatrix said...

"Play American Pie three times through then turn to a heading of 311 for the first three choruses of No Fear."

Elizabeth McClung said...

Recently Kindle has been seen as a way to keep small publishers alive, as they sell the books but don't have to pay for a print run. But for example, as I am disabled and have no income, I make money buying new copies from publishers or printers of rare manga, most of which are available for $5.95 on kindle, and yet people will pay up to $200 for a print copy. We may have Kindles to take on planes, but no one is taking a $300 Kindle to the beach. The prices of rare books continue to rise, even books which simply are not in print anymore become so valuable the publisher is forced to reprint the book (available on kindle).

As for statements and airplanes. I have never understood the 'turn off your phone or the plane could crash' statement made before every commercial airline flight. so I asked if it was true (from the co-pilot), that forget the shoe checks and the belts, I just needed to follow the directions given to me and come with 30 cell phones which I turn on simultaniously during take off for domestic terrorism (the things you can ask and not be arrested for if you are in a wheelchair).

Apparently No it won't crash the plane. If so, why do they tell everyone that?

Aviatrix said...

Why do they ask for cellphone off if it won't crash the plane?

A few reasons ...

1. distraction during emergency briefing
2. annoyance for other passengers
3. live cellphones on board my plane make a really annoying noise in my headset every time they talk to the celltower
4. the type of radiation a cellphone can produce can cause unwanted deflection of some navigational instruments, and banning them on that grounds is in line with the level of safety we put into flying airplanes.
5. I think this one is out of date now, but it used to be a problem for the cellphone companies if one cellphone is in range of many towers.

It runs your battery down for no reason, so why bother. Just turn it off.

ed_davies said...

Radio frequency interference in aircraft can be weird. My only experience is with gliders but various odd things happen due to interactions between the different bits of equipment - typically loggers and flight computers interfering with or be interfered with by the radio.

Some cell phone channels are pretty close to the frequencies used for DME and secondary surveillance radar. It's easy to image cases like when a number of phones are used together at particular positions in the aircraft then an interference patten is set up which desensitises the transponder receiver by flooding its input stages with relatively strong signals. This would result in the aircraft becoming unidentified on the controller's screen and the controller losing the height information display.

Similar effects on the aircraft's DME receiver would mean that its own navigation would become less accurate.

No, just turning a cell phone on is not going to make the aircraft roll on its back and dive in to the ground. On the other hand, I think it was sensible conservatism to ban the use of phones at least until the matter had been carefully explored.

mattheww50 said...

A few minor points. D-AMPS, and GSM phones are more likely to cause interference on the aircraft than CDMA telephones. The NOise you hear in the headset from a GSM phone is a 217Hz tone that results from the transmitter being operating 217 times per second for about 500 microsconds.

However if you can restrict the power output of the phone to the order of 1 milliwatt, that apparently isn't a problem. At least one Commercial Carrier (Oman Air) now has a microcell on the aircraft, and permits use of mobile phone when the aircraft is above 10,000 feet.

The cell phone frequencies used in North America are actually well separated from the frequencies used by DME.

It is far more likely to a problem outside North America, where the 900 Mhz mobil phone band sits right next to the band used for DME services.(The E-GSM band ends at about 960Mhz, and the DME channels start at about 962Mhz).

The Multi-Tower argument is a red herring. CDMA systems are explicity permitted to communicate with more than 1 tower simultaneous, and GSM systems are well aware that a phone may at any given time be within the range of more than 1 tower, but will only communicate with a single tower. The more serious problem is that at aircraft speeds and Altitued, they would cross cells very rapidly, and the maximum distance that a GSM ~35km (This arises from timing condiderations, and the limits on something called 'timing advance). If you are willing to give up the half the capacity of the channel, you can get past the 35km limit, and a few operators have done so in rural areas.

dpierce said...

I luv my Sony Reader. It's a heck of a lot easier to curl up with it on a couch, on a plane, or in bed than with an unweildly book. And it's great being able to store so much diverse reading material on it. I probably spend an hour with it daily.

Apart from books, if I have any work-related documents longer than a page or two, instead of printing them on paper, or reading them on my laptop, I'll transfer them to the Sony. It saves space, paper, and it's always with me whereever I go. And it's just more convenient and user friendly (for me) to read from than real pages. Holding a real book in an awkward position in bed is a pain; I tend to read in weird positions.

But I am also one of those that doesn't want my reader cybernetically linked to "central planning". I transfer my own PDFs to it.

(My personal peeve with in-flight passenger electronics is the FA who won't let me use my phone in "Flight Mode" (radios off) to play a game or watch a movie, while others can use laptops with their wifi, wimax, and bluetooth antennae blazing.)

B. said...

That warning from Apple is nothing more than CYA from liability fears rampant among US corporations...along the lines of, "Warning, spilling this hot coffee may cause burns."

However, given the expanding number of aps which can be installed on both the iPhone and iPod Touch which do purport to assist with navigation (see -- pretty cool, but too pricey for me -- one can imagine Apple's lawyers trembling with fear at the thought of an iPod Touch/iPhone being discovered in the wreckage of an airplane flown into terrain by some hapless pilot relying on one of those aps.

Jim said...

Re the insanity of legal liability fear in the USA: For an inspiring talk see Philip K Howard at (

Aviatrix said...

I frequently forget to turn off the wifi on my computer in an airplane. It would be to my benefit, too, as the battery is going to last longer if it isn't busy seeking signals.

Testing of various devices translates to vague knowledge that some devices can interfere with some avionics under some circumstances, which goes into legislation as no one may use electronic devices on board without permission of the pilot in command, which is tranlated again into company regulations which may be all cellphones are turned off while the aircraft door is closed or devices may be used in airplane mode during cruise or some other variation.

Whatever regulation the airline has approved, they are legally bound to enforce, even if a competitor has a more lenient regulation. And never forget the rule that you must comply with crewmembers' instructions. Being on an airplane is not like being at the mall.

Sarah said...

I wonder if the electronic prohibition includes bluetooth devices. I suspect it does.

Cellphones can definitely interfere with ILS/gs radios, and I can also hear them chatter on my headset. If they are ever allowed on airliners, the cabin will become that much more unendurable without an inflight audio headset.

I'm with you on the "ebook" DRM crap. One of these days I'll get a sunlight readable reader... but only if I can get a stream of PDFs *I* own and control.

dpierce said...

Being on an airplane is not like being at the mall ...

I worked 10 mins on a SkyMall joke, and gave up.

Aluwings said...

What I don't understand, is all the caution over cell phones - but nada regarding exploding computer batteries!

Exploding Battery Demonstration

Aviatrix said...

Aluwings, I know there's an international airline dangerous goods committee working on the laptop battery problem, because I have a friend who is on it.

Sarah said...

Good point, aluwings. I've seen some scary youtubage of actual-in-the-wild exploding laptop li-ion battery at a conference somewhere. This is a fire you would not want anywhere near an airliner.

Anonymous said...

I thought that they did address the "exploding batteries" to an extent where they have put limits on how many li-ion batteries you are allowed to carry aboard.

Aviatrix said...

They do have to fit in your carry on. :P

I don't know. I think the issue they are working on more is shipments. At least you know right away if something in the passenger cabin catches fire.

Curt Sampson said...

Elizabeth, plenty of people are taking $300 e-readers to the beach. They put them in transparent waterproof pouches or ZipLoc bags.

Sarah, the Sony Reader series are sunlight readable (though avoid the PRS-700, it had severe reflection issues) and you do have full control over what you put on them. I have a library of thousands of books for mine, hundreds of which I have purchased from commercial vendors, and none of them have DRM.

However, you probably want to consider EPub (which, like certain kinds of PDF, is an open format); it tends to work better on readers with less than A4-size screens.

Sarah said...

Thanks, Curt.

I stopped by a brick&mortar store to look at a Sony ereader today.

I was kind of underwhelmed. The pageflip speed is slow, the contrast is low... the device is nice and compact, and reasonably cheap. But I'll stay with paper (on the right) for now

Hangs head I guess I'm not an early adopter here.

Curt Sampson said...

Sarah: correct on all counts. I don't actually find the contrast to be terribly low myself, but then again, my previous reading diet included a lot of cheaply-produced paperbacks, which also have lower contrast than a nice hardcover.

The slow page flip is annoying, though you do get somewhat used to that after a while. More annoying is navigating amongst your books. Standing in front of a bookshelf, pulling out books, and flipping through them is considerably nicer than looking at what you've got in your reader.

But hey, it's new technology. Certain things about it made me ready to switch in 2009, rather than 1999 or 2019. You will change eventually, but it's perfectly valid to say that it's not good enough for you yet this year.

dpierce said...

Yep, e-paper has a slow write-speed. That's the trade-off for a screen that doesn't use any electricity once the screen is written. Not a huge problem when leafing sequentially through a book like normal, but a pain when flipping randomly around.

But I'm surprised that you find the contrast poor, Sarah.