Learning to fly an airplane

I’ve been taking flying lessons, and wanted to share some of what I’ve learned.

Driving a car

When I first learned to drive my father explained three major phases of operating a car:

  1. Control: acceleration, turns, etc
  2. Spatial Awareness: what cars are around me, road signs, what speed i should be going at
  3. Navigation: the higher level of: where to turn, what lane to be in, GPS directions, etc

I like this, it resonates as a sort of hierarchy of awareness and automaticity (word?). As I get practice with one level it becomes more automatic and requires less of my ‘main’ concentration, and the next level up becomes more available to hold in headspace.

Flying a plane

I see flying as mirroring this pattern:

  1. Control: Stick & Rudder, throttle, level flight, turning without skidding or slipping. Takeoff and landing.
  2. Spatial Awareness: Air traffic, talking over the radio with other airplanes or the tower, knowledge of surrounding airspace
  3. Navigation: GPS and VOR navigation, talking to approach control, ‘flight following’, and more.
  4. (bonus round) Pilot In Command ability


Driving has 2 major control inputs for 2d movement (though if we’re being real about it, it’s more like 1.5d. an example of a truly 2d drive is here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holonomic_(robotics)):

  1. Left and right pedals for braking and acceleration respectively
  2. Left and right rotations of the sterring wheel to turn left and right

Flying is like this, except has 3 control axes + 1 throttle = 4 major control dimensions:

  1. Throttle (controlled by a rod kinda thing which pushes in or out of the dashboard, in my right hand)
  2. Ailerons L/R (rotating the yoke (with your left hand primarily))
  3. Elevator U/D (pulling/pushing on the yoke)
  4. Rudder L/R (pedals)

A lot more than driving! These dimensions do collapse down a bit as you learn to fly:

Control Group 1

Aileron is the ’tilt’ control of the aircraft, and a tilted airplane will turn. The rudder plays catch-up to the ailerons (sublimating these two into a 1d control with 2 manually coordinated inputs). In other words, when I turn the yoke i accompany this with coordinated pressure on the rudder pedals. For (much much) more on what this means in flight: http://www.boldmethod.com/learn-to-fly/aerodynamics/slip-skid-stall/

Control Group 2

Throttle and elevator don’t quite collapse down, but become intertwined as 2 control inputs for 2 dimensions. Airspeed, angle of attack (the angle at which the wings intersect the relative airflow), and climbing/descending are all related together here.

Additionally, these 2 control groups are tied together: tilting the plane to turn shifts the aircraft’s vertical component of lift horizontally (this is why the plane turns, it’s the wings are generating lift “upwards”, but you’ve made up be sideways) — but this horizontal shift reduces the vertical component of lift! So turns must be accompanied by pulling up on the elevators, and/or increasing power while you pull up, all to maintain a turn with a given altitude and airspeed.

Aside: I wonder if this description is helpful to the reader… I’m having quite a good time writing it. 🙂 

All this is category (1) of driving: controlling the damn thing. Landings here are the trickiest part and require the most intuition about how the plane’s behaving. Maneuvers include ‘steep turns’ (180° turn @ 60° bank angle), S turns (2 perfect semicircles, taking wind into account), stalls, and so on).


Situational awareness (2) involves airspace management: there are restricted airspace ‘shelves’ at certain altitudes, required radio communication with towers when you get in their airspace, communication with other pilots in the air as well as at un-controlled airports… A big killer of private pilots is CFIT: Controlled Flight Into Terrain. A poor seemingly joke of a term for flying into the side of a mountain, or into the ground because you weren’t aware of where you are and what’s around you.


And (3) is navigation: via GPS, radio beacons, or compass.


My experience learning to fly has showed me a 4th category which isn’t properly taught to most drivers (or at least is quickly forgotten by most drivers), which I call my Pilot in Command ability. In the end, the pilot of the aircraft makes the final call, no matter what traffic controllers or restrictions say. I’m the one responsible for not getting myself (and once i get my license, my passengers) killed.

There’s a degree of judgement and awareness that I’ve experienced getting better at but am not fully sure how to describe. This last factor is the most important, and I see it as separating those who can follow directions from those who can call themself a pilot.

Foucault’s Pendulum, an excerpt

(by Umberto Eco)

“This is Diotallevi,” Belbo said, introducing us.

“Oh, you’re here to look at that Templar thing. Poor man. Listen, Jacopo, I thought of a good one: Urban Planning for Gypsies.”

“Great,” Belbo said admiringly. “I have one, too: Aztec Equitation.”

“Excellent. But would that go with Potio-section or the Adyn-ata?”

“We’ll have to see,” Belbo said. He rummaged in his drawer and took out some sheets of paper. “Potio-section…” He looked at me, saw my bewilderment. “Potio-section, as everybody knows, of course, is the art of slicing soup. No, no,” he said to Diotallevi. “It’s not a department, it’s a subject, like Mechanical Avunculogratulation or Pylocatabasis. They all fall under the heading of Tetrapyloctomy.”

“What’s tetra…?” I asked.

“The art of splitting a hair four ways. This is the department of useless techniques. Mechanical Avunculogratulation, for example, is how to build machines for greeting uncles. We’re not sure, though, if Pylocatabasis belongs, since it’s the art of being saved by a hair. Somehow that doesn’t seem completely useless.”

“All right, gentlemen,” I said, “I give up. What are you two talking about?”

“Well, Diotallevi and I are planning a reform in higher education. A School of Comparative Irrelevance, where useless or impossible courses are given. The school’s aim is to turn out scholars capable of endlessly increasing the number of unnecessary subjects.

“And how many departments are there?”

“Four so far, but that may be enough for the whole syllabus. The Tetrapyloctomy department has a preparatory function; its purpose is to inculcate a sense of irrelevance. Another important department is Adynata, or Impossibilia. Like Urban Planning for Gypsies. The essence of the discipline is the comprehension of the underlying reasons for a thing’s absurdity. We have courses in Morse syntax, the history of antarctic agriculture, the history of Easter Island painting, contemporary Sumerian literature, Montessori grading, Assyrio-Babylonian philately, the technology of the wheel in pre-Columbian empires, and the phonetics of the silent film.”

“How about crowd psychology in the Sahara?”

“Wonderful,” Belbo said.

Diotallevi nodded. “You should join us. The kid’s got talent, eh, Jacopo?”

“Yes, I saw that right away. Last night he constructed some moronic arguments with great skill. But let’s continue. What did we put in the Oxymoronics department? I can’t find my notes.”

Diotallevi took a slip of paper from his pocket and regarded me with friendly condescension. “In Oxymoronics, as the name implies, what matters is selfcontradiction. That’s why I think it’s the place for Urban Planning for Gypsies.”

“No,” Belbo said. “Only if it were Nomadic Urban Planning. The Adynata concern empirical impossibilities; Oxymoronics deal with contradictions in terms.”

“Maybe. But what courses did we put under Oxymoronics? Oh, yes, here we are: Tradition in Revolution, Democratic Oligarchy, Parmenidean Dynamics, Heraclitean Statics, Spartan Sybaritics, Tautological Dialectics, Boolean Eristic.”

I couldn’t resist throwing in “How about a Grammar of Solecisms?”

“Excellent!” they both said, making a note.

“One problem,” I said.


“If the public gets wind of this, people will show up with manuscripts.”

This passage stuck with me for both its fantastic vocabulary and its critique of the absurdity of higher education (especially the more ‘niche’ sub-subjects). 

Decided to repost it for posterity, with links out to many of the words new to me.

Full text here, this book was an incredible read and I highly recommend it to anyone.

Bees (update 2)

We lost a queen.

Specifically, a queen from our hive of Italians. Truthfully we sort-of saw it coming, and one major mistake was made. In an attempt to prevent swarming, Jack removed 3 live queen cells from the hive on an inspection. Later we found literature which elaborated that these cells (which were located on the middle of a face of comb), were “supercedure cells” — as opposed to “swarm cells”, definite evidence that the hive was attempting to produce a queen to replace their current one.

Okay, mistake. Whoops.

Today we finally had some good weather and checked on the hives (this queen-cell-ectomy was last week sometime). We found zero brood (bee eggs and larvae) in the italian hive; plenty of bees, a decent amount of honey, but no brood. Luckily we don’t have a laying worker — just lots of comb partially filled with honey and pollen.

A laying worker occurs when a hive doesn’t have a queen, and one of the workers begins to lay eggs — she’s presumably hopeful to rekindle her dying colony. Unfortunately as an unfertilized female, our valiant heroine is only able to lay eggs which yield drones, and the hive is sure to collapse shortly afterwards

Our hive of Carniolans on the other hand looks fantastic! Full of brood, starting to build up honey reserves, a good amount of comb, and so on.

But of course our hive without a queen isn’t going to last long. So we decided to combine the hives.

Each hive had 1 full medium box of 10 frames (the upper of the 2 boxes): comb on every frame, good activity, enough bees to populate the whole affair. Both had begun to fill out their lower box (also medium sized).

We decided to combine the hives into a 3 box affair: mixing the populated frames from the two hives into the lowest box, then 2nd would be the Carniolans “core” hive (including the Carnie queen), and finally the devoid-of-brood Italian Core. So now we’ve got single hive of 3 fully comb’d boxes, and plenty of bees now living together.

Hopefully that makes sense.

Behaviorally, the Italians were clearly confused when we removed their hive. A large cluster of them buzzed around for a while looking for the entrance where it used to be — especially since the hives are (were) directly adjacent to each other. They figured it out quickly enough though. I have a hunch that mixing the two sets of frames together in the bottom-most box made it easier for the Italians to find something which smells like home.

Question: The comb in our hives has turned a much deeper darker color from the pure white it started out as (white from the original sugar water solution the bees were being fed but have since not been fed in several weeks). The cells which have darkened have only been used for brood thus far.

What causes the color changes?

I’ve brewed up some more 1:1 sugar water that I’ll give them before I leave for work tomorrow morning.

We’ve got a queen excluder handy but haven’t put it in the stack yet. Our reasoning is that the queen should get a chance to spread her pheromones around unencumbered, and everything I’ve read that amateurs using excluders can prompt a hive to swarm more readily.

Long story short: two hives have become one. We’ll see how this works out, but I’m pretty hopeful. Best case is that we may get a decent amount of honey by the end of the season!

Update (6/1): Got stung 3 times while setting down the bag of feed in the hive! I was being sloppy and hasty, I deserved it. This is the first I’ve gotten stung by these bees — it stings, but not nearly as much as I remember from when I was stung as an 8 year old. 🐝🐝🐝

Update (6/2): Three days later, the bees seem to be foraging happily and doing just fine (no swarms or anything). I’ll open up the hive this weekend to make sure there’s some laying going on, but things are looking good!


Bees (update 1)

previously: Bees


Yesterday I checked the hives for the first time in just over a week.

You can see white and yellow capped cells in the above picture.

The white are capped “honey”. Really, it’s the sugar water I had been feeding them. They ran out of feed a little while back and I won’t be replacing it for them… they’ve gotten the kick they needed and seem to be carrying on via foraging.

The yellow are brood cells, which means our queen is laying in full force! To the right of the main cluster of brood in the picture above, you can even see some growing larvae (look closely, they’re little while curled up horseshoe shapes at the bottom of the cell). And you can’t see in the picture but there are eggs in many more cells all over the place.

By my understanding, the bees like to keep their brood in the middle of the frame, and will pack in other resources towards the edges. This helps them keep the brood at a good temperature, amongst other things, and the food will help them last the winter (already building reserves!). You can also see pollen — which they use as a major protein source — being stored especially towards the top right of the photo (it’s the weird off-coloration stuff).

How excellent.



Her majesty, the queen, is visible as the long black bee in these pictures.

For reference this is the Carniolan queen — in this checkup I checked for but didn’t locate the Italian queen in the other hive.



The larger capped cells in the pictures above are drone cells (this is from the Italian hive, though both had quite a few drone cells). There are quite a lot of them across both hives.

  • Hives produce an amount of drones, especially in springtime.
  • If the hive were producing only drones, it would likely be an indication of a ‘laying worker’, and either an absent, weak, or dead queen.
  • Both hives are producing both drones and workers (by the looks of it — unsure if any have hatched yet).

So everything should be fine. (Question for more experienced beekeepers: Proportionally how many drone cells should I expect?)

I did find this queen-cup-esque thing in the hive of carnies…


It’s empty so this should also be fine, and I left it alone. The bees will do what they think is best, I’m not about to tell them how to do their beesiness (sorry).



Here you can see the girls lined up and watching me as I mess with their hive. (Note, due to recent events with my team at work, I actually have no idea what “vigilante” means anymore. Nbd.)



I, with one of my housemates (Jack), have recently set up two honeybee hives in our backyard.


While non-native to the western hemisphere, the European Dark Bee (Apis mellifera mellifera) pollinates a huge portion of our fruits and vegetables, and are generally cool creatures. They operate basically as a hive mind, centered around the queen-who secretes pheromones which keep the whole hive synchronized.

Beekeeping, from everything I’ve learned so far, seems to be equal parts art and science. Everyone’s got different opinions, everyone has success stories with their particular technique, etc. 

I’d like to use this blog to chronicle some of our developments with our hives.

What we’ve got

2 Langstroth hives, each composed of
4 medium-depth boxes, each with
10 foundationless, wedged top-bar frames, ie.
80 frames total. Additionally ordered 
20 wired wax foundation frames
Leaving 10 foundation frames per hive, or 3 per box.

I like the idea of foundationless frames, but the main drawback is that without any guide, the bees have a strong chance to not build comb along the centerline of the frame… remedies are manual intervention, straightening out the comb using a hive tool and your hand before it gets too big, or cutting off the misaligned portions entirely.

IMG_4424Also learned that the bees do what the bees want to do. You can’t really force bees to do what you want them to. Bees are a force of nature.

But bees do tend to continue to build straight comb once they’ve got other straight comb built. So the few evenly interspersed frames with wax foundations should help guide the bees and it should all work out.

I ordered the two packages from the Ballard Bee Company, one Italians and one Carniolans.


The two hives are next to each other in the backyard, in the corner made by the side fence and one wall of the shed. The hive on the left is inhabited by the Italians and the one on the right by the Carniolans. There are a few differences between the races: Italian bees are supposed to be more likely to rob other (especially weaker) hives, Carniolans are known for rapid growth of colony size and a slightly increased propensity to swarm (as a result of rapid growth). They’re both some of the most gentle and non-territorial races of honeybees. They are slightly different in appearance, supposedly; I am thus far unable to tell the difference.

Putting the two different races next to each other shouldn’t be a problem. There can be a tendency of bees to drift from one hive to another if one is particularly strong, but that shouldn’t happen at least initially. And as a plus, if one hive starts struggling as we enter wintertime we can donate brood and honey frames from one hive to the other (even mixing races of bees living in a given hive isn’t a problem as long as there’s only 1 queen).

We got the bees on the 15th of April, so as of my writing this we are are 5 days in. I checked on the bees this morning and saw that they had been drawing out comb nicely on both types of frame.

Currently the hives are 3 boxes high in frames, with the 4th box empty. It’s providing a nice top area for putting the ziplock bag feeders.

The bees seem to be ignoring the lowermost box and favoring the 2nd and 3rd boxes (on both hives).


  • I’m slowly working towards working without gloves. Partially because then I could use my phone camera and take more pictures of everything.
  • Producing a good batch of honey for our first year
  • Possibly setting up a stall some Saturday at Pike Market and selling our homemade honey (at huge markup)
  • Learning more about bees.
  • Get stung. Likely many times.


The Socialist Utopia At The Tip of the Iceberg

I recently started working at a Large Software Company in Seattle. It’s my first job out of university, and I’ve been working on being mindful of the experience.

Increasingly it seems to me that Large Software Company is, internally, a socialist utopia. People work as much as they’re going to work, and are compensated quite handsomely… enough, I’d say, for most resources to not be scarce. Within reason.

“From each according to their ability, to each according to their needs.”

To me, this nominally constrained post-scarcity is what socialist and marxist thought envisioned about 100 years ago. By nominally constrained, I mean it’s not a perfect utopia. There’s no fountain of chocolate, and everyone can’t be an artist/singer/poet. It’s a socialist utopia not in the sense of some idealistic asymptotically impossible heaven on earth, but in a real-life, this-is-actually-happening sort of way. No to downplay the situation, a real utopia is more utopic than one imagined.

Here are some key points to consider, in no order:

  • Individual contributors at Software Company have job security. That is, they rarely get fired unless they’re seriously underperforming—i.e. not working according to their ability.
  • We each make enough to not need to worry* about short term finances. From the point above, we have job security, and our minds and wallets are free to wander from
  • There’s horizontal mobility within the company: individuals are free to devote their working hours to whichever pursuits fit their fancy. Again, this is in a nominally constrained sort of way… Most pursuits available to fit ones fancy involve building software, albeit across a wide range of markets and audiences. You can’t really be anything you want to within the company, but you could for instance be any type of software engineer.

* I want to emphasize financial worrying in particular. There’s some amount of research which indicates stress associated with finances can seriously reduce life expectancy, resilience to disease, and all those other Bad Things which come with constant fretting about how you’re going to put food on the table.

…But what about everyone else?

We, the employees of Large Software Company, as well as the employees of most all other large software companies, get to participate in our socialist utopia-of sorts… but what about everyone else? Most of the residents of a place don’t work for Large Company… or may even work for Other Company. With exceptions, everyone not working for a company (any sort, including non-software), is either seeking employment at a company or attempting to start their own. And even most startups seek to be “aqhired” by other, larger companies.

The web of each company’s workers permeates through a fractured society of other such webs. Tribes, each pulling together the resources for themselves to survive. Some, seeking to be gobbled up by other, larger webs. Company A employees ride the same bus and use the same grocery store as those working with Company B, but will likely never share words or thoughts with each other, even sitting 8 inches apart every morning. We each do not mix with others, we merely share the same space. And they do not mix with us.

America is a cultural wasteland. Very little unites us besides coincidence, the same borders and physical space are not the stuff of true unity. We think different thoughts, we interact with our own, and on occasion build bridges to incorporate new people and their groups in turn.

Our 21st century social climate is populated by roving strandbeests we call corporations, built out of congealed sweat, blood, and hardened legalese. Mounted by the people who’ve climbed on or in, those who now fuel its Product Development furnaces and Business Marketing Decisions. Protected by our modern knights clad in the armor of Law. The machines slowly crawl over the vast swaths of employment-seeking human ants, reaching down towards the chaotic ground to selecting new members of itself, those once separate are sublimated eagerly into the whole.

In exchange for pieces of our individual self, we are given a taste of utopia.