Breathing New Life into Old Hardware

If it still works, why not use it?

Since moving into my home, I’ve been looking for a speaker solution that would allow me to play music or podcasts throughout my home and garage. I did all the wiring for my home, but I (sadly) did not think of wiring it for audio. Repeated Googling and Amazon shopping did not give me the kind of system I wanted: a wifi-based speaker setup that would work with my phone. All I could find was Bluetooth solutions, which were a real pain in the ass — every time I moved out of range, the sound would cut out, sometimes requiring a manual reconnect.

I was on Apple’s website this morning looking for a Homekit-compatible light switch. That’s a whole other story and I’ll try to tell it briefly: I have high ceilings in my living space and my heating ducts are pretty high on the wall. Two of them are actually up on my loft. Heat rises so, in the winter, it gets pretty warm up on the loft (and high up in the living room and bedroom). I have a temperature sensor in the loft that works with a smart plug to turn on a fan there when the loft temperature exceeds 74°F and shut off the fan when it drops back down below 71°F. (It also stays off at night since it isn’t exactly quiet and I don’t want to listen to it when I’m trying to sleep.) The fan pushes the air out into the living room where two standard ceiling fans push the warm air down into the room. It works great and keeps the furnace from running all day long, but I have to manually turn on those two ceiling fans. I want smart switches that’ll use the temperature sensor in the loft to turn them on and off automatically. So that’s why I was at Apple’s website: to see what smart switches they offered.

While I was there, I reacquainted myself with Airplay, which I actually blogged about way back in 2005 when it was called AirTunes. Back in those days, I was writing books about using Mac OS and had to buy all kinds of hardware to write about it. I’d bought an AirPort Express base station and later bought another one. I think I used them for music or printers or both. I don’t remember. It was a long time ago.

Well, I still have both of those old AirPort Express base stations. For a while, I was using one of them for remote printing from my color laser printer, which I kept in my loft. My office is up there now and the printer is directly connected to my iMac so I don’t need the AirPort Express. I started wondering whether I could still use it for speakers.

The short answer: Yes.

Of course, it wasn’t easy to set up. Even though my desktop Mac is now about 6 years old and is running an old version of Mac OS — 10.10.5 Yosemite — the version of the AirPort Utility I needed to configure a 12-year-old AirPort Express would not run on my computer. I even fired up my old MacBook Pro, which is running Mac OS 10.9, and it wouldn’t run on that, either. I knew I’d configured it just a few years ago for the printer and had to do some Googling to remember how I’d done it. That’s when I found the ZCS AirPort Utility Launcher. This free utility fools AirPort Utility v5.6.1 into thinking it’s getting launched on an old version of Mac OS. That gets it running so it can configure the old base station.

An Old Version of AirPort Utility
Here’s AirPort Utility 5.6.1 running on a Mac with the Yosemite OS installed. Both of my old AirPort Express base stations are configured for speaker duty.

Even then I had trouble getting it to see the base station. I had to use an Ethernet cable to connect the damn thing directly to my ACUS router. And reset the base station by pressing in the tiny button with a pen point.

But once the software could see the base station, it configured it without any problems. I had it connect to my 2.4 G network. Then I hooked up a pair of cheap powered speakers that I used to use with my Mac, and got it playing music from my iMac and, later, from my iPhone. Success!

I went down into the garage and tracked down the other AirPort Express. I set it up the same way. I hooked that up to a stereo clock radio in the bedroom that I rarely use. I might even put it by the bed.

I still have an old Time Capsule somewhere; if I can find it, I’ll set it up for the living room and move the Express down into the garage. I’ve got an old boom box down there with great speakers; it should work fine with AirPlay.

Of course, the next hurdle to jump was being able to play music on multiple AirPlay speakers at the same time. After all, I wanted my music all over the house and garage when I was playing it. My phone could only stream to one device at a time.

More Googling. This time, I learned about an Apple iOS app called Remote. I could install it on my iPhone, pair the phone to my computer’s copy of iTunes, and be able to access my computer’s music from my phone. It works. And it sounds pretty damn good coming from speakers all over the house.

I know this blog post makes me sound super geeky. Deep down inside, I am. I especially love taking old computer hardware that most people would have thrown away by now and use it for a new purpose. Sure — I could go out and buy new AirPort Express base stations at a cost of $99 each. But why should I when the old ones I have still work?

So You Want to Be a Helicopter Pilot, Part 11: Don’t Bite the Hand that Feeds You

The helicopter pilot community is very small.

[Note: It’s been a little more than two years since I wrote the previous post in this series. But this one is important and I hope readers learn from it.]

As you make your way up the ladder in your flying career, you may be fortunate enough to be taken under another pilot’s wing (so to speak) for additional training or assistance. Or maybe someone has given you the opportunity to get some valuable experience for free or a really low cost. The people who give you the benefit of their knowledge and experience or offer you opportunities that’ll help you move forward are the people you should remember and value throughout your career. In many instances, they can make the difference between success or failure or can help you understand the direction you want to take to have the most fulfilling career.

The other day I was reminded that not everyone understands the value of opportunities and the people that make them possible. I thought I’d tell the story of what happened to some friends of mine to teach a valuable lesson.

The Opportunity

As some of the low-time pilots who read this blog might know, I occasionally make long cross-country flights to reposition my helicopter for seasonal work. In most cases, I am not compensated for this flight time so I’m eager to have someone on board willing to share the cost. Although I prefer non-pilot passengers — I actually like to fly — I’m not opposed to taking low-time pilots interested in building R44 stick time. I make this time available at about half of what they might pay a flight school. It’s a good deal for both of us: they get cheap flight time in an R44 and I get part of my repositioning costs covered.

I find pilots interested in making these flights through the use of a mailing list. Pilots sign up and I periodically send out offer information. It’s a small list and I don’t spam it. They might get one or two opportunities a year. List members can opt out at any time. (If you’re interested in getting on this list, read about it here.)

I’d been doing quite a few long flights with friends or solo so I hadn’t posted anything for a while. I was going to post a trip from Sacramento to Wenatchee back in April but I wound up doing it with a friend. But when some flight school owner friends of mine were looking for someone to help them cover the cost of getting their R44 instrument ship from Mesa, AZ to Wenatchee, WA in early June, I offered to put out a notice on my list, referring interested pilots to call them. They offered a lot more value than I ever could; with a CFII on board, it could be a training flight, an R44 endorsement flight, or even an instrument training flight.

It seemed to work. Only three hours after sending out the offer, my friends were contacted by a pilot who was not only interested in doing the flight, but also interested in some instrument training before and after it. My flight school friends were thrilled and said they owed me a favor for helping them out. I was just glad to have helped them and whoever was taking advantage of the offer.

I didn’t know the person who had signed up for this opportunity. All I knew was that it was a woman. I didn’t personally know any of the pilots on my list.

Time went by. Coincidentally, on Thursday, the day before the flight, I happened to be chatting with another pilot friend of mine from Los Angeles who had come up to Washington to pick up a piece of equipment he bought from me. One of his pilots, who had come along for the ride, would be working with me on a cherry drying contract later in the month. We talked about the cost of repositioning helicopters and how we often let low-time pilots fly for a discount. Somehow or another the conversation got around to bad experiences and my friend mentioned a woman pilot who had “flaked out” on him a few times, saying she’d do a flight but then calling with crazy excuses right before the scheduled flight time and not showing up. He said that although he had actually flown with her a few times, she’d also stood up one of his other pilot friends. I asked for her name and he told me. I texted it to my flight school friend’s CFII, who would be flying to Washington. It was the same woman.

I started to get a bad feeling.

Screwed Over, in Slow Motion

At this point, you can probably guess what happened next. The short version is, she didn’t show up for the flight. But there is a long version, too, and it’s worth telling because it makes the situation even worse.

On Thursday evening, the night she was supposed to arrive in Phoenix, she texted to say that she was at the airport but she had screwed up on the flight date and was a day early for the flight.

Okay, my friends thought. Things happen.

She promised to be on a flight Friday morning — the morning they were supposed to leave. Keep in mind that although the Mesa to Wenatchee flight can be done in one day — I’ve done it twice with a second pilot — you need an early start to make it. The flight time is 9-11 hours, depending on wind and fuel stops. That’s a long day at the stick for one pilot but very doable for two,especially on a June day that seems to last forever. But not if you can’t get off the ground until afternoon. Her flight was supposed to get into Phoenix at 11 AM.

The CFII texted me that she’d been delayed and would arrive the next morning. They’d probably arrive late Saturday in Wenatchee. I mentioned what my LA friend had told me about the pilot.

She didn’t arrive at 11 AM Friday. On Friday afternoon, she texted to tell them she’d be arriving on an 11 PM flight. That pushed back the departure date to Saturday.

On Saturday morning, when she didn’t arrive, my friends contacted her again. She told them a story about the bank freezing her account and not being able to pay for her plane ticket. But she could get on a flight later in the day. Would they wait for her?

By this time, they could see the writing on the wall. The answer was no. Even if she did show up, they wouldn’t let her get on the helicopter.

At about this time, I got a text from my flight school owner friends:

Text from Tiff

(Yes, this text came from a woman.)

I called them. She was seething. Her husband, who was also on the phone, was just annoyed. I got the story I recounted above.

In an effort to make them feel better, I told them about the guy who’d backed out of one of my flights two days before the departure date. I obviously hadn’t been able to fill his spot for the 12-hour flight on such short notice. “So you see,” I told them, “I’ve been screwed over, too. But you got screwed over in slow motion.”

An hour later, the helicopter was in the air, northbound, with the CFII who’d been scheduled to come along with another of the school’s employees. (At least he’d get a chance to build some time.) It would arrive in Wenatchee around 5 PM Sunday evening.

The Fallout

There’s a lot of fallout from this pilot jerking around my friends over the course of three days last week.

First, this pilot has been removed from my list. She’ll never get any notifications from me again, period. I’m not going to set myself up as the victim for another flake out performance.

Second, the word is out about this pilot. My LA friend and his friend already knew about her and will never work with her again. Now my friends and I know about her, too. If she ever approaches any of us for work or anything else, if she’s lucky we’ll just say no and send her on her way. If anyone asks any of us about her — for example, a potential employer or someone else looking to fill a seat with a paying pilot — we’ll be sure to tell this story. And, as word spreads, she’ll find that it’s more and more difficult to get opportunities of any kind — including job opportunities — as a helicopter pilot. There may not be a formal blacklist, but the informal graylist exists and is very effective. I alluded to this in the previous post of this series, which was about networking.

Third, my friends’ helicopter arrived in Wenatchee a day later than it was supposed to. Although that didn’t turn out to be a problem in the grand scheme of things, it did cause minor issues with various reservations that had to be changed.

Fourth, my friends were unable to get any revenue at all for the flight. That added significantly to the cost of the job they have to do in Wenatchee, thus cutting deeply into their bottom line.

Fifth, I will now require a non-refundable deposit for any time-building flights in my helicopter. I did this for a while after I was screwed over by an inconsiderate pilot years ago, but dropped the requirement when all subsequent pilots honored their part of the deal. Now it goes into full force again. I refuse to let someone break a promise to me that’ll cost me hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars.

Yes, it’s another example of one person ruining it for the rest of us.

What’s Even Worse

What pisses me off to no end about this is that the pilot who screwed over my friends is a woman. And if there’s one thing female pilots don’t need is other female pilots who “flake out” and otherwise act irresponsibly.

Female pilots are already under a microscope. We’re already dealing with sexist crap from various employers or coworkers or clients. They treat us differently because they see us differently. And that doesn’t help any of us

Other responsible female pilots — including me! — work hard to prove that we’re just as good as the men in our jobs. And then a dimwit like this comes along and flakes out with a proven pattern of unreliable behavior and bullshit excuses. She makes all of us look bad. She brings all of us down a notch. She makes it just a little bit harder for the rest of us to be taken seriously.

Maybe that’s why my friend’s text was so angry. Maybe she saw as well as I did how this dingbat made the rest of us look in this male dominated industry.

The Takeaway

Once again, I’ve managed to tell a long story to make a point. Did the point get lost somewhere? Sometimes it does.

The point is this: when someone in the industry is doing you a favor, treat them with the respect they deserve. If you cross them, remember that the helicopter pilot community is very small and word travels very fast.

One Wrong Way to Look for a Pilot Job

Be prepared — and then don’t act outraged when you get an unexpected response.

TelephoneYesterday afternoon, I got a call from a number I didn’t know and answered as I usually do: “Flying M, Maria speaking.”

The caller seemed almost surprised that someone had answered the phone. Maybe I’d answered more quickly than he expected. He stumbled over his words a bit and I recall thinking that he might be someone looking for information about a charter flight. Lots of people who call who have no idea how to ask for what they want get off to a rough start.

But no, eventually he asked for “the boss.” Yes. In those words.

“That’s me.” I replied. Now my brain was wondering what he was selling. Anyone who asks for the owner or the person in charge of parts/maintenance/accounts payable/fill-in-the-blank is trying to sell me some product or service I don’t want. My phone is a cell phone and the number is on the FCC’s Do Not Call list, but that apparently doesn’t stop telemarketers from bothering me multiple times a week.

But no, after some more stumbling over words, I learned that he was a pilot looking for a job.

And that’s when I got annoyed. Here’s a guy who can barely communicate what he wants and obviously did no preparation for his call asking me for a pilot job?

I replied that there were no job openings at my company and that even if I had a job to offer, I wouldn’t offer it to him since he obviously couldn’t be bothered to find out who he was calling before he made a call to ask for a job. I told him he needed to work on his technique.

And then I hung up.

After the initial “I can’t believe how inept job seekers are these days” thought, I got back to what I was doing. I had pilot friends coming for dinner and was prepping for their arrival.

This morning, I got an angry email from the person who’d called. Apparently, he was in the U.S. from his home country (which I don’t think I need to share here), had trained in the U.S., and was outraged that I’d been so rude to him. He said:

I was going to let you know that my approach to you asking for a job was not good at all, I just wasn’t prepared before I called and of all the places I call the owner is never taking the phone.

Interesting that he admitted he wasn’t prepared. And odd that I hadn’t noticed his accent, which really comes through in the wording of his written communication.

He went on to say:

My point with this message is that the way you talked to me was just really disrespectfull [sic], rude and unmotivating for a new pilot.

Apparently, he believed that I should drop everything and give him the polite attention he thought he deserved as he interrupted my day to stumble through his job request. A request made without any advance preparation.

Yes, if he’d bothered to do any research at all on my company before calling to ask for a job, he would have learned that the company is a single pilot Part 135 operator with only one helicopter and one pilot. That should have told him how unlikely it was that I’d be hiring. But at the very least, he would have learned my name and could have used that instead of asking for “the boss.”

Or if he’d read the Help Wanted page on my company’s website, which is linked to the Contact page where he may have gotten my phone number and definitely accessed the contact form he used to email me, he would have seen that I was not hiring.

Yes, I was rude. I’ll admit it. (It’s already been established here and elsewhere that I can be a real bitch sometimes.) But when someone acts like an idiot, how should I respond? By gently coddling him so he makes the same mistake again with the next person he bothers?

Don’t you think this guy will think twice before he makes his next call? That maybe — just maybe — he’ll do a little homework first and learn more about the company he’s calling and whether they’re hiring? Or possibly find out who he should be speaking to to ask for a job?

And am I wrong, but do cold calls ever work when looking for a job? Any job?

The other day, I blogged about the importance of networking for career advancement. Networking can help job seekers make valuable contacts they can use when looking for work. It makes time-wasting cold calls unnecessary.

Am I sorry I was so rude to this guy? Maybe a little. He was probably slightly handicapped by a language issue.

But to me, he wasn’t different from any telemarketer who disrupts my day by trying to sell me something I don’t need or want.

And if he thinks I was rude to him, he should hear me when I’m annoyed at one of them.