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Fly Safe… a weird week in Aviation.

This past week I have been on holiday in Dubai with a friend who lives out here, and have been weirdly reminded of just how close to home the dangers of my hobby are.   Although I’m obviously aware of accidents, and indeed know people who were friends with those who have perished in accidents – I am as guilty as the next guy of thinking “it’ll never happen to me.”

Well.. 3 unrelated things have happened this week to remind me just how close it can be…


R22 - My Trainer

So, I pick up a copy of one of the flying magazines at the airport, for something to read on the flight – in the section where they list new registrations I notice G-JERS is listed as “Cancelled – Destroyed.”

I spent quite a lot of time in G-JERS.  It was the 4th aircraft I ever flew, and the first aircraft I flew solo.  A quick look at my log book and it seems I spent around 16 hours in it.

It doesn’t exist anymore… it was rolled during a training sortee at Cumbernauld Airport.  The AAIB report for it is here; and thankfully both student and instructor got out ok.  But that could have been me.  I hope that it doesn’t put the student off.  But it is a shame to see something so instrumental in my flying come to such a sad end.


Which make it even spookier then that when I got the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix this week they had a helicopter simulator made from the cabin and end of a tail of an R22.  I didn’t have a go in it, it looked pretty basic and designed to appease the crowds.

It did occur to me though to have a look at the indestructable metal plate which is attached to the passenger seat on R22’s to see where this hull had originally come from.

Once again, close to home strikes:  it was a local machine, which was sold originally by Sloane Helicopters.  The people I trained with.  It has now ended up in the desert after a less than glamorous end, also involving training.  AAIB report.


The really big thing… I got home from the Formula 1 qualifying on Saturday to see a tweet about two Britons being killed in a helicopter crash in Mallorca.  My heart quite literally sank.

I did some of my training in Mallorca, and have been back to fly there since.  The company I learnt with, Sloane Helicopters, have a base in Mallorca (which is very handy given the awful winter weather in the UK); so my fears were it was my friends, or a machine I knew, or both.

I was very relieved to find out a little while later it was not a Sloane’s machine.  There aren’t many helicopters on the island; but it turned out this one was a private machine which was hangared with Sloane Helicopters, and other than being friendly with owner the involvement stopped there.  It was an MD500.

There is more on the crash on the BBC, The Telegraph and The Guardian; but it really reminded me how close to home these things can be.  I hope the gentlemen concerned rest in peace…

… and for those of us still earth bound, but longing to be skyward bound:  fly safely friends.  Please.

When CRM Is Used Properly

CRM (Customer Relationship Management) is a fairly generic term which is generally applied to the technology, normally software, used to manage a relationship a company has with a specific customer.  Big vendors include, SAP & Oracle.

Traditionally it is largely used by companies in the lead up to a sale; but I argue that this is wrong and isn’t using it properly.  A relationship with a customer doesn’t stop once they have purchased an item, it get’s more complicated and more important.  Although a business may use a CRM system to get the customer to purchase more items this is usually the start of the relationship, particularly where the products being sold are physical rather than service based.

Once a customer has one of your products if you then “manage the relationship” through after-sales, technical support and warranty it’s far more likely that they will remain a customer.  Using your CRM wisely will help you with this.

Apple’s CRM.

The prompt for this post was the experience I recently had in The Apple Store in Solihull.  My iPhone was playing up, and I booked an appointment with a “genius” (I hate this term) to see what we could do.  It turned out my phone was water damaged (yes, ok, I may have dropped it); and this was causing it to behave erratically.  In honesty I expected this was the case.

The genius said that obviously this wasn’t covered by warranty.  I asked if I could pay to have it repaired and was told they could exchange it for a refurbished, as good as new, unit for circa £150.  As I was weighing up the pros and cons of this offer the chap said, “just hold on one minute, let me check the warranty.”

He looked up the serial number on Apple’s CRM system and said:  “You’ve not had one replaced before have you; ohh, and I can see you bought a new Mac Book Pro 3 months ago, an iPad about 5 months before that, and a new Apple TV this year too….  it would seem a bit unfair of us to charge a loyal customer for a refurb unit.”

And as a gesture of good will they replaced my damaged and out of warranty phone with a new one; there and then.  Clearly I was very very happy with this.

The Cost Of A Customer.

What this shows is that Apple have adopted a good CRM technology solution which shows the relationship they have with an individual customer instantly in a concise form.  More importantly, they have given their customer facing staff the authority to use that data wisely.  It’s technology + process which equals good CRM.

The employee could see that within the last 12 months I’d spent a considerable amount of money with Apple and that I was a loyal customer; so used this to make a judgement call.  Was it worth £150 to Apple to keep me happy?  Yes, because the likelihood is that I’ll buy more in the future.  I will.

Of course some people will argue that Apple can afford to do this because of the high margin it makes on its hardware; while others will argue that it didn’t cost them £150 as that was the retail price of the refurbed unit, not the cost of it.  But it isn’t about the money, it’s about the acknowledgement of a relationship with Apple.

Like all relationships it’s about give and take.  I’ll pay their higher hardware prices, live in their walled garden of apps etc, but in return I get cheap OS upgrades and a little bit of love when it comes to my mistakes.

If you’ve got a CRM then make sure you are using it fully, and your staff are allowed to use it properly.  If you don’t have one, then get one (don’t be put off by high prices from big boys – small business rarely need all their complexity).

WPF, Binding, Internationalisation, Fail.

I’ve been working on a WPF browser application for a client for the past couple of months now; and am just getting round to sorting out some of the niggles with internationalisation (this app will be used in 39 countries).

I have a line of XAML which should display a date in the correct short format for the user.  (IE: 31/12/2011 for UK, 12/31/2011 for US etc):

<TextBlock Text="{Binding ElementName=SheetHeader, Path=DataDateTime, StringFormat='{}{0:d}'}" />

The important bit being the StringFormat='{}{0:d}’; this should format the date correctly.  But it doesn’t.  If I load this on my PC in the UK I will get the date in en-us format.

It turns out that WPF does not respect the current culture when it comes to bindings,it defaults to EN-US; so dates formatted when bound will always come up formatted as if you were in the US.  What a massive oversight on the part of MS, and hopefully they will fix this at some point.

There is a way around this though – you have to override Language Property of the application on application load.  Adding the following code to the Application Startup event will ensure you get correctly formatted bindings.

                            new FrameworkPropertyMetadata(


An Aviator Passes.

It’s with a very heavy heart that I read reports this afternoon that one of the Red Arrows has crashed, and the pilot hasn’t survived.  The Red Arrows are a true credit to The Royal Air Force and are nothing short of absolutely awesome to watch — it’s impossible to describe just how skilled these aviators are.

I’m a happy chap if I can keep my airspeed and height within the standards expected of a newly qualified commercial pilot (which I am not, but no harm in aiming high) — these guys and girls fly fast jets at almost 4x my speed, often only inches apart.  It’s a real treat to watch.

I have had the privilege to see this years Red Arrows (part of the team changes every year) twice.  Only earlier this week they overflew my home town and my son had to ring me straight away to say he’d seen them again; and wanted to know why they had no smoke on – I was 150 miles away; but this gives you an idea of how inspirational they are; my 3 year old adores them.  I haven’t the heart to tell him one has crashed.

My thoughts are with the pilots family, friends and his colleagues; it’s always awful when a fellow pilot passes, especially when flying.  Rest In Peace.

Flying West

Capt. Michael J. Larkin 

I hope there’s a place, way up in the sky,
Where pilots can go, when they have to die-
A place where a guy can go and buy a cold beer
For a friend and comrade, whose memory is dear;
A place where no doctor or lawyer can tread,
Nor management type would ere be caught dead;
Just a quaint little place, kinda dark and full of smoke,
Where they like to sing loud, and love a good joke;
The kind of place where a lady could go
And feel safe and protected, by the men she would know.

There must be a place where old pilots go,
When their paining is finished, and their airspeed gets low,
Where the whiskey is old, and the women are young,
And the songs about flying and dying are sung,
Where you’d see all the fellows who’d flown west before.
And they’d call out your name, as you came through the door;
Who would buy you a drink if your thirst should be bad,
And relate to the others, “He was quite a good lad!”

And then through the mist, you’d spot an old guy
You had not seen for years, though he taught you how to fly.
He’d nod his old head, and grin ear to ear,
And say, “Welcome, my son, I’m pleased that you’re here.
“For this is the place where true flyers come,
“When the journey is over, and the war has been won
“They’ve come here to at last to be safe and alone
From the government clerk and the management clone,
“Politicians and lawyers, the Feds and the noise
Where the hours are happy, and these good ol’boys
“Can relax with a cool one, and a well-deserved rest;
“This is Heaven, my son — you’ve passed your last test!”

7-5, Taken Alive??

Please don’t misuse it…

When learning to fly I was taught a mnemonic (one of many learnt during training), which helps me to remember the three very important transponder squawks which are used in varying emergencies:

75 – taken alive, 76 – in a fix, 77 – going to heaven.

This is to describe the following squawks and their uses.

  • 7500 – Unlawful Interference – Hijacking normally.
  • 7600 – Communication Failure – Radio Inoperative.
  • 7700 – Other Emergency – Normally a May Day, where an aircraft or person aboard is in grave or imminent danger.

Emergency Squawks

The main thing they do is alert any radar operator to your peril – and they generally do this by highlighting the aircraft in a very prominent colour on the display of the radar operator.  The operator can then use this information to assist the flight much better, and if you have a Mode S transponder they will also have other information about the flight as well.

Of course we all hope we never have to use any of the emergency squawks, but we all use routine codes every day and will often have to change between them in flight, as we are assigned new codes by new ATC units.

Be Careful!

A post in this months GASIL reminds us that as pilots we have to be careful how we set these squawks… particularly near or around 7500.  Older transponders (in much of the GA fleet) are set by rotating a series of dials, whereas newer transponders are set with buttons and the code typed in.

Old Transponder
Old Transponder
New Transponder
New Transponder

The danger is that when changing squawk on an old style transponder you may scroll the dials through one of the emergency combinations.  7600 and 7700 can be resolved quite quickly by confirming with Air Traffic Control that no emergency exists…  however they are unlikely to believe that having squawked 7500 (even fleetingly) no hijack situation exists, no matter how much you plead.

Fighter Jet Anyone?

The point made in this months GASIL, which I am emphasising is that you must select standby when changing transponder codes on older style units.

Change the unit to standby, change the code, then put turn transponder back to On (Or Alt if available).

If you do not then in the current climate, and especially in 2012 with the Olympics in town, you can fully expect to be intercepted by an RAF Typhoon from the Quick Reaction Force.  This may take some explaining away…

… but if you do get it wrong you can find the Interception Procedures here!

Dropbox On Windows Server 2008

Last year I wrote this artice “Drop Box On A Server” about installing Dropbox on a Windows Server and running it as a service so that you did not have to be logged on in order to use it to back up your files.

Since then I have moved to a Windows 2008 server, and I’ve been meaning to getting around to configuring Dropbox to run as a service (instead just leaving a remote desktop session logged on but disconnected).  Today, during a bit of browsing I find instructions on how to do this on Windows 2008 on Peter Von Lochow’s blog; but it contained some errors for my setup (which I believe to be a standard Win 2K8 R2 install).

The article I linked to in my previous blog post has been replaced with something else, so I hope Peter Von Lochow doesn’t mind me reproducing (and adapting) his steps here, for posterity.   The original article is here.

Simple Steps

  1. Install & Configure dropbox normally.
  2. Right Click on Dropbox icon, and select Preferences.
  3. Disable “Show Desktop Notifications” & “Start Dropbox on System Startup”
  4. Download & Install Windows Server 2003 Resource Kit Tools.  Ignore the incompatibility warning, the bit we need (srvany.exe) works.
  5. Open a command console, as administrator.
  6. Type in:  sc create DropboxService binPath= “C:\Program Files (x86)\Windows Resource Kits\Tools\srvany.exe” DisplayName= “Dropbox Service”  
  7. Open Regedit, and navigate to
  8. Create a new Key called Parameters
  9. Create a new string value called Application and enter the path to the Dropbox.exe; this is usually somewhere like c:\users\{Your User Name}\AppData\Roaming\Dropbox\bin\Dropbox.exe
  10. Open the services control panel (Start, Run, Services.msc)
  11. Locate the Dropbox Service – Change it to AutoStart
  12. Under the Log On tab, check Allow Service to Interact with Desktop
  13. Click apply, and then start the service.
  14. You may need to accept a permissions pop up.

That should be it.

Possible Error.

It is possible that on starting the service you have created you will get an error message which reads “The system cannot find the file specified.”  This is most likely because you srvany.exe is not in the location specified in Step 6.  On some systems it may reside in C:\Windows\System32\.  

In which case simply edit the


registry key to reflect the location of srvany.exe


Adderbury 10k

Recently I’ve sort of taken up running… it all started last year when I voluntered to do a 5k run in aid of Warwickshire & Northamptonshire Air Ambulance.  Prior to this the furthest I would run is to the bar, or the car.    This year I upgraded it to a 10k and took part again in the Heroes Run.

It turns out it’s actually not a bad form of exercise this running lark – so I have vowed to keep it up.  My friend Matt joined me on the WNAA 10k, and vowed the same.  In order to ensure we actually did this I entered us into the Adderbury 10k run, which is organised by Adderbury Running Club; and took place on Saturday 9th July 2011.


I’d been out running a fair bit in preparation for this, but had totally failed to take into account the increase in difficulty posed with it being a cross country run!!  We were up and down hills, over styles and through kissing gates like nobodies business – we were only 3k in and absolutely shattered…. it felt like we’d already ran the same distance as the WNAA run.  Just look at the profile graph from my run logging app (MapMyRun):

Addebury 10k Height Profile
Addebury 10k Height Profile

We ploded on, and after a couple of spells of walking made it well past the 5k marker, but it felt further.

When 10k isn’t…

Adderbury 10km Route
Adderbury 10km Route

It turned out when we finally got to the end and I looked at my mapping app it was in fact 11.8k we’d just ran and not 10 at all.  Doesn’t sound a lot, but it’s almost a  20% increase on a course which was at least 50% harder than any other we’d attempted to date.

It turns out that some of the route markers had gone missing so our “following the crowd” plan had led to the course being longer.

That said, we had made it – despite more walking than we had wanted.  We were both sweaty and had muddy legs from the off road running.   It took us so long (1:30) that some of the half marathon runners were over taking us on the last kilometre and finishing their 13 miles across the same terrain in less time than it took us pair to do 6!

They were brilliant encouraging though… every one of them who over took us said something nice: “Well done lads, nearly there.” etc.  Was really nice.

It turns out today that we didn’t quite come last – 1 person finished the 10k after us.

As we finished the heavens opened, so we made a swift exit after collecting out t-shirts and having some water!

It was a good challenging morning though, and at least we did it.  Thanks to Adderbury Running Club for organising it – but we’ll probably just be sticking to more road-runs in future…  like perhaps the Summer Sun 10km at Moreton Morrell in August.

Orange Mobile Broadband & Mac OSX

Setting aside Orange’s truly awful mobile broadband tariffs, if you did need an Orange Mobile Broadband Dongle for any reason (I had a specific need recently), then you’d be forgiven for thinking that their dongles worked with an Apple MacBook Pro based on their help site:

Pretty Categorical

The actual answer is:

Orange Dongles do not work with a Mac which has Thunderbolt.  This is basically all of the latest MacBook Pro’s and rumours are that the other mobile Macs will have it in next refresh.

There is an underlying compatibility problem with the Huawei dongles and the Thunderbolt chipset drivers in the latest Mac’s which results in the dongles sitting in a constant reboot loop.  To be fair to Orange when I called their tech support number (I really do loathe ringing those numbers) they admitted it straight away, and have cancelled my contract and refunded any money paid – the least they could do given I’d asked explicitly.    They really should update their website though, this happened a fortnight ago and the screen grab above was taken this morning!

Orange (and I suspect the other networks) are waiting for a firmware upgrade from Huawei which they hope will resolve the problem.


32 Bit Mac.

The dongle will work perfectly if you boot your Mac with its 32 bit Kernel.  Apple detail this in a support document, but essentially hold down the 3 and 2 buttons during boot.


I run Windows 7 in a Virtual Machine on my Mac, and if you connect the dongle to this when you plug it in then it will work perfectly in Windows.  This won’t expose the internet to your Mac OS though, but will at least get you online if you are in a fix.

Mobile WiFi

A much better solution (although more expensive to initially purchase) would be to use Mobile WiFi, or MiFi.  This is what I normally use (albeit on 3) – and is a small device which presents the 3G network as a normal wireless connection to your laptop, and also your phone and tablet!

Focus Oil Service Reminder

If, like me, you don’t particularly trust manufacturers main dealers (back street garages with big badges) then you’ll probably choose to get your car serviced elsewhere by someone you trust, or do it yourself.

My car is still under Warranty, so I choose to let my step dad service it at his garage Holbrook Motor Services – but use genuine Ford parts to keep the balance of my warranty.  With my car approaching 25,000 miles I arrange for Ken to service it for me a fortnight ago.

This week it clicked over 25,000 miles and the annoying “Service Oil” reminder came up on the dash.  This then comes up every time you start the car.  Because it wasn’t displaying when I took the car in, it didn’t need resetting (yes they have the dealer tools to do this!)..  but obviously now it did.

You can do this yourself – and I have; and thought it’d be handy to post it here in case any other Ford owners

To Reset Oil Service on a Mark 2 Ford Focus:

1.  Close all doors.

2.  Turn the ignition key to position II.

3.  Press both accelerator & brake pedals  and hold for a minimum of 15 seconds (dash will say “Oil Service Reset in Progress”)

4.  The dash will beep and read “Oil Service Reset Complete.”    Job Done.