Chris Stevens

Aviation. Tech.

Switching From Wordpress to Jekyll

Too many projects, too little time. This is the story of the last year around here!

Fall is a busy time of year since we are always anxious to escape the confines for air conditioning as the Texas summer heat finally subsides. Add two young kids, some traveling, and a rather exciting Texas Aggie football season to the mix and free time approaches zero rapidly.

I had suspected for some time that I wasn’t quite happy with my Wordpress setup and the look and feel of the site.

Earlier this year, I tried several Wordpress themes and plugins that claimed to enable support for any size of device. Those didn’t pan out, but the Twitter Bootstrap based responsive themes were starting to mature. I fiddled with a few of those before settling on something that worked, but wasn’t awesome.

I also moved from Amazon AWS hosting to Redhat’s new OpenShift PaaS. Wordpress setup on OpenShift is maybe a 5 minute activity and the whole experience was very, very cool! It is a sign of great things to come in the PaaS world.

More recently though, I noticed a ton of posts by nerds similar to myself proclaiming the greatness of Jekyll:

Jekyll is a simple, blog aware, static site generator. It takes a template directory (representing the raw form of a website), runs it through Textile or Markdown and Liquid converters, and spits out a complete, static website suitable for serving with Apache or your favorite web server. This is also the engine behind GitHub Pages, which you can use to host your project’s page or blog right here from GitHub. Jekyll Documentation

Many of those posts had a similar title to this post and I dove headfirst into the rabbit hole. I emerged several days later with this new site and a sense of freedom. I also realized that I had been self-censoring if I didn’t have the time research and write a comprehensive post on a topic. I love reading detailed posts from others, but may have to be happy with some shorter posts (or series of shorter posts) to fit anything into the schedule.

Is Jekyll for everybody? Nope. Not even close.

If composing in your favorite text editor with Markdown sounds better than a browser textarea (regardless of how WYSIWYG it is), this is probably for you! I can write in full-screen, distraction-free mode with my editor and focus on the content.

I still recommend Wordpress for nearly everybody else and Tumblr is a great option for very casual blogging.

Flying Holiday Light Tours

I wrote up some recommendations for a friend last week about aerial holiday light tours.  These were specific to the Dallas/Fort Worth metro area, but the general information is valid for almost any community with an airport.

What to Expect

Fixed wing tour flights are probably going to be cheaper (or longer w/comparable price to helicopter) and can usually be found at any of your local airports.  Most flight schools offer up their flight instructors to fly tour flights in the evenings when student activity is lowest.  You just have to ask about holiday flight tours and should be able to get a very new aircraft these days.  Older aircraft are fine, but newer is usually more enjoyable.

If you have both helicopter and airplane options available, you have a decision to make.  There is a certain novelty, even for me, with helicopter flight, but they are typically shorter and/or more expensive than fixed-wing tours.  Visibility out of the cabin may be better and the ability to get slow and take it all in is a definite plus for the helicopter option.

When you show up for your flight, your pilot should give you a short safety briefing and answer questions.  He will usually have a planned route for the best experience, but may also take suggestions if you have a specific neighborhood that you want to see.  Metro areas have controlled airspace restrictions, so some neighborhoods may not be accessible.  Take at least a light jacket and gloves along.  Light aircraft heaters are extremely effective.  Boiling lava hot effective, to be more specific.  The operator should provide you with headsets to wear.  These knock down some of the noise and provide intercom capabilities between the passengers.  If you are taking young children, ask the operator when you make your reservation if they have any child headsets.  If they don’t have them, our girls wear these very hip Peltor Kids or a small adult headset with some extra padding.

Especially since the Dallas area had a serious injury already this season, do not EVER walk towards the front of the airplane or the tail of a helicopter without assistance.

Finally, watch this short Dallas holiday light tour flight video (near the bottom) from one of the local operators and have a great flight!

Dallas / Fort Worth Metro Area

Epic Helicopter is an excellent choice and launches their holiday tours from Dallas or Fort Worth: http://www.epichelicopters.com/Tours/TourDetails.aspx?TourID=7

Starlight Flight is actively promoting their holiday flights packages: http://starlightflight.com/flight-descriptions/christmas-light-airplane-tour/

The following are my short list of flight schools from around town that should have holiday flights: http://www.monarchair.com/ (Addison Airport) http://mesquiteaviation.com/ (Mesquite) http://www.usaviationacademy.com/ (Denton) http://marcairaviation.com/ (North Fort Worth near Texas Motor Speedway)

A Relic: Flying the Arc…

We had a great 25+mph tailwind during last weekend’s trip from Dallas to College Station that cut our enroute time down to just over 1 hour.  With winds out of the North, Easterwood was landing to the North as any good airport should and there was also a light layer of haze that apparently kept most of the VFR (non-instrument rated) pilots at home.

College Station has a arc transition for their north-bound ILS approach.  Very few arc transitions exist these days due mostly to excellent CONUS radar coverage and GPS navigation.  Any transition segment, arc or otherwise, is designed to safely feed air traffic from the enroute system onto the final approach segment while ensuring terrain clearance.  An arc design may be used where a straight-in or angular transition segment is not possible, say for mountainous terrain or some other hazard.

Given our rather speedy trip and with both kids still asleep, I thought I would contribute to my required instrument currency and requested the full arc.

The Houston Center controller initially cleared us to the CINED waypoint just outside the ILS approach since we are GPS equipped.  I had to specifically request the arc portion of the procedure starting from OSUME waypoint, which was granted after some playful banter about my sanity.

Why arc transitions are “relics” (at least for non-GPS aircraft)?  Time and complexity.  The arc radius is 15 miles.  It added about 15 minutes to our approach over the radar-vectored transition to the final approach segment.  Also, they can be a bit tricky to fly.  Our GPS flew some of it perfectly and I flew the second-half manually.

Using the distance from the radio navaid (15 nautical-miles in this case), fly a heading along the arc for 10-degrees of radial change, turn 10 degrees left in the direction of the arc, and then update your nav radio by 10-degrees in the same direction.  The KCLL arc is about 80 degrees, so you get to do this about 8 times, all the while correcting for the wind.  If done correctly, the distance reading from the radio navaid should be nearly constant throughout.

Why would we keep such “relics” around?  For the day that the GPS constellation geometry leaves it unfit for approach usage and the radar at Houston Center goes on the fritz.  That’s why we go out and practice them, too.

By the Numbers: College Station for $53

“By the numbers” in aviation essentially means operating the aircraft in a manner intended by the manufacturer and validated via flight test.  We have numbers for takeoff power, approach speed, engine rpm, fuel flow, etc.  Most of these are spelled out in the airplane flight manual and hopefully ensure safe and performant operations.

This post is more about the trip itself and addresses a question (or class of questions) that I feel like I answer frequently.  If it works out, it may turn into a series.

How much does it cost to fly to …?

This question, along with “how long” and “how much [stuff|people]” can be combined to formulate a total value of a trip or experience, so I’ll give you our specs on a specific trip that we make very frequently via road and air.  My time is valuable whether used for work, family, or rest, so it always weighs heavily in our personal value proposition.  Yours might be different.

We are going to gloss over acquisition, maintenance, and other fixed (or nearly fixed) costs of both the aircraft and the car and just focus on this one trip.  It doesn’t matter whether the car sits in the garage or the airplane sits in the hanger, it costs what it costs and the value scales from there.

Flower Mound to College Station

Drive Fly

Time

  • 8 hours round-trip (average)

  • This is for average traffic and approx 30 minutes stop time each way to feed the baby.

  • 3 hours round-trip (average)

  • We can do this reliably even during DFW rush-hour and most Texas weather.

Cost

  • $85.64

  • 416 miles round-trip, $3.50/gal at 17mpg for our Acura MDX

  • $138.00

  • 3 hours, $4.60/gal at 10gal/hr

Pros

  • Air-conditioning.

  • All-weather (basically).

  • Ability to stop more easily (esp. with kids).

  • Rush-hour agnostic.

  • Less fatigue upon arrival.

Cons

  • Total duration is brutal.

  • Leaving the DFW metro area can be brutal.

  • Weather can be an issue.

  • Lack of air conditioning during the summer.

  • Pre-flight adds about 15 minutes to each leg.

  • Carseat install/de-install is a pain.

Summary

I typically feel quite a bit better at the end of each flying leg versus a driving leg.  Part of the driving fatigue is related to total duration, but I’d argue that most flights are less taxing overall than the same trip on the road.

For an extra $53 on average, I save about 5 hours of travel time for the weekend.  Whether I end up working those saved hours or relaxing with the family, those are my hours and not wasted on the road.

5 Quick Takes for September

So many interesting things, so little time.

It was HOT!  Damn Hot!

Finfrock on NBC5 is predicting 104+ tomorrow and that should cement this as the hottest damn year ever.  Well, actually, we’ll surpass 1980 as the year with the most 100-degree days on record.  Good riddance.

9/11: Ten Years Later

Lots of great services, special programs, and remembering this week.  I went to the airport and went flying.  It’s hard to believe how great we have it here on so many levels.

The End of an Era: Atlantis / STS-135

I had plans to put a whole post together about this one, but didn’t get time to write it.  The shuttle program is over and few viable options exist for human spaceflight at this time.  Fortunately, I took my family to see a launch in 2010 and we loved every minute of it.  I sat both girls down in front of NASA TV for the 2011 launches and I think, I hope, that Claire will remember them.  I hope we’ll be watching the commercial space providers succeed in the coming years.

Aggie Football 2011

The season is here.  We love it!  We might be in the SEC soon.  Our football compound has a TV mounted next to the pool.  We are hopefully done driving now that cooler weather is here and Charlotte is old enough to tolerate the flight.

A New Look Around Here

Yes, I have been experimenting with some new professional themes lately.  When you’re not building for yourself, it’s a bit like buying a house.  You have to look for a good floor plan and maybe just repaint when you move in.