The Qantas A380 Engine Failure: The story of an ops team pulling through a crisis

[Thanks to 'evanm' on Hacker News, here's a link to the full documentary if you don't want the abbreviated versions below.]

As a low hours pilot I spend a lot of time reading NTSB reports and postmortems on flight incidents to try and avoid repeating the mistakes others have made or learn about how they successfully dealt with problems encountered during flight.

One of the most impressive stories I read about fairly recently was the Qantas A380 engine failure. I have a lot of respect for pilots who deal with crises successfully and for me Sullenberger’s landing in the Hudson has always been my favorite and most heroic story. Even though Sullenberger was facing a high workload during his engine failure, he focused on flying the plane and did a textbook water landing.

But what fascinates me about the Qantas A380 failure is it’s more about the team pulling through, especially the first officer. After the engine fails the first officer is confronted with a monster list of system failures that the avionics dumps on him and he has to very quickly work through each item. They eventually gain an understanding of the aircraft status and come up with an operational plan to put it back on the ground.

As someone who writes software for a living and used to be an operations guy, for me the Qantas A380 engine failure is the story of an ops team facing tremendous pressure with zero option for failure and incredible time pressure, and transforming a severely damaged system into something operational again in order to successfully shut it down.

If you have the time, I’d recommend watching this two part documentary which captures most of the story. You can tell from the first officer’s recounting of the incident how much pressure he was under at the time.

Why you should fly United Airlines

We just flew United from Portland, Maine to Colorado and will be flying back in the next few days. We brought 3 pets with us, 2 cats and our Australian Cattle Dog, Joey.

Their pet handling was awesome in the midst of a serious winter storm blowing through Maine with very cold icy conditions. My dog was well taken care of by the folks at United Freight in Maine (he flew with us on the same flight, that’s where you drop them off) and both cats flew in the cabin and there was plenty of leg room even with a cat carrier at our feet. The staff at Freight put us at ease and kept our dog in a climate controlled area (with visible air conditioning unit on the roof) while he waited to board our plane.

Everyone arrived safely but I left my $2500 macbook on the plane at DIA and with a significant amount of Bitcoin and 3 other digital currencies in assorted digital wallets on the Macbook.

I drove back to Denver International the next day and a United staff member went out of her way to recover my laptop from a locked box which was about to get shipped to central lost & found in Houston. She had already ended her shift and ended up running around the airport trying to find a colleague who had access to the box, which she eventually found and who managed to find my laptop. Got it back with all digital wallets intact and the Macbook in perfect condition.

So, thanks United. I’ll be flying you again with my animals and my valuables.

Financial Journalists are not Revolutionaries.

Another financial journalist has republished first year econ theory to add their 2c to the Bitcoinosphere and make their press deadline. To summarize: Mr Coy wants you to understand what deflation is, that it’s a nightmare in an economy where debt exists, and that it slows economic growth to a crawl because everyone holds currency as it gains value.

I’ve taken an interest in Bitcoin not because I think it is a “new currency” or can “replace the dollar” or become the new “reserve currency” – all phrases you’ve seen bandied about in popular media. Instead I’m deeply interested and hope it succeeds because I think it may change the nature of currency itself along with the nature of humans.

Bitcoin challenges the notions that most financiers and business people in western economies cherish and take for granted. For example, the ideas that:

Continued economic growth, meaning a continued increase in economic activity, is imperative. 

and

Most consumers and businesses are in debt and that is a healthy way to be.

Lets take the first item. Continued economic growth is imperative. What if you’re Germany, Russia or Japan with negative population growth? [Source: U.N.]

Presumably the planet can’t support an infinite number of people. So all countries will naturally progress towards negative population growth or a stable population. It’s inevitable.

800px-World_population_increase_history

Since we all have a finite amount of energy to spend purchasing goods and services, the amount of economic activity will also plateau at some point.

So what if a new currency creates an incentive for the inevitable?

I’d also like to challenge the value system that dictates that more consumption is always good and less consumption is always bad. This has a significant environmental impact, one that is seldom mentioned. For example, the environmental benefit in holding off on buying that so called environmentally friendly new Prius in favor of driving your old car until it falls apart is huge.

The idea that “buying more things” is good for the environment is absurd. In fact buying less things and using your old things longer before you dump them is a much more environmentally friendly approach.

So with zero population growth and the inability of our planet to support consumerism, the idea that “economic growth” is good and imperative won’t be around in a few years.

What means of value exchange might a World with decreasing economic activity demand? Perhaps since you’re going to be holding on to your currency anyway in the face of decreasing economic activity, holding onto a currency that becomes worth more over time is a good thing.

Debt is seen as a good thing. It’s something that has become as embedded in our values as the idea that more economic activity is important and good. But philosophers since biblical times have warned of the dangers of usury and debt. Most western countries have laws against usury and yet still allow organizations that lend to sell usurious debt. If you don’t pay your visa card, the interest rate jumps to over 29% per year. But without inflation, no one will borrow. No one will pay Visa shareholders their fair share of wages.

Two millennia ago the author of Proverbs 22:7 [also appears in the Jewish book of Mishle] said: “The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is the slave of the lender.”. As consumers we’re encouraged to go into debt as we’re encouraged to buy hamburgers or increase economic activity.

There was a time not long ago when:

  • Wise people saved their money.
  • Debt was seen as something as bad as gambling.
  • Reusing products was encouraged.

In a future world with low levels of debt and high levels of saving, where lack of growth in economic activity is not seen as a bad thing – perhaps a deflationary virtual currency that rewards savers, punishes debtors and encourages lower economic activity in favor of the environment is a good thing. Especially if it insulates us from the greed and corruption of those who influence monetary policy and money supply.

That is why I’m deeply interested in Bitcoin. Because it is and does all of the above. That is why I’m frustrated by Bloomberg, the Financial Times and many other traditional financial publications: Because they see Bitcoin through the lens of traditional undergraduate economic theory which simply reinforces the values we’ve come to take for granted. It doesn’t teach how to conduct an economic revolution and what the outcome might look like.

 

 

 

SSH config for OS X users to keep connections from dropping on MiFi and other mobile hotspots

If you use SSH and are often using your cellphone as a mobile hotspot, or use a MiFi as a hotspot, you probably noticed that if you don’t do anything in your SSH window for a while, the connection drops, usually with a ‘Broken Pipe’ message.

Suffer no more…

Create an ‘.ssh’ directory off your home directory in terminal.

Add a .ssh/config file.

Add the following lines:

TCPKeepAlive no
ServerAliveInterval 1
ServerAliveCountMax 99999999

Then go to lunch, come back and your SSH connection will still be alive and kicking without you having to reconnect. Enjoy.

Remembering Madiba

I’m at a loss of what to write about Madiba’s passing. I’m deeply saddened. If you’re expecting an email from me today, forget it. I’m at home, drinking strong beer and remembering the guy who saved South Africa’s ass from the fire of a racist government and post apartheid anger.

I was in The Parade (Cape Town central square at the town hall) when Mandela was released from prison in the early 90′s thanks to the deep political interest my parents had and the vision of realizing we would witness history by attending. I heard his first public speech after being released from Victor Verster Prison far in the distance. I couldn’t make out the words, but being there was enough.

And then we all watched him work a miracle that ensured that South Africa wouldn’t burn. That it would have a shot at prospering.

When I think of Madiba now the visual I have is C. S. Lewis’s Aslan.

Rest in peace Great Lion.

What Musk and Tesla are up against

Go now to Tesla.com and listen to Elon Musk’s portion of the shareholder meeting that occurred today from minute 49:00.

It’s probably the best insight you’ll get into how entrenched the USA is on traditional cars and traditional sales channels. It’ll also explain why you consistently have a crap experience buying cars in the USA and why servicing your car costs so much.

Musk gets emotional and my sense is that he is emotionally invested in his company and has big dreams that are being blocked effectively by industry incumbents.

I just became a Tesla fan.

 

How Leaders Influence your Reality

During the last several years I’ve had the opportunity to see great leaders in action and the misfortune to see great deceivers at work. Both have one characteristic in common. Many would call it charisma, but I’d like to expand on what I think that “charisma” thing is.

Pause for a moment. Think about the fact that you’re giving me the opportunity to paint a reality for you. It’s my perception of reality, but by taking it on board and fully understanding the way I see things, you’re giving me the opportunity to mould and shape your reality. If you read this whole blog entry you’re going to have devoted a full 2 to 5 minutes of your conscious thought to my perception of reality. And whether you like it or not you’re going to take some of it on-board.

Great leaders and great deceivers are given a constant flow of opportunities to project their perception of reality and their vision for a future reality on large numbers of people. They alter the way a large group of people see the the world and the way these people think the world should be.

Ever wondered why Germany followed Hitler? Those screaming German speeches weren’t gibberish. They were rousing calls to arms with a believable and powerfully delivered rationale behind the call.

These speeches, or put in different terms, these opportunities Hitler was presented with to impose his perception of reality and his vision for a future on large groups of people, allowed him to influence an entire nation to go to war and eventually carry out some of the most awful atrocities in history.

So the lesson would appear to be “be careful who you lend your ear to”. But it’s a little more complex and more difficult that simply being careful. When others acknowledge someone as a leader, celebrity, genius, as talented and so on, it has a big influence on us as individuals and our default behavior as Cialdini writes in “Influence”, is to go along with the crowd.

“You say his a violin virtuoso, well he must be”, “You say this is a ’82 bottle of Latour’, well it must be spectacular”.

On a side-note, a friend once did an experiment where he sabotaged an already open bottle of excellent wine by decanting it and pouring in a very cheap wine. He watched the wine enthusiasts drink the sabotaged bottle and rave about how clearly excellent the wine is.

Social proof is a powerful phenomenon and if a group of people or respected organization acknowledge someone, they’ve given them a platform for “reality influence” or to create a “reality distortion field” if you’re a Steve Jobs fan.

If you’re a leader, I hope you’ve gained a greater understanding of how privileged you are to have the attention of groups of people. If you’re a listener, I hope you’ll learn from history and be careful who you grant access to your vulnerable and valuable attention.

 

A Viable Business Model for Facebook

Facebook’s second quarter revenue is expected to be $1.1 billion. That would give them roughly $4.4 billion per year, not exactly a number that justifies the $100 billion market cap they were/are hoping for. Compare that to Google’s $37 billion last year with current $200B market cap and Facebook isn’t even a player yet.

The endgame has arrived and the whole world is on Facebook today. Those that aren’t are seen as eccentric and are beginning to get depressed about losing touch with their kids.

What business model would make sense for Facebook now? Clearly advertising isn’t cutting it. They have a problem of “intent”. People go to Google to find things and if those things are in an ad, they click that ad. With Facebook the only intent is to “facebook”, not find a plumber and potentially click an ad. So as far as I’m concerned advertising will never work for Facebook.

So what should they do? Well, for starters, they have a dossier on just about every literate person on the planet with Internet access. Their data extends beyond just their own website facebook.com. They have data on most of the websites their members visit and what those members do on each website. They know who you are, where you are, who your friends are, who their friends are, where you were born, what you and your friends look like, who you communicate with most frequently, what you like, which websites you visit most frequently, how you get to those websites,  which pages you visit on those websites and all the usual demographic cruft.

In short, Facebook is the most complete and most current database of dossiers on individuals globally that the world has ever seen and it’s effortlessly updated in real-time.

So who might be interested in that? Any intelligence agency on the planet. Is there any money in that? Lets find out.

The Department of Defense in the United States 2013 budget is going to be roughly $525 billion. How much of that might they spend on surveilling people globally in real-time? Looking at the budget for the National Reconnaissance  Office (NRO), the guys who launch and manage our spy satellites, is instructive.

The NRO’s budget for 2010 was roughly $15 billion. If Facebook can also be considered a global array of data gathering nodes similar to our spy satellites, then surely $15 billion would be a reasonable number to throw around in a conversation with the folks who launch and operate the data gathering nodes?

And that’s one customer, albeit the largest customer. Remember that the USA has intelligence partners around the world. An example of this is the five signatory states in the UK-USA signals intelligence sharing agreement which are: USA, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. All these folks have significant budget they can also contribute.

Another budget item that might be instructive to look at is the cost of ECHELON which is not public data. But the scale, size, importance and multi-decade nature of the project (started in the 70′s and still going strong) is a good illustration of how seriously the USA and it’s partners take signals intelligence and the scale of the budget available for it.

To be a “Google”, Facebook would have to bring in $40 billion a year in revenue which would take them to Google’s valuation of $200 billion. Right now they’re stuck at $4 billion a year.

Facebook is the only social network that matters and will be forever thanks to it’s network effect. It’s hard to believe that the smart people Facebook keeps gobbling up haven’t considered chatting to the global intelligence gathering and cyber security community. The data they have is game changing and something the global SIGINT community would never be able to gather on their own.

Trying to visualize the conversation Zuckerberg might have with the global intelligence community, it reminds me of a quote by Richard Gere’s character in Primal Fear who is a famous defense lawyer describing the conversation he has with new clients: “Have you been saving up for a rainy day? Guess what? … it’s raining!”

Footnote: There is the hard problem that publicly working with the intelligence community would kill Facebook. But then the intelligence community has never been very public and one wanders if there are ways to productize the desired data into something that appears benign and have contractors buy it on the agency’s behalf. Food for thought.

11 Questions Every Startup’s Money Guy Should Be Able to Answer in Her Sleep.

Every profitable business has a Money Guy. Sometimes it’s the CEO, sometimes it’s another member of the exec team. Money sticks to this persons hands for reasons unknown. They know how to get the best deals for anything they buy and they have a habit of making more money than they lose. If you don’t have someone like this in your business then you are almost certainly not profitable and never will be.

Often this persons title is Chief Financial Officer or Chief Operating Officer. They are the ones who update the cash flow plan and know how much cash the business has on hand at all times. They are the money guy. You’ll know your money guy rocks when you wake them up in the middle of the night and they answer every one of these questions as if it’s a reflex:

  1. When do we run out of money?
  2. What is our next revenue target date and amount?
  3. Are we going to make our target or are we slipping?
  4. What are the two most effective things we can do to increase revenue?
  5. How are we doing with regards to implementing those 2 most effective things?
  6. What are our top two sources of customers?
  7. Are either of those sources at risk of disappearing overnight?
  8. What are our two biggest expenses?
  9. Have we done everything we can to lower those expenses?
  10. Are we at risk of facing a large bill in the near future?
  11. Now that you’ve been woken up, is there any current or future problem in the business that will make it hard to go back to sleep?

Other awesome Money Guy attributes:

  1. Your Money Guy discovers surprising ways to save significant amounts of cash on big expenses.
  2. Your Money Guy isn’t constantly moaning or complaining, but occasionally will assemble the team and lay out hard facts that put some acid in your gut.
  3. Your Money Guy always has your important financial data on hand, often memorized for impromptu brainstorms or planning sessions.

The culture I’ve described here is unfortunately not what you find in most nascent businesses which is why most of them fail to make that critical four year mark. Also not that this does not apply, or put differently it is unable to be applied to the paralel universe of West Coast Technology Startups in the USA. But it’s something I’ve observed in businesses around the world including profitable USA businesses.

Often Money Guys are seen by tech entrepreneurs as people with green eyeshades who work under dim green lamps and aren’t fun at parties. But without the Money Guy, the parties end, entrepreneurs become employees and the innovation ends. Your Money Guy is the person who makes sure your business has enough oxygen to dive deep, take those big risks and come up for enough air to do it again.

Stop Being a Recruiter and Start Being an Entrepreneur

The Valley has taken some criticism for massively incentivizing the smartest people in the world to work on problems that won’t really benefit our species – like how to get more ad clicks. But that’s not what really bugs me.

What really bugs me is that in SV, nothing is built to last. Everything is built for an exit.

Imagine a party and a room full of silicon valley entrepreneurs. You are a new entrepreneur to the area and you want to meet the guy who is everything you want to be. Go on. Admit it. It’s that guy in the corner surrounded by people, who arrived 2 years ago, started his company 18 months ago and just sold it to Google for $20 to $50 million and now works for them. That’s the guy everyone wants to talk to because they want to be that guy. That is the epitome of SV success. And it is a massively destructive culture.

SV is attracting the worlds most talented engineers and tech business people. The founders, staff and investors of these companies hope that these folks will build a product for 18 months to 3 years, have the company acquired by a large incumbent and have the product killed within 2 years. Only the team remains as employees for the acquirer.

The dominant business model in SV is not innovation and entrepreneurship but recruitment. And if you arrive in SV and are hoping to build to get acquired, you are really an aspiring recruiter. Your strategy is to assemble a team, find a project that is intellectually interesting enough to them to keep them all in one place for 1.5 to 3 years, and have them demonstrate their talents to a large tech incumbent who is hiring. When the hiring event occurs, the incumbent will acquire the company for somewhere between $1 and $4 million per engineer. The deal will be cash for investors and an earn-out for founders, both of these being the equivalent of recruiting fees.

What makes me sad about this is that many real and talented entrepreneurs who could be building innovation and job creation machines are caught up in this. They are mentored into thinking this is the way things are done and their potentially world-changing businesses are eaten by the system.

Most of the rest of the world has a wonderful natural selection system for defining business success. Good, healthy successful businesses generate cash and lots of it. They create jobs, make people profoundly happy and satisfied and create new products and services that improve lives. They grow organically with their customers as they develop a pattern of making people happy.

Silicon Valley is a wonderful place to raise investment capital for a technology business. My investors are amazing individuals and have empowered us tremendously as entrepreneurs. But basing a business in The Valley feels to me like clearly stating your intent to exit and not build. And I think every entrepreneur’s intent should be to build and not exit.