Category Archives: FAIL

nFlightCam vs Squawk Shoppe cockpit audio adapters

First I bought this adapter from nFlightCam. It didn’t work properly— my phone didn’t recognize that it had a mic plugged in so all I got was loud propeller noise. After testing it, I sent three mails to nFlightcam customer support (since they don’t have a phone number) and got no response. 

Then I ordered this adapter from Squawk Shoppe. Immediately after placing an order, they offered to connect me with their Facebook bot for order status, which worked flawlessly. I got the adapter when promised and it worked perfectly.

Then, just before a cross-country plane trip, nFlightCam answered my support email and offered to send me a replacement. That was 13 days ago and, you guessed it, no replacement has arrived.

Executive summary: don’t buy anything from nFlightcam; despite their heavy advertising, their customer support is slow and unresponsive and (at least for me) their build quality suspect. I see from reddit that other users have been happy with their products so YMMV.

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Filed under aviation, FAIL

Appareo Stratus and planned obsolescence

Back in September 2013, I bought an Appareo Stratus from Sporty’s Pilot Shop. I thought it was expensive, but getting in-cockpit weather and ADS-B traffic data, displayed conveniently on my iPad, was highly valuable. I have used it on almost every flight I’ve made since and it’s proven its value multiple times— being able to see weather while in flight is a huge safety benefit.

Recently I noticed that it was running out of battery unusually fast. Even if I left it plugged in overnight, it would only run for a few minutes when unplugged. I sent Sporty’s customer service an email asking about repair cost. Here’s what they said:

I am sorry, but we are unable to repair the Stratus 1.

We are able to offer $100 off the purchase of a Stratus 1S or 2S.

This is infuriating. The device is not even 3 years old yet, and the manufacturer won’t even attempt to repair it. Offering to let me pay $449 ($549 for a Stratus 1S minus the $100 credit) to get a device that, when it dies, likely will suffer the same non-support is a complete non-starter. I don’t expect a $50 consumer device to have lifelong support, but an $800 aviation device is a completely different story.

So, no thanks, Sporty’s. I’ll keep my money and build a Stratux instead. If this is the level of support I can expect, I might as well save a few bucks and do it my damn self. And when my Foreflight subscription expires, I’ll have to give serious thought to whether I want to continue to support them given their interlocking relationship with Appareo and Sporty’s. Meanwhile, time to take apart the Stratus and see about replacing its battery pack.

(n.b. the avionics stack in our plane has ADS-B weather and traffic, and it will soon be able to push those to the iPad over wifi. However, when I fly rentals or in other peoples’ planes, having a portable device is still a big winner, as is having the redundancy of a second ADS-B receiver just in case… so although I don’t have a single-point dependency on the Stratus I’ll still replace it).

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Filed under aviation, FAIL

Flying Friday: my airplane’s broken, so here’s a blimp

I went to Tampa yesterday to pick up 706 from the shop. I was expecting to write a triumphant post today about flying behind all the new goodies. However, the GPSS steering system is confused and steers the airplane in the opposite direction, so I had to leave it there for further troubleshooting. Instead of my triumphant post, here’s a short video of the DirecTV blimp, which happened to be at the airport at the same time as me.

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Garmin Fenix 3 drops data from Stages power meter

I’ve been ignoring this problem for a while, hoping that it would be fixed in a firmware update, but it persists, and I finally got aggravated enough with it to write this post (and to engage Garmin support). The problem is simple: my Garmin Fenix 3 triathlon watch will not reliably record data from the Stages power meter I have on my bike.

A quick digression: there are two major standards for wireless exercise sensor connectivity, Bluetooth Low Energy (aka BLE and Bluetooth 4.0) and ANT+. Some devices support one or the other, and some devices support both. For example, my heart rate monitor (the excellent Scosche Rhythm+) simultaneously transmits both ANT+ and BLE signals, but my Wahoo speed/cadence sensor is ANT-only. When I ride, I usually use two devices: my old iPhone 4 on the handlebars, in a Wahoo case that has a built-in ANT+ adapter, plus my Fenix 3. The iPhone is too old to use BLE, and turning on BLE on the Fenix 3 dramatically drops its battery life, so I’m using ANT for all the sensor data. Having two devices means that sometimes I forget to start or stop one device or the other at various points, so I often have mismatched data between the two.

A picture will illustrate the problem most clearly. When I use the Fenix 3, I end up with ride data that looks like this:

Bad power data is bad

As you can see, the power graph has a few spikes with lots of flats– and an average power of only 23W. (I’ll get to why the average is important in a minute). By contrast, here’s what the ride looked like when captured with the Strava app on my iPhone 4. Note that the power data much more closely tracks the speed, cadence, and HR data.

That's more like it

So why is this important? First of all, as a techie, it annoys me when two things that are supposed to work together won’t. More importantly, I actually use the power data from these rides in two ways. While I’m on the bike, I use it to gauge and adjust my level of effort. For example, yesterday’s ride was pretty windy, so I tried to hold a steady 190-210W while riding into the wind, keeping my level of effort constant and accepting whatever speed that gave me. After a ride, my coach and I use the power data to plan my recovery time and to identify areas where I need more practice (e.g. climbing hills). Having inaccurate or dirty data makes both of these uses impossible.

The Stages power meter support FAQ suggests moving the watch around, but I haven’t tried that yet. My troubleshooting efforts so far have been limited to changing the battery in the Stages and making sure the Stages and Fenix both have the latest firmware. I’ll see what Garmin support has to say. Hopefully they have a magic fix; I have a very early-model Fenix 3 so maybe they’ve made some improvements since launch. Until then, I’ll keep recording each ride twice and keeping the cleanest data.

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Filed under FAIL, Fitness, General Tech Stuff

iOS charging woes

I have been meaning to write a long article about why I moved from Windows Phone back to iOS, and the good and bad parts of the transition, but I’ve been too busy to bother. I do have time for a quick rant, though: damn, I am tired of having charging problems.

See, Apple has this logo certification program called “Made for iOS.” Join it, and your devices (which might include chargers, cables, etc) can be certified as compatible with Apple devices, and you get a cool logo. Sure, it costs you a few bucks to sign up and get certified, but it’s cheap insurance. Nice line of chargers and cables you’ve got there. It’d be a real shame if anything happened to it.

On my last two road trips, previously-working cables have suddenly started producing the infamous “this accessory may not be compatible” message. Once that happens, it’s game over. The phone (or iPad) will no longer charge from that cable. If you happen to be on a road trip, well, too bad. Luckily I had a spare, but I am now nearly out of working cables, and there’s no guarantee that the name-brand cables I bought from Amazon (all of which were from vendors who claimed to be MFi certified) will keep working. Of course, because it’s Apple, there’s no way to override this dialog, ignore it, or force the device to talk to a tainted cable– once the cable is blacklisted, it’s no longer usable with that device at all.

The worst part? I’ve seen many reports of this happening to people who bought cables and chargers from the Apple store. Since I am unlikely to ever do that I’m not too worried, but I hate the precedent, and the inconvenience factor has been pretty stunning compared to my easy prior life of using micro USB cables with my Lumias. While I understand Apple’s desire to protect the IP embodied in the Lightning interface, and while I even believe that part of the rationale behind blocking non-certified devices is to prevent bad customer experiences, the whole thing has left an unpleasant taste in my mostly-discharged battery.

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Filed under FAIL, General Stuff, General Tech Stuff

A brief rant about the Mac Lync client

I’m supposed to be working on my Ignite slides, but I just ran into something that has flipped my safeties.

I just don’t understand.

Sure, I know the Lync/Skype for Business team has a lot of irons in the fire, what with their new product line and all. And I get that the Mac install base is small relative to the other things they have to do. But there is no reason I can see for the Mac Lync client to be as buggy and underfeatured as it is. They’ve had years to improve it.

The Lync PG has proven they can do rapid engineering work, as evidenced by the excellent speed and quality of the Lync mobile apps for Android and iOS.

And they’ve proven they can build a robust client, as evidenced by the history of the Lync desktop client for Windows.

The Mac Office team, for their part, has shown that they can produce high-quality clients that reliably work with Microsoft’s services.

So why does the Mac Lync client make me want to start throwing things?

Today’s example: I am signed into Lync with my work account. I want to create a meeting in my personal Exchange calendar, invite attendees, and set it up as an online meeting. This is trivial using Windows Outlook and the Lync (and, now, SfB) client: create the invite, click the “Lync meeting” button, and boom.

On the Mac, however, this scenario doesn’t work– clicking the “Online Meeting” button produces an obnoxious dialog telling me that I must be signed in to the same account in Lync as I’m using in Outlook.

This is just the latest in the pecked-to-death-by-ducks experience of using the Lync client on a Mac. In honesty, the client is more stable and has more features than its predecessors; hell, it even supports the Conversation History folder now. But what I want is a robust client, with feature parity with Windows, that works to enable the same scenarios I can easily perform in Windows. That’s not too much to ask.

I don’t know (and, as an end user, don’t care) which team inside Microsoft owns this. And I don’t have an opinion on who should own it. All I want is a solid client experience.

(And while I am on a rant: damnit, the Windows Phone sync client for the Mac is a giant pile of fail. Microsoft has apparently abandoned it in place. Bug reports go into a black hole. Latest example: after months of prerelease availability, Apple released the Photos app and… surprise… the WP8 sync app doesn’t work with it.)

 

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Filed under FAIL, OS X, UC&C

Rocketman 2014: my epic fail

In idle conversation with my friend and fellow TRI101 attendee Alex, we started kicking around the idea of forming a relay team to do the Rocketman Olympic-distance triathlon. The Olympic distance is the next step up from sprints; it combines a 1500m swim, a 40Km bike ride, and a 10Km run. I figured I could do either the bike or run, but not both back-to-back, and I knew I didn’t want to attempt the swim… but Alex is a strong swimmer and he jumped at the chance. We recruited Ryan, another TRI101 member who runs ultradistance races, and we were all set.

In the weeks leading up to the Huntsville Sprint, I’d been thinking about buying a new bike. Instead of splurging I decided to rent one from Madison Cycles and give it a try for this race. I picked it up on Wednesday, but didn’t get to ride it until Friday, at which point it scared me badly! At nearly 10lbs lighter than my normal ride, and with much narrower tires, different geometry, and different gearing, it felt much less stable, and after my first ride my shoulders ached from gripping the handlebars so hard. On Saturday I rode it again and felt a lot better, though. I packed my stuff, attended the race brief with Alex and Ryan, and got to bed at a reasonable time. Sunday morning found me up at 0430 to finish my last-minute prep and drive out to the Arsenal’s recreation area, which abuts the Tennessee River. I’d signed up for a volunteer shift at the packet pickup booth, where I had a grand time visiting with friends and helping triathletes get their packets and swag for the race. The morning was cool and overcast, and as dawn broke I was excited about the race.

I met Alex and Ryan at the transition area, got everything set up, and headed over to the swim area. In a relay race, the swimmer starts with the timing chip and hands it to the cyclist in T1,  then the cyclist hands off to the runner in T2. Rocketman has a separate transition area for teams, which is handy.  Once Alex started the swim, Ryan and I hung out in the transition area until he came out, then I was out the chute and on the bike. By this time it had warmed up a bit, but it wasn’t too bad, and I felt great. Fresh breeze! Beautiful scenery! I’d violated my normal “nothing new on race day” rule and was sporting a Camelbak for hydration; I figured it, along with two water bottles on the bike, would keep me well hydrated.

The first mile of the course went by smoothly and quickly. I was keeping an eye on my pace because 40Km was about a third farther than my previous longest ride, and about half again as long as my previous longest race, but I was still feeling great as I rounded the turn near mile 2… and then suddenly it seemed like the bike was slowing down. I pedaled faster. This had no effect other than to rock me back and forth in the saddle. “Maybe I need to shift some more,” I thought. So I did, fiddling with the bike’s four shift levers in a fruitless effort to stop decelerating. Finally I had to unclip and pull over, where after some experimentation I found that the freewheel gear inside the rear hub had broken or something. Pedaling turned the crank, which moved the chain, which turned the rear cassette, which did nothing to the back wheel. I fiddled with it for another 10 minutes or so, to no avail; then I reluctantly turned the bike right side up and started the Walk of Shame back to the corral.

Along the way, I am happy to say, probably 4 out of 5 cyclists who passed by me asked me if I was OK. I appreciated their support a great deal, though they were moving too fast for me to do more than shout “THANKS!” at their rapidly receding backs. At one intersection, world-famous race photographer Gregg Gelmis was set up and captured the moment:

Me after my rental bike crapped out during Rocketman 2014

Me after my rental bike crapped out during Rocketman 2014

Thanks to my distinctive jersey (which I love, so shut up, haters), Alex and Ryan could see me before I made it back into the corral and they knew something was wrong. I am very grateful to them for how gracious they were; the mechanical failure of my bike meant that I officially did not finish (DNF’d) and so our team was marked as DNF’ing. Ryan ran the 10Km leg anyway and turned in an excellent time; while he was killing it in the 90-degree sun, Alex and I got to cheer a number of our TRI101 friends and coaches as they crossed the finish line. (Results are here if you want to see how fast everyone was.)

The Madison Cycles folks were very apologetic, and I’m sure they’ll settle up with me when I get back home. Mechanical issues happen. as anyone who’s owned any device more complex than a pencil knows well, so I don’t blame them, but it was still frustrated because I was excited to compete. I still had a great time; I especially enjoy the social aspect of triathlons because, while it’s a very competitive sport, the competitors tend to be very friendly and incredibly supportive. It’s a sport where you can take genuine pleasure in the successes of your friends, which suits me just fine.

The only thing to do: come back next year and DO THE WHOLE RACE. That will show ’em.

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