Learning to fly

Anyone that knows me has suffered my flying hobby for the last nine months; I’ve wanted to get my private pilot’s license (PPL) for a while and it was only last year that I was able to obtain my medical and afford the lessons. I thought that I’d do a writeup of my experiences along with some pointers if you’re tempted to do the same.

The first decision I had to make was a choice between the NPPL and a full JAA PPL. While the former has less stringent medical and training requirements (you merely need to get your GP to agree to the same conditions as professional lorry drivers) it does limit you to flying only during the day and in the UK. Whilst 99% of flights I’ll ever make will meet this criterion I decided to go for the full JAA PPL partly because I had vague notions of flying down to my parents in the south of France, but also I think the training course will take a similar amount of time.

This led me onto getting my Class 2 medical: I have Crohn’s disease which (if not in remission) is usually something that would disqualify me. You will need to visit an AME who will assess you (vision, hearing, ECG, bloods, urine etc) and if you’re in excellent health will issue your medical there and then. If you’re like me you’ll get your case referred to the CAA directly who will then require reports from every medic you’ve ever seen before making a decision, luckily in my favour. I would strongly advise that if you’re considering spending a lot of money on learning to fly you get your medical before doing anything else.

My next step was finding a flying school. My requirements were a little tricky in that I wanted somewhere reasonably easy to get to via public transport from central London and I’d looked at the usual suspects (Biggin Hill, Denham, Damyns Hall) but a chance reply to a post on an internet forum led me to look at RAF Halton. Although it’s way out in the Chilterns it’s pretty easy to get to and takes me 1.5 hours door-to-door on the train which is about the same time as a car. The club is excellent and while it has a rather undeserved reputation of being frosty (being a military airfield flyins are deterred) members and instructors alike are all very supportive and friendly.

So it was that I started flying in late September 2011 in a bright yellow Cessna 152 and I blogged at the time when I completed my first solo. I had always approached flying with the attitude that if I only flew solo once then I’d be satisfied even if money, health or aptitude stopped me progressing further, but of course I didn’t just stop there. I used the winter months to study for and pass all seven written exams and took full use of any ground school evenings offered by the club. I would say that my weakest exams were in Navigation and RT but the rest are certainly very easy to self study for. Bear in mind that everything may change with EASA so speak to your school about the syllabus and which books to buy.

Asides from the minimum number of hours required (45 – 10 of which must be solo including 5 hours cross country, 2 of spin & stall awareness and 2 hours instrument flying) you must complete a solo “qualifying cross country” which is a minimum of 150nm with two full stops away from home. I ended up doing mine at the end of March which took me from Halton to Gloucester, up to Leicester then back home again. At each stop you get a certificate signed by the controllers to say that you landed and a grading of your safety and landing ability.

The solo nav is certainly a testing time and requires you to be fairly proficient at using the radio as well, something that took me a fair amount of time to get used to although I think that is fairly normal. My last hurdle was the radio practical which is done on a computer simulator with you as the pilot and the examiner playing the part of all the other aircraft and controllers. I almost flunked it but to give you an idea of the contents take a look at CAA safetysense leaflet 22 which includes an example route at the end which is pretty similar to what you’ll be faced with (albeit using entirely fictitious places).

The weather in April and May has been pretty dreadful so it’s taken me a few more hours than planned to get around to the final part – the skills test – just be aware that flying in the UK will throw up a lot of cancelled flying days! But, finally the day dawned to do the test with an examiner earlier this week. The test looks at your ability to plan a route (including take off/landing performance and mass/balance), general aircraft knowledge (how much fuel, battery voltage etc), diversion planning, general handling (steep turns, stalling, slow flight) and simulated emergencies like practice forced landings.

The weather on Thursday was marginal with a 20kt wind forecast to get up to 30kts later in the day but as it was pretty much straight down the runway I decided to proceed with the test. The examiner was great and put me at my ease so we headed up and did the circuit flying part of the test first whilst the wind was comparatively light. This went ok (not my best ever landings but not surprising given the wind) then we headed off on the first leg of the navigation part. The wind wasn’t quite as forecast so I found myself off track but corrected and gave a revised ETA to the examiner and managed to arrive at the first turning point within a minute of what I’d said. Half way through the second leg I was given a diversion to plan that took us back towards home – this didn’t go so well with strengthening winds meaning that I was 2 or 3 miles off course as I neared the end point, but recovered with a newly revised ETA and just made it within the allowed 3 minutes deviation. The rest of the general handling went fine (albeit with two attempts at forced landings with the strong wind) then I was told to rejoin the circuit and land. After landing the examiner shook my hand and told me I’d passed!

I guess the last thing to say is about costs. I spent just over £6,500 on flying hours and instruction along with £700 on books, equipment, exams and membership fees. This is not a cheap hobby!

What next? I’m not sure – this was always meant to be solely for fun; I don’t want to spend vast amounts more on a commercial pilot’s license for very little return (flying instructors earn less than £20 an hour for example) so I think I’ll continue flying my little Cessna for a few more hours then convert onto a four seat machine like the PA-28 Warrior which is much more comfortable for longer trips. See you in the skies!

Managing a NetApp filer from Powershell

Have some NetApps? Want to manage them remotely with Powershell? Upset by the shocking level of documentation? Read on for some common uses:

If you have your devices domain joined and use a separate account to your desktop login to manage them you’ll need to supply a separate set of credentials:

Connect-NaController -name netapp1 -Credential (Get-Credential) -HTTPS

Create a new volume
Create a new thin provisioned (space reservation=none) volume in an aggregate:

New-NaVol -name testvol1 -Aggregate aggr1 -SpaceReserve none -size 1tb
Create a new QTree, lookup a QTree
Create, manage the option on and lookup a QTree:
New-NaQtree -Path /vol/vol1/homedirs10GBquota01
Set-NaQtree -Path /vol/vol1/homedirs10GBquota01 -OpLocks enabled -SecurityStyle mixed
Get-NAQtree -VolumeName vol1
Create a quota
Add a user quota and lookup quotas set on a QTree. Note the strange syntax for -Volume (it is the volume’s name not full path (/vol/vol1 etc). Also remember that NetApp’s idea of what constitutes a gigabyte is different to everyone else’s so you may want to specify in megabytes instead.
Add-NaQuota -Volume vol1 -Qtree homedirs10GBquota01 -Type user -Target * -DiskLimit 10g
Get-NaQuota -Volume vol1 -Qtree homedirs8GBquota01 -Type user -Target *

Add search paths for auto home shares
List the current paths and add a new one. Important! This command is not additive, you will need to specify any existing paths as well as your new one. This is the same as reading/updating cifs_homedir.cfg

set-nacifshomedirectory -Paths /vol/vol1/qtree1,/vol/vol1/qtree2

Add API access for a restricted subset of users to query a home directory location on the filer
If you want a small set of users to be able to view the location on the filer where it thinks a user’s home directory is, you’ll need to create a custom role with the following API access:



I’ll update with any other useful ones as I find them. I find the cmdlet namespace confusing for NetApp and a lot of commands have different switches for relatively similar things. The API access is also woefully documented.

Dear Simon Hughes

Dear Simon,

I’m writing to you to ask you to vote against the Health and Social Care Bill when it returns to the Commons after the Lords’ report stage.

Despite protestations otherwise an analysis that appeared in the BMJ this week vividly illustrates that this bill is designed to introduce charging for health care that is currently free. Local commissioning groups that replace existing PCTs have no requirement to take patients from a geographical area and can cherry-pick patients to exclude those who will cost too much to have on the books. For patients with a lifelong chronic illness such as myself this will result in the inability to obtain care, in a similar way as I would find it impossible to obtain private health cover now.

Those commissioning groups that do take on “expensive” patients are hence being set up to fail, opening the way to private healthcare providers and a creeping influx of for-profit private services that try to take an off-the-shelf model and apply it equally without regard to the needs of a varied local populace. Competition does not always provide for a better service and at a time when the NHS should be concentrating on making efficiency savings the last thing it needs is to face a massive change such as this.

Virtually no healthcare professionals, their standards bodies, unions or the electorate at large want to see the changes proposed by this bill. I’ve lived in SE16 as one of your constituents for several years and I’ve voted for the liberal democrats in every election (local council, European and National) since I was able to vote. I’m afraid that if you vote for this bill I will be unable to give the liberal democrats my support in the future.

Lactose free Walkers products

Walkers have changed some of their ingredients again (this time for the better) so a number of products that had lactose added to substitute for MSG have now had the lactose removed. This is the reply I got from Walkers:

No lactose or lactose derivatives have intentionally been used as ingredients in the
Walkers products listed below, however, these products have been made in a factory
which also handles lactose.

Last reviewed: October 2011

Walkers BBQ Rib Flavour Crisps
Walkers Pickled Onion Flavour Crisps
Walkers Prawn Cocktail Flavour Crisps
Walkers Ready Salted Crisps
Walkers Salt & Vinegar Flavour Crisps
Walkers Steak & Onion Flavour Crisps
Walkers Worcester Sauce Flavour Crisps
Walkers Salt & Shake Crisps
Walkers Lights Simply Salted Crisps
Walkers Extra Crunchy Flame Grilled Steak Crisps
Walkers Extra Crunchy Simply Salted Crisps
Walkers Crinkles Simply Sea Salted Flavour Crisps
Walkers Max Chargrilled Steak Flavour Crisps
Walkers Max Paprika Flavour Crisps
Sensations Balsamic Vinegar & Caramelised Onion Flavour Crisps
Sensations Roasted Tomato & Aromatic Spices Flavour Crisps
Sensations Vintage Cheddar & Onion Chutney Flavour Crisps

Baked Ready Salted
French Fries Ready Salted Flavour
French Fries Salt & Vinegar Flavour
Quavers Prawn Cocktail Flavour
Quavers Salt & Vinegar Flavour
Sensations Oriental Crackers Peking Spare Rib Flavour
Sensations Poppadom Bites Lime & Coriander Chutney Flavour
Squares Ready Salted Flavour
Squares Salt & Vinegar Flavour
Sunbites Lightly Sea Salted Flavour
SunBites Sun Ripened Sweet Chilli Flavour
Wotsits Flamin’ Hot Flavour
Doritos BBQ Rib Flavour
Doritos Chilli Heatwave Flavour
Doritos Lightly Salted Flavour
Doritos Zesty Salsa Flavour
Smiths Chipsticks Ready Salted
Smiths Chipsticks Salt & Vinegar Flavour

Our suppliers advise us that no lactose or lactose derivatives have intentionally been used as
ingredients in the snack dips below:

Doritos Hot Salsa Dip Doritos Nacho Dip
Doritos Mild Salsa Dip Doritos Fiery Red Pepper & Paprika Dip
Doritos Red Pepper & Pepperoni Dip Doritos Flamin BBQ Dip


Flying Solo

I’ve recently been learning to fly at a flying club in the Chilterns and had taken a couple of weeks off work at the end of September to build some hours and hopefully go solo. Sadly due to a combination of my ineptitude and weather it wasn’t to be, but I have been steadily using up my annual leave to go up there during the week to fly (for reasons various we can’t do circuits at the weekend).

So yesterday I headed out of the house at 5.30am to catch a train out of Marylebone ready to fly for 9.30. We spent a couple of hours doing circuits in the morning but with a moderately strongly crosswind my final approach and landings just weren’t good enough. After lunch a huge thunderstorm and downpour led me to think that flying was over for the day (we even put the aircraft away in the hanger) but we hung on and after the weather had passed flying conditions were perfect; not a drop of wind and excellent visibility. We did a couple of circuits and my instructor said they were the best landings I’ve ever done and told me to stop at the side of the runway. He got out and told me to take off, do a circuit and see me back at the hanger to refuel; I was a little nervous as I taxied back to the threshold but I knew I’d be able to fly a circuit and land safely even if it wasn’t going to be the prettiest. Everything went really well, although I forgot to make my radio call for finals until a little late and the approach was a little high but not too bad.

I got lots of congratulations from everyone at the club and couldn’t stop grinning. Here’s me shortly afterwards looking a little frazzled:

San Francisco

Spent a very pleasant couple of weeks out in the Bay Area, seeing friends, going to a Rope Dojo and then some trips out of the city. Some more pics up on flickr.

A few highlights:

The computer history museum in Mountain View is worth a half-a-day trip. Relatively accessible via CalTrain and then the Googler’s Shoreline Shuttle (just check the times the bus runs). It’s pretty huge and encompasses a wide range of stuff from punch cards, ancient storage, pong, Crays and the original rack Google ran from.


A trip up to the Marin Headlands is also worthwhile if you’re vaguely interested in military history, bunkers and the like. Especially great is the Nike Hercules missile site (check hours) complete with working missile lift, but sadly without the nuclear pits.

The California Academy of Sciences was ok – it certainly had very impressive biodomes and aquarium, but did feel a little short-changed given the cost of the ticket.

Amalanic alligator

For the more, ahem, alternative a trip around the SF Armory was fun and certainly impressive in places (pics slightly NSFW):

SF Armory (kink.com)

Site updated

I’ve moved the site away from the ancient and wheezy Movable Type over to WordPress.

Most things have been preserved except the galleries which I’m going to leave up at Flickr from now on. Sorry if this breaks anything but URLs aren’t forever!

Beetroot gels

It has been a very long time since I posted here – sorry!

I thought I’d share some lessons learnt in the past few days having made what should have been very simple golden beetroot gel for Heston Blumenthal’s recipe of orange and beetroot jellies (the trick is that it’s blood orange and golden beetroot).


It transpires that the betalin compounds in beetroot (both red and golden) discolour easily under a variety of conditions including pH, oxidation, heat and light. The result is that the bright yellow colour of golden beetroot rapidly turns greeny-brown. Heston does not mention this fact in his recipe. Bad Heston.

To avoid this problem you need to do the following:

Keep the beets chilled prior to juicing.

Immediately mix in 2-5g ascorbic acid.

Pass the resultant juice through a chinois to remove any green particles.


Use about 8g leaf gelatine / 200g juice. Rehydrate the gelatine then heat with a small amount of water until thoroughly dissolved. Gelatine dissolves around 50C and solidifies around 25-40C. Betalins discolour above 30C. Do you see the trouble brewing? Allow the juice to warm up slightly to about 15C. Whisking all the time reduce the gelatine mixture to about 30C then add  the beetroot juice slowly.

Set in an airtight container in the fridge.