What I learned trying to fly a plane

There’s a scene in Get Smart where Max fights with the KAOS agents while they’re on a plane. It turns out that both of the pilots on the plane were agents, and Max comes back to the passengers and asks “does anyone know how to land a four-engine jet?”

And that was the premise for an activity I went to a couple of weekends back. in pairs, we had to keep a 737 in the air for 20 minutes, get it onto a particular heading and altitude and deal with any challenges that are thrown at you. In a simulator.

We had 5 minutes to read an instruction manual on how to fly a 737, then we had to sit down, and shortly afterward, the autopilot failed and we were off to the races.

The first thing you notice is how much information is available. There are screens, buttons levers everywhere. Your mind is racing, thinking of any frame of reference you might have for being a pilot; movies, shows, anything.

Then you have to work out how you are going to make sense of the information that’s coming in, and how to make decisions based on that information. You can wait, and see what happens, but the plane is already doing whatever it’s doing, and the longer you wait, the worst a situation can get.

As you think you’re understanding the basics, you get system failures. This is where we went wrong – each of us thought the other had the plane under control, we both went to the booklets to see how to fix the failures, and what felt like moments later, we were hearing some kind of attitude warning.

So then we learn the importance of pushing down the uncertainty, going back to basics on communicating with each other, dividing up the tasks, and continuing to make sense of all the information and the decisions.

And we made it!

20 minutes later, we were still in the air, where we were supposed to be, and the exercise’s mythical landing device takes over and brings us to safety.

A great learning experience, and one I’ll keep coming back to.

BOOST feedback method

Just watched a video a friend posted about (among other things) how to give feedback using the BOOST method. Feedback should be Balanced, Objective, Observed, Specific and Timely. Balanced: not just an emphasis on the negative, but both negative and positive. Objective: not framed emotionally, but looking at the facts. Observed: based on something you have witnessed yourself, not something second-hand. Specific: looking not just at a broad issue, but the exact matter you’re talking about, and providing guidance on how to correct it. Timely: if there’s a deadline (the person will repeat the mistake) then working to that deadline, but otherwise giving the person a suitable amount of time to process the immediate fallout of their behaviour before providing the feedback.

waiting – a lesson from elevators

Last weekend was the first sermon I’ve preached in a long while, on Acts 6:1-7. It’s a story from the early days of the church where a complaint had come up that some of the widows (of a particular people group) were being neglected in the daily distribution of food. We can learn some lessons from it about how to handle complaints: the making of complaints, and the handling of complaints, and as you expect in that part of Acts, it raises expectations of how quickly people could learn about and embrace the Christian faith, and in what numbers.

One of the ways I illustrated the idea of complaints was to talk about an old design thinking story where there were complaints about elevator waiting times. 

In the original story, the source of which seems to be a book from 1970’s (Wyckoff, D. D., Sasser, W. E., Olsen, R. P. (1978). Management of service operations: text, cases, and readings. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.), a building manager is receiving complaints about the waiting times for the elevators. 

Elevators have come a long way since the 0.2m/s travel times of the original Otis elevator in 1856. The current fastest elevator in the world – in the CTF Finance Centre – can travel at 20m/s (over 60km/h!). And there are other technology developments to reduce travel times, and improve flexibility of travel.

As it turns out, we don’t like to wait. And of course the solution in the original story was unrelated to making the lifts faster. Realising that the people were complaining about the perception of time passing, the wise building manager installed mirrors in the foyer. The travellers, now distracted by looking at their reflections, didn’t notice the wait times as much, and so the complaints stopped.

Oh, and the strangest device I found in my reading was the Paternoster.

end of another era

It’s the end of four years studying towards an MBA. It’s a degree with a strange configuration, really; split into two parts, the first stage is comprised of eight subjects to complete in trimesters.

Harbour Cruise with friends


The MBA attracts people with different levels of ambition and so for some people, despite demanding full-time jobs, they manage to take two subjects in a single trimester, maybe multiple times, and finish in less than the four years.

When we found out Mum was sick, I decided to take a trimester off earlier than later, so I could spend more time with her while she was still relatively well. In fact, when I said goodbye to her for what turned out to be the last time, I had uni readings with me. A life-long reader, she was happy, I think, to see me studying again.

The second stage of the MBA is a year-long programme, with four “double” subjects – each one has the weighting of two subjects. It’s a lot of work to get through, but has a transformative effect on the person doing it: building up their confidence, a range of skills, and creating a community from a group largely of strangers.

This photo is from our end-of-year harbour cruise; sadly not everyone was able to be there, but it was good to see so many people I have had the privilege of getting to know gathered in the one place, sharing stories and laughing together.

I was given the “wikipedia” prize by the cohort for my breadth of knowledge and fast internet searching skills, but more valuable to me has been the chance to live out my faith in a community of mostly non-Christians: I’m hoping for further opportunities to spend time with them in the years to come.


A lot of press coverage this week on Facebook’s corporate name change to Meta. An interview with Mark Zuckerberg at The Verge shows some of the thinking behind the announcement. What do you do when you have billions of customers who are using your service on a platform you don’t control, and where your ability to unlock advertising revenue is controlled by third-party handset providers? You set things in motion so that the next platform is something you have a lot more control over.

I’ve heard a certain amount of reflection from friends – “there’s no way people will spend all their time in a virtual reality”, but that doesn’t even need to be the case. Would your last-century self, reflecting back on Nokia phones in movies, have any concept of how many hours you would now be spending staring back at the black mirror? As long as Facebook is able to increase engagement, and monetise it effectively, that will be enough to keep other competitors at bay.

two more months of MS Teams

For four years I’ve been studying, and using Microsoft Teams on and off. This has been a good way for various uni small groups of students to collaborate and share files, but one thing had confused me. Often when working on a folder of files, to find the most recent one, I would want to sort by “last modified” date. There are two options available: oldest to newest, or newest to oldest.

The sort results always seemed entirely random, but this week I finally realised what it was doing. The dates are described either as Month name and date, day of week, or relative day (eg Today or Yesterday), and then sorted ALPHABETICALLY.

A list of dates from Microsoft Teams

medium and message

This picture of a quilt, where someone had sewn together a representation of graphs of temperature data and UK COVID deaths reminded me of the way that the chosen medium influences the nature of a conversation.

data quilt

In a lot of recent online debate, I’ve seen people talk past each other, spurred on by the nature of the platform they’re using. When you’re using a free platform to have your conversation, and that platform is trying to maximise time-on-site by stirring up conflict so it can sell ever-more-targeted advertising, you might be choosing a particular path for a conversation to take.

If you were seeking to resolve a conflict between two close friends, you would not have them stand in the middle of a town square, using megaphones. The choice of medium matters.

working from near home

Sydney is again in lock-down (or as we’re calling it, a stay-at-home order), so this article on working from near home by Cal Newport is a little further in the future. After over a year of working mostly outside the office, if anything, it has brought me greater appreciation of the workspaces that I’ve had access to in the past few years. And yet, there’s a lot of benefit to the time saved from not commuting.