Computer Guy

Computer Guy
Sunset at DoubleM Systems (, Del Mar, California

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Checklists: why you should use them

I am a firm believer in checklists, both in flying and in business. Managing a successful business is at least as complex as flying a modern airplane. Today, it is THE LAW that commercial and military pilots use checklists because the results of missing something can be disastrous. Do you have checklists in your business?

Here is the story about how the first checklists came into existence:

On October 30, 1935, at Wright Air Field in Dayton, Ohio, the U.S. Army Air Corps held a flight competition for airplane manufacturers bidding to build its next-generation long-range bomber. It wasn't supposed to be much of a competition. In early evaluations, the Boeing Corporation's gleaming aluminum-alloy Model 299 had trounced the designs of Martin and Douglas. Boeing's plane could carry five times as many bombs as the Army had requested; it could fly faster than previous bombers, and almost twice as far.

A Seattle newspaperman who had glimpsed the plane called it the "flying fortress," and the name stuck. The flight "competition," according to the military historian Phillip Meilinger, was regarded as a mere formality. The Army planned to order at least sixty-five of the aircraft.

A small crowd of Army brass and manufacturing executives watched as the Model 299 test plane taxied onto the runway. It was sleek and impressive, with a hundred-and- three-foot wingspan and four engines jutting out from the wings, rather than the usual two. The plane roared down the tarmac, lifted off smoothly and climbed sharply to three hundred feet. Then it stalled, turned on one wing and crashed in a fiery explosion. Two of the five crew members died, including the pilot, Major Ployer P. Hill (thus Hill AFB, Ogden, UT)

An investigation revealed that nothing mechanical had gone wrong. The crash had been due to "pilot error," the report said. Substantially more complex than previous aircraft, the new plane required the pilot to attend to the four engines, a retractable landing gear, new wing flaps, electric trim tabs that needed adjustment to maintain control at different airspeeds, and constant-speed propellers whose pitch had to be regulated with hydraulic controls, among other features.

While doing all this, Hill had forgotten to release a new locking mechanism on the elevator and rudder controls. The Boeing model was deemed, as a newspaper put it, "too much airplane for one man to fly.” The Army Air Corps declared Douglas's smaller design the winner. Boeing nearly went bankrupt.

Still, the Army purchased a few aircraft from Boeing as test planes, and some insiders remained convinced that the aircraft was flyable. So a group of test pilots got together and considered what to do.

They could have required Model 299 pilots to undergo more training. But it was hard to imagine having more experience and expertise than Major Hill, who had been the U.S. Army Air Corps' Chief of Flight Testing. Instead, they came up with an ingeniously simple approach: they created a pilot's checklist, with step-by-step checks for takeoff, flight, landing, and taxiing. Its mere existence indicated how far aeronautics had advanced.

In the early years of flight, getting an aircraft into the air might have been nerve-racking, but it was hardly complex. Using a checklist for takeoff would no more have occurred to a pilot than to a driver backing a car out of the garage... But this new plane was too complicated to be left to the memory of any pilot, however expert.

With the checklist in hand, the pilots went on to fly the Model 299 a total of 18 million miles without one accident. The Army ultimately ordered almost thirteen thousand of the aircraft, which it dubbed the B-17. And, because flying the behemoth was now possible, the Army gained a decisive air advantage in the Second World War which enabled its devastating bombing campaign across Nazi Germany.

(Personal Note: I have flown two different B-17 bombers, and have over a thousand hours flying other aircraft, and I can relate from experience that going flying without a checklist is just plain stupid.)

Monday, August 9, 2010

From Homeless to Multimillionaire

Jerry Chamales' and his rags to riches story. He was one of the early users of my software TeleMagic, and a big fan of the product. He even wanted to work for us and then wanted to buy my company! Check out his story:


Thursday, August 5, 2010

Prepare for the worst, expect the best

Here are some wise precautions that will prepare you for adversity and ensure your success:

  • Assume that vendors will be slower than they promise - and that you may have to stand on their heads to get things done (not that you should accept this if it's going on though!)
  • Assume click prices and advertising rates are going to go UP, not down
  • Assume Google's gonna slap you sooner or later, even if you've got the most righteous product on God's green earth
  • Assume your best source of customers could dry up with no advance notice
  • Assume the buying cycle is longer than you think it is, not shorter
  • Assume it's gonna get harder to raise capital, not easier
  • Assume some unforeseen problem, like a product defect, legal challenge or financial setback may pop up
  • Assume your top 3 plans might not work out, so have #4 and #5 in place too

(from a Perry Marshall email)