Airport #90/100: Pittsburgh (PIT)

Photo of PIT central core

Pittsburgh International Airport
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, United States

First visit: 24 June 2019
flighthistorian.com/airports/PIT

Pittsburgh is about a four hour drive from my home near Dayton, which means that it’s in what I call the doughnut zone – airports which are too far to fly from, but too close to fly to as a destination. The only airports I have in that zone tend to be hubs that I connect through, and Pittsburgh is not a hub for any airline I routinely fly, so I’ve never had a chance to connect through there.

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Airport #89/100: Fayetteville (FAY)

Fayetteville Regional Airport
Fayetteville, North Carolina, United States

First visit: 11 June 2019
flighthistorian.com/airports/FAY

For the most part, the small airports that I’ve been to tend to feel old – understandably so, since less passenger traffic means less need for (and money for) frequent renovations.

FAY fell squarely in that camp. As I stepped off the plane, I was immediately inside a rusty jet bridge painted 1970s orange, and the terminal felt similarly dated. Fortunately, it appears that the airport is getting some upgrades, so the appearance may improve in the near future.

That said, like most small airports, it was functional and easy to get in and out of. I certainly wouldn’t have any problems with flying through FAY again.

Generating GPX and KML maps with Ruby on Rails

While working on my various projects, I’ve dealt with various types of maps.

My Flight Historian plots flight data using the Great Circle Mapper tool. These maps are simple to generate from my flight data (I just have to pass it a plain text collection of airport codes) and easy to embed in my website. However, because they are static images, they can’t be easily panned, zoomed, or otherwise manipulated in the way that modern map websites and apps can.

A sample Great Circle Mapper map of my flights in 2018.
(Map generated by Paul Bogard using the Great Circle Mapper – copyright © Karl L. Swartz)

On the other hand, my driving maps require too much detail for a single image, so I create them in Google Earth, which lets me manipulate the view as much as I need to. The driving data is a bit more complicated than my flight log data; while my flight log represents the abstract shortest distance straight line between two airports (and thus only requires specifying the airport at each end), a single drive can involve tens of thousands of coordinates that can be joined together, connect-the-dots style, to show the actual driving route taken.

A sample driving data map using Google Earth

Fortunately, all those coordinates are automatically generated and saved by my car’s GPS navigation unit in a file format called GPX (GPS Exchange Format), which is an XML-based file format which contains (among other things) latitude/longitudes sampled, in the case of my particular GPS, once per second.

Sample from a GPX file from a recent trip

Google Earth doesn’t use GPX format (though it can import it); instead, it uses a format called KML (Keyhole Markup Language, from back when Google Earth was Keyhole EarthViewer). KML is also an XML-based format, so conceptually it’s similarly a collection of coordinates that can all be joined together, with its own slightly different style.

The same set of latitudes, longitudes, and altitudes in KML format. (Note that KML reverses the order of longitude and latitude.)

But while GPX and KML can be used to represent complicated route shapes, they don’t have to be. These formats are both just as capable of taking a pair of points on the globe and drawing the shortest line between them. With that in mind, I decided to try to have Flight Historian automatically generate KML and GPX versions of my flight map, which would let me show my flight routes in Google Earth and Google Maps.

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What I Packed for PAX West 2018

Across the various PAX events I’ve been to, I’ve seen multiple people ask for suggestions for what to bring.

While everyone has different packing needs, I’ve been to 10 PAXen to date, and I also travel 2–3 weeks per month for work. Thus, I’ve got a lot of experience with packing in general, and packing for PAX in particular.

I decidedly fall into the “pack light” camp. I like to pack only what I know I’ll need, and I don’t worry about bringing things “just in case” – if I end up needing anything else, I can just buy it when I get there. That’s not a strategy that works for everybody. But even if it doesn’t, I can at least show you what I do pack, and you can use it to get ideas for your own packing list.

Here’s everything I brought to PAX West 2018:

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Airport #88/100: Fort Lauderdale (FLL)

Fort Lauderdale–Hollywood International Airport
Fort Lauderdale, Florida, United States

First visit: 16 March 2019
flighthistorian.com/airports/FLL

I’ll be honest that I wasn’t too impressed with FLL on my visit. It’s certainly possible that I was visiting at a peak season, but the airport just felt crowded in a way that I wouldn’t normally expect for an airport its size. The arrivals road loop could not handle the amount of traffic flowing through it, leading to a much longer (and much more stop-and-go) shuttle trip to the rental car center than I would have expected from the distance traveled.

It’s also one of the airports whose terminals don’t seem to be connected past the security checkpoints, which does tend to get in the way of exploring the airport before my flight. At least Terminal 3 (E/F gates) and Terminal 4 (G gates) had a connector, so since my flight departed out of 3 I was able to visit half of the airport. Though it was still under construction, the parts of Terminal 4 which were finished looked pretty nice.