Back to Rome

by mcastellon on November 27, 2017

This is our second trip to Italy. We visited last year and couldn’t resist returning. This year we visited Florence and Siena before settling into our rental in Rome’s Trastevere. My sister Holly joined us, and it was nice to share the experience as a family.

Siena is a two-hour train ride from Florence. The countryside is inviting, and we see many small towns and their people. Siena is a nice change from Florence. We’re still among fellow tourists, but I feel less threats from pickpockets. A polizia strolls alongside us on the Piazza del Campo, and her smile is welcoming.

We eat lunch on the piazza, and buy stationary and a soup ladle made of olive wood from the Chianti region. We take the train back to Florence, and stop at a small grocery store to take indinner supplies: bread, prosciutto, anchovies, tomatoes, and bufala mozzarella.

The next morning, a high speed train takes us to Rome’s Termini.

One of my favorite things to do in Rome is walk along the banks of the Tiber River. There’s magnificent stillness and light along the river like I’ve never seen.

Alessio is our favorite restaurant in Rome. On multiple occasions we’ve eaten there on consecutive nights. We take in obvious sites: the Coloseum, the Pantheon, and we stop in a number of basilicas to light candles and rest our feet.




More Backcountry Flying

by mcastellon on May 7, 2017

I’ve been flying more to build time and prepare for instrument training. This week we flew to Llano and met some guys who were waiting as a mechanic replaced a magneto on their Maule. We also met Larry Snyder of the Ercoupe Owners Club, who had flown in from Arkansas for lunch. After a stop in Fredericksburg, we headed back to Austin and encountered some moderate turbulence west of the city, resulting in a PIREP. Foreflight continues to be an amazing tool for managing flight plans and other details.

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The OpenAirplane Universal Checkout

by mcastellon on May 25, 2016

Like many pilots on vacation, I often find myself staring skyward and wishing I could stop at a local FBO and sign out an airplane. Doing so isn’t especially difficult, but it does requires a checkout and enough paperwork to make the endeavor more chore than adventure.

But thanks to OpenAirplane and its Universal Pilot Checkout concept, I can now easily rent from about 100 operators in more than 32 states using little more than my iPad.

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Cubs Spring Training Wrap-Up: 2016 Edition

by mcastellon on March 30, 2016

Screen Shot 2016-03-29 at 11.53.35 AMMarch provided a great opportunity for us to spend time at Chicago Cubs training camp in Arizona. This year we took in games at Surprise, Scottsdale, and of course, Mesa, which houses the Cubs’ new Sloan Park facility. While the Cubs had a rough spring, they’re favored for a World Series run this year.

Spring training is an interactive experience; fans have the opportunity to watch batting practice up close and visit with coaches, trainers and former players. A number of stars make appearances (we met Andre Dawson, Gaylord Perry, and Fergie Jenkins over several days — Check out the pictures below).

We also found time for plenty of hiking, and visiting with a great friend of mine who lives in the Phoenix area. 

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Labor Day Weekend Flying: Lockhart, Texas

by mcastellon on September 7, 2015

Saturday was a good day to fly to Lockhart with Lauren for BBQ.


First Flights of 2015

by mcastellon on January 26, 2015

Amazon’s War of the Words

by mcastellon on December 2, 2014

Inventing the future of reading:


The next day I flew to Silicon Valley and visited Amazon Lab126, the Amazon subsidiary that develops all of the company’s Kindle products. A tremendous amount of thought and research has gone into these devices. At Lab126 there is a “reading room,” where test subjects are asked to read on various devices for hours at a time. They are filmed and studied. People reading in a chair will, naturally, hold their Kindle differently from people standing up (on the subway, for example), but even people sitting in a chair will shift their positions over time. Eighty percent of page turns are forward, by the way, but 20 percent (20!) are backward. On the conference table before us were the dozens of iterations of possible page-turning buttons for the new Kindle Voyage, buttons that would have been on the back of the Kindle, a switch button, and also arrows alongside the screen—a > for forward and a < for back—the most visually pleasing design and by far the most intuitive, but then in testing it turned out that people liked to turn the Kindle and read horizontally, which meant that the arrows were pointing, confusingly, up and down. (The designers settled on two sleek lines for forward and two cool dots for back.)

All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace

by mcastellon on November 23, 2014

A few minutes after landing at Brenham Municipal Airport, I’m greeted by a cheerful waitress in a poodle skirt. She leads me to a booth at the airport’s 1950s themed diner, not minding that I’m distracted and weary from a gamey landing that included a gusting and wavering crosswind. Like all experiences that are both challenging and rewarding, the crosswind nudges me out of my comfort zone.

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I order lunch as two men who appear to be in their 70s discuss aviation fuel prices from the booth next to me. The Brenham Airport Diner is one of two themed diners frequented by pilots and aviation enthusiasts in Central Texas. The other, Gillespie County Airport, is 130 miles west of here and features a theme that pays tribute to the Pacific Ocean theater of World War II.

As I take in my surroundings, I wonder if my generation will produce enough pilots to justify airport theme diners.

After lunch I preflight and fuel the airplane. The winds have calmed some, and the area weather stations report that clouds are continuing to rise into the autumn sky. The Cessna climbs rapidly in the cool air, cutting through the wind, toward home.

Flying Sonoma and Napa Valleys

by mcastellon on September 5, 2014

August is a great time to leave Texas. For pilots especially, summer presents unique challenges. High temperatures and humidity contribute to bumpier, often less enjoyable flights. These conditions also diminish aircraft performance, resulting in longer takeoff and landing distances and reduced fuel efficiency.

Of course, these issues aren’t particularly difficult to deal with. Perhaps the hardest part for me is the time spent on a smoldering airport tarmac for pre- and post-flight operations.

In Austin especially, the months of August and September are not kind to Midwesterners.

For these reasons I was anxious to escape with Lauren to California. Sonoma County is a good destination for anyone seeking chilled air. We decide that before setting out on a fast and furious tour of areas wineries, we’ll kick-off the trip by logging some local flight time in Napa. It would be our first experience in flying out-of-state since I earned my pilot certificate in 2012. [click to continue…]

Saturday, April 5

by mcastellon on April 6, 2014