Data visualization is something that affects many fields in aviation, including things as different from each other as analyzing the weather and analyzing marketing data.  In both cases, it helps us make better decisions.  Today, we talk with Paxton Calvanese, the inventor of Wx24Pilot, a weather app for pilots.

What’s fascinating about this, besides learning about a really cool app for pilots, was that we both process a LOT of data to make decisions!  And we talk about the Book of Genesis, the move  Madagascar II, and a number of other wide ranging topics.

So, how did you get interested in data visualization?

Data VisualizationPaxton Calvanese: Visually it’s just easier to see things right, it’s easier to commit stuff to memory. It’s just simpler for me. So I guess that’s my attraction. I think you can communicate, they say a picture’s worth 1,000 words. And so I’m just very visual in nature and I just gravitate toward that.

And I think when I started flying five, six years ago, going to all the training and all that stuff, I was just astounded by, not necessarily difficulty, but the complexity of compiling all the different types of aviation by the reports. The charts, the tabs, AIRMETs and SIGMETs, and jumping from page to page.

And it was just a very cumbersome process. That it just seemed that it didn’t have to be.

Paula Williams: Right. Yeah, it’s funny because pilots are so visual in every other way. It’s usually the folks that are very visual that get attracted to the profession because it requires so much of people.

You absorb so much data from your six-pack or from your Garmin G1000 from many different sources. You have to analyze all that and make sense of it and make decisions really quickly. So it seems kind of a natural fit for a pilot to be really into data visualization.

Paxton Calvanese: Yeah, that’s a good point, we’re always looking at either if it was glass or not, you’re just looking at it, you’re perceiving it, and trying to make sense of it. And even as you go VFR you’re determining spatial things, determining distances and lining things up.

And it is a very visual experience, that’s true.

Paula Williams: Right, exactly. So tell us how you got started with Wx24 Pilot. I know you built it for yourself or at least you were analyzing a whole lot of data and getting frustrated with it.

Paxton Calvanese: So my typical flight was about 1,000 miles out of a Chicago land and I like to go to the Rocky Mountains or to Gulf Coast of Florida and in a small airplane that’s about a seven, eight hour flight with a stop.

That’s a lot of weather to consider and again I don’t have deicing equipment. And so it’s really almost a perfect scenario to solve this problem because you just have to consider a lot of information. Whole days worth of weather. And you can’t just look at a few end route TAFs.

You have to look at the extended forecast. I look at TAFs going out 50 miles from the destination. And not only that, as a pro pilot, you get to choose when you fly so I consider whether it’s 6 AM, 8 AM, 10 AM, and so forth. And it was just an incredibly cumbersome process to go through all that information all the time.

And then by the time you’re done, everything changes anyway.

Paula Williams: Exactly.

Paxton Calvanese: Sure. So then, and again, like I said before, you’re checking different pages, different sites, and then writing down the information and trying to compile it. I just was baffled that nobody had developed a system.

Because when you think about it, runways, frequencies and airspace don’t change too often, right?

Paula Williams: Right.

Paxton Calvanese: And you think it proved fairly static. And flying has always been pretty easy, the actual task of taking off, navigating and I’m pretty good at landing.

And so, that was easy. And to me, the hardest part was always the weather because it’s always changing, right? And then you have to deal with the tasks. And then you’re always get some obscure code you hadn’t seen before. And so, then you have to go back to the books or you ask your CFI.

You try not to ask the CFI because he’s gonna embarrass you. And you don’t want him to do that.

Paula Williams: Exactly!

Paxton Calvanese: Right, so you pretend you know it but then you quickly go and you look it up and so it was just a cumbersome process.

Paula Williams: Right and the interesting thing I think, when I started looking at the app and I live in the Rocky Mountains so on one side of the mountains, we’ll have one kind of weather and on the other side of the mountains, we’ll have a different kind of weather.

And you have a choice, you can go this way through this pass or you can go this other way through this other pass. And it’s really easy to see your options and how they change based on the time you leave or maybe the route you take. And they’ll be hugely different weather.

Maybe less than 10 miles apart so it’s really interesting that way.

Paxton Calvanese: Yeah, yeah.

Paula Williams: As with the challenges of any really innovative product – getting past the assumption this is just another weather app and actually getting people’s attention, getting them to get their hands on it and try it, is interesting. . .

So, what is it about the app or what is it that you do in your marketing process or when you talk to people about this that really makes the lights come on?

Paxton Calvanese: Well, if I could get the pilot’s attention for a few minutes, I’m able to explain the app and they usually get it after I give a quick demo.

I mean so many aspects of the app that are very unique that nobody else is doing and the way it presents the data. The problem is getting the fundamentals. Once you understand the fundamentals, everything falls into place. And that is my biggest challenge because nobody wants to go through the tutorials.

If they don’t get it in three seconds, you’ve lost them.

Paula Williams: Yep.

Paxton Calvanese: So it’s typically at the shows like Oshkosh and so forth that you’ll get a pilot who’s “All right, I’ve got nothing to do for the next ten minutes. I’ll listen to you.” So I’m able to get an audience there.

And typically when I explain it to them. And it’s almost explaining really and I think pilots are so accustomed to the conventional ways of looking at tasks. They always ask how many enroute paths you’ve checked? And the answer is typically between one on the low side and two on the high side.

Paula Williams: Yeah.

Paxton Calvanese: You have to figure out where you’re going to be, maybe you don’t even know when you’re flying, right? And they’re all alpha numeric or even if they convert it to text, the brain doesn’t lend itself well to memorizing text.

And so they have access to all the unlimited amount of tasks, right, but they only checked a few cuz this is a cumbersome process. So when I showed them the visual representation, how quickly they can get that and how the app will calculate your estimated time of arrival or I should say estimated time of being abeam of that airport.

And you can see it just instantly then the lights come on cuz it’s like they see the power of how much that app can process. And then they’ll give me another minute. And I’ll try and win them over.

Paula Williams: Yep.

Paxton Calvanese: And then they’ll promptly forget everything else and go along the way to the next guy.

Paula Williams: There you go. I think that’s probably the most impressive thing that I’ve seen or one of the most impressive things that I’ve seen about the app is you can change the departure time and then you watch as those little red squares turn green by changing the time of departure and watching.

All of those tabs and route. You’re actually processing a whole lot of information so much easier than you would be if you were reading in text.

Paxton Calvanese: I don’t think you could do it any other way.

Paula Williams: Yeah.

Paxton Calvanese: And you’re right, by interactively changing the departure time, you get a feel for the way patterns are coming in, right?

You can see all the IFR come in or you can see it leave or you just get a clearer sense. And that’s the one thing. So I set up to a 200 mile boundary around the and the reason for that was so that you could pick one or two points and route.

But if you have 50 points enroute, you feel much more confident in the data, right? You’re not just picking one or two. One of them could be an outlier. There could be an error in one. But if you get a whole slew of tabs that you’re checking, you have a high degree of confidence, okay, that this is really gonna happen.

Paula Williams: Right. It’s just like marketing. More data is better. [LAUGH]

Paxton Calvanese: That’s right.

Paula Williams: You make better decisions with more data.

Paxton Calvanese: That’s right.

Paula Williams: So you’re using a subscription model for your software which I think is fantastic and that’s one of the things that we’ve been talking with a lot of our clients about is kind of packaging their product.

This is subscription model that includes service and other updates and other kinds of things. Have you considered anything other than this subscription model? Or how is that working out for you?

Paxton Calvanese: Well I really didn’t have an option because the way the app, there’s an intermedia server, so I have a server that constantly processes the aviation weather information.

I get it from all the same resources from the FAA site or NOAA site. I’m harvesting it, breaking it down into format they could read. And no iPhone or iPad could handle the workload that my server does.

Paula Williams: Right.

Paxton Calvanese: And so the app hits the server.

And it pulls the information and displays it pretty quickly. And so because I have the server, I have maintenance and hosting and development fees related to that. So it just wouldn’t be feasible to have a one time fee.

Paula Williams: Right.

Paxton Calvanese: So people complain but I think what other app is charging subscription fees for weather?

I mean that’s pretty special. You’ve got to make those negatives a plus, right?

Paula Williams: Absolutely, [Laugh] absolutely. So of all of the marketing things that you’ve done so far, what have been some of your favorite marketing activities up to this point?

Paxton Calvanese: My favorite marketing activity is writing the check to have somebody else do it.

Paula Williams: That’s your favorite thing.

Paxton Calvanese: Yeah, it’s my favorite. I literally can’t do it. My mind is wrapped up in the code and the problem in solving it.

I have everything defined for me. I just go through the code. It’s a very comfortable lifestyle, right? And marketing is you could throw $10,000 here, $10,000 there and you don’t know what you’re going to get and it’s just as very scary world to me. And so I’m very happy having somebody else make those decisions.

I tried at the beginning, you have to switch, it’s a totally different mindset from when you’re coding, and fixing the bugs, and adding new features. And developing the graphics to selling or marketing. And I’m getting old there, right? I can’t switch that easily between these two. It takes me at least a month to tune down one and ramp up the other.

Paula Williams: I totally get that. And yeah, there are lots of people who have a hard time switching between sales and marketing. So, it’s a whole different world.

Paxton Calvanese: Yeah, yeah.

Paula Williams: [LAUGH] So, what’s your favorite book? Can be anything, a marketing, business book, a fiction book, anything you like.

Paxton Calvanese: I think my favorite book is the first book of the Bible, Genesis.

There’s a lot in there that describes the world that’s crazy, mixed up world we live in. I just find it fascinating. And so I enjoy reading it, really, really good stories in the Book of Genesis.

Paula Williams: Wow. Well, that’s a surprise. Yeah, I think originally in Greek, and then Hebrew, and then English, and still survives the test of time.

Paxton Calvanese: Yeah.

Paula Williams: That’s fantastic. Favorite movie?

Paxton Calvanese: There’s so many good movies. And so many crap movies, too.

Paula Williams: That’s true. Actually, this year.

Paxton Calvanese: I think, to me a great movie is a movie that represents some type of truth or reality of this world we live in, like represents the human struggle pretty well.

So, and strangely enough I like Megamind, I think that’s a great movie, Madagascar 2, the first 20 minutes are really funny.[LAUGH]

Paxton Calvanese: I like the Bank Job, that was a good movie, it’s an English movie. I grew up in England so I like those English movies.

Paula Williams: Cool, the old Bank Job or the new Bank Job?

Paxton Calvanese: The new one.

Paula Williams: The new one, okay.

Paxton Calvanese: I didn’t know there was an old one.

Paula Williams: Yeah, okay.

Paxton Calvanese: I’ll have to look that up.

Paula Williams: I’m not sure what year that was but I know it was a remake and I’ve heard it’s also better than the old one.

That’s cool.

Paxton Calvanese: Yeah, probably is. I’m sure there’s some other good ones that I’m missing. I thought Galaxy Quest was really good.

Paula Williams: Wow. Well, that’s a really eclectic mix and some surprises in there. That’s cool.

Paxton Calvanese: Yes, yes.

Paula Williams: [LAUGH] So if you ask John, it would all be pretty much things blowing up kind of movies.

His purpose for movies is completely different. It’s not about the human condition. It’s more about diversion and fun so [LAUGH] that’s cool.

Paxton Calvanese: Yeah, yeah.

Data visualization with Wx24PilotPaula Williams:  And so how can people get hold of their own free trial of Wx24 Pilot and what do you recommend I guess as kind of their process in making this work for them?

Paxton Calvanese: Sure. Well, I told a friend, so even my friends are like, they won’t even bother looking through the tutorials. And I’m like, okay. Next time you fly, take whatever time you’re gonna dedicate to doing a flight planning and spend that time going through the tutorials. You spend 10, 20 minutes.

And the rest of your life will be easy. There’s a lot of promises, a lot of products, but this one is really true. If you don’t have the time to go through the tutorials, don’t waste your time. Literally it’s probably not worth you downloading the app.

Paula Williams: Wow.

Paxton Calvanese: But if you wanna extract the TAF, the plus sign, the one out of the hundred en route tasks, in just a few seconds. That’s what it will do. Literally, you could look at a hundred en route tasks in just a few seconds and extract just the information you want.

And that is valuable information. And I don’t think you could find any other product that would do that for you. In addition, the project looks cool. I mean as a pilot, you’ll just look cool using my app.[LAUGH]  And so that’s part of the aim.

You have to read in between the lines but it’s in there. It’s presenting your stuff and looking good.

Paula Williams: Absolutely.

Paxton Calvanese: So that being said [LAUGH], you go to the website at Wx24pilot.com and then there’s links there to the app store or you just go to the app store and search Wx24pilot.com and there’s a free week trial.

But again if you don’t wanna go through the tutorials, it’s probably gonna be just a waste of time. And it’s probably not worth my time or your time to do that.

Paula Williams: Right, that makes perfect sense. Speaking of looking cool, last time we went for a motorcycle ride, I got out my cell phone and pulled up wx24 Pilot and looked at our route for the little group of people that was going for a motorcycle ride and like I said, we live in the Rocky Mountains.

So things can be very, very different ten miles away. And it was so cool to be able to show people, look at this. We can go this way where it’s all green or we can go that way where it’s all red.

Paxton Calvanese: [LAUGH] Yeah.

Paula Williams: So speaking of looking cool, you could do that with your motorcycle friends too.

Paxton Calvanese:  It’s all about presentation and that was in Megamind by the way, takes away line from Megamind, it’s all about presentation, but actually I’ve had that comment a lot from people driving and so maybe I’ll make an app which I’ll never have the time for.

But more related to driving conditions and stuff.

Paula Williams: [LAUGH] True. Well, hey it works, for either. It’s still much more information than you get from any other app I’ve seen so.

Paxton Calvanese: Yes.

Paula Williams: Right. Well, thank you Paxton.

Paxton Calvanese: Yes, it’s been a pleasure.

Paula Williams: Yeah, have a great afternoon.

Paxton Calvanese: And when do I get my check? [LAUGH] That’s what this is about, right?

Paula Williams: Now wait just a minute. Are you paying me, or are we paying you? I never did get that quite straight.

Paxton Calvanese: My agent said that you were paying me.

Paula Williams: [LAUGH] There you go.

Well, we’ll deduct your royalty check from your marketing fee. How’s that?

Paxton Calvanese: Fair enough, fair enough.

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