This Monday, we had an AMA “Ask Me Anything” with Chris Shaffer where the members in our Workshop got a chance to ask him questions.
What got you into aviation? What was your dream job growing up?
I have always liked aviation. I wanted to go into the Air Force and fly planes but apparently they don’t let 6’6″ insulin dependent people fly multi million dollar aircraft. Nobody at the time told me there was other stuff to do like ATC. So I got a job like normal people. I actually wanted to be an architect but I had a computer science class in high school in addition to drafting and I guess I liked it more.
Is everything in Texas bigger?
Not really in size but in scale. Trucks, cities, traffic, burgers. If its not big its not Texas size. Our trucks have “Texas Edition” whatever that means. I am originally from Ohio and moved to Texas and am happy with the move.
What is your favorite aspect of Infinite Flight? Essentially do you like flying or controlling more?
My favorite part is the community and being able to fly with others. I’ve learned so much from everyone else that it makes me sound like I know what I am talking about.
I love controlling. There something very black and white about having a plane and seeing where I want the planes to go and the satisfaction when a plan comes together
How did you get into coding websites such as fpltoif.com and the like?
It started out as a side gig for me that just grew over time. I used to coach high school Lacrosse in Texas and the team needed a website. Then the league needed some stuff and then when I found Infinite Flight it was more of a self serving need. I wanted to do a flight using real world stuff and I didn’t like going to all these different places to get the data I needed so I made it. I let other controllers use it and they gave feedback and it grew from there.
I’ve been coding since 1995 so I just keep busy and learn as new languages come out.
What tips would you have for someone just getting into coding?
Don’t just copy and paste code from google that you find to make your project work. Spend the time to understand why it is working. I will use some code and inspiration but often will rewrite code in my own style. That way I know 100% that it is how I wanted it. You will be surprised how many modules out there that you find online are riddles with security flaws. If you do your own you know whats happening.
Also don’t stress about what language. The concepts are the same across the board. A loop is a loop, you just need the syntax which is the easy part.
What was your reaction/how did it feel when you had first joined the moderator team for Infinite Flight?
It was a surprise for sure. I was working my way up the ranks in IFATC and just wanted to help out wherever I could when I got the message asking if I would be interested. Then I logged in and saw the number of messages in the moderator inbox. The rest is history.
What’s the hardest part of moderating the community?
The hardest part is that we have users from all over the world and of all age groups. Sometimes it takes a minute to re-read posts multiple times to fully understand what the user is trying to ask. Sometimes there may be a language gap where some gets lost in translation. Then you have to put yourself in their shoes. They are new, they dont have years of experience on the forum, so I have to keep that in mind.
The other element that is hard is that our community is popular and I would love to let some of the topics through but it just doesnt fit with our community.
What is your dream meal?
Dream meal… Give me a steak with some steak fries and garlic bread. HA you thought I was going to say Whataburger didn’t you.
Airbus or Boeing? Why?
Honestly I really don’t have a preference. I have found that Boeing typically has a smoother take off and landing and with boeing you have a greater chance of being on an older aircraft with some nice old comfy seats (MD80 RIP). The newer airbus are nice and may have more passenger bells and whistles I guess. As long as I make it where I am going and have some good views along the way I am happy.
Which is better; copy/paste from Stack Overflow or spend 3 hours trying to figure it out yourself?
Depends if you have three hours to figure it out or not. Sometimes time is of the essence so copy works great. But often times I will end up going over what I copied later to review it more.
What was the hardest challenge you faced when making fpltoif.com?
The biggest hurdle was that it needed to be web based instead of an app in order to interface nicely with SimBrief and following their terms of service.
The other big learning curve was with the fact that what worked for one country didnt work for others. Reading a chart for the US was one way but then UK had to do things differently. Some airports just have one SID/STAR some have dozens with multiple routes. People assume a STAR is just one route but it has branches like a lightning bolt so the possibilities get exponentially complicated.
You’re extremely active around the IFC and Infinite Flight. You even coded a FPL website. Have you ever thought about pursuing a more aviation related career in real life as well?
At this point a change in career would be difficult for me. I really havent thought much of a change. I’m a developer at heart. Even if I had some office job I would try to code some excel macro or integration to make my life easier.
Why do you think you were voted as the “most strict moderator” in last years IFC awards?
I don’t see myself as strict as others. I’ve been more active this past year so maybe that is what people see. I just apply the rules.
What’s your least favorite topic on the IFC?
My least favorite topics are anything that starts with “Whats your most/least favorite plane/livery/airline/engine/rivet/etc” To me those do not encourage a discussion and are just rehashes of the same questions over and over. Thats why we kind of take a closer look when we see one.
What would you say was your greatest attribute is?
Really good question, really good. Everyone tells me that I am a very relaxed person. I would say that I am pretty calm. I have been through some stuff in my life ranging from medical stuff to layoffs to worse. A family friend passed away and before she passed she said “Nothing in life has any meaning until YOU assign it one”. I took this to heart and think back to things that happened to me. So I tend to apply this rule to every day life. If something happens I just deal with it and move on. It can always be worse and may be minuscule compared to what others are going through so its all relative. No sense in wasting energy on something that I cant control or has already passed.
If you could add one feature to Infinite Flight without any effort from anyone, what would it be?
Do I have to pick one?
As many as you want.
I would say airport ground lighting. I think its a gap and would really bring a lot to the sim. Hopefully the new graphics engines make it easier one day. Also I would love to see some more pilot education. Scenario on taking off and such or even an interactive tutorial on the user interface and HUD. I have a few sticky notes of ATC commands i’ve asked for over time.
What is so good about Whataburger?
Context: Chris loves WhataBurger.
It’s not the best burger out there. Its a Texas staple but its fresh. Its not sitting under a heat lamp and ready when you get there sort of thing. Its the same reason people like In-and-out. Whataburger has some great breakfast choices but mainly they have FREAKING HUGE drink cups.
Do you have any plans to improve fpltoif.com, even though in my opinion its a very good website now. But are you planning to add any new things to it?
I am working on a way to build your own plan for people who just want to input waypoints. Maybe some copy/paste from other places like flight plan database. The site has also turned into more of a third party IF database. I have liveries, random generator, and just added a mapping to find IFATC controllers. I have some other projects taking priority at the moment.
Where do you go, what do you do, and who are you with?
I’d love to go to the UK with my wife. Theres a lot of history that was not in the US textbooks. It sounds cheesy but as long as she is with me thats all I need. We have fun going to Home Depot.