Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Long Winter's Night

About the only daylight I see these days is on the drive to work in the morning and at lunch. By 5 it looks and feels like 9 or 10. Makes for a slight malaise. Thankfully there's Netflix, Esquire and Sam Smith's Winter Welcome.

I'm watching Pump Up the Volume right now. It's about blogging basically, only with short wave radios. And there are a lot more people listening than there are talking. Can you tell I'm reaching for crap to write about?

On a final note, I saw Night at the Museum with my nieces last night. Not bad. Not bad at all. It was a great fairy tale that actually might get a kid or two a little more interested in history. See it on the big screen if you can. And for those who love her, NY City plays a great supporting role.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

What the . . . Cheeseburger's Movie Kung Fu is Better Than Mine?!?

While 74% sounds about right for me, I think this quiz is a little off because it gave Cheeseburger a higher movie buff score than McKee or I. She couldn't even sit through 20 minutes of Airport. If memory serves it was "too slow". Anyway, next time I'm up her way I'm challenging her to a movie trivia contest. We'll see who the real movie buff is. If you take the quiz let me know what your score is. It really is kind of fun, if not a little specious.

My Movie Buff Quotient: 74%
According to this, I am a total movie buff. Classics, blockbusters, indie favorites... I've seen most of them.
My friends know to come to me whenever they need a few good DVD rental suggestions.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Open to Interpretation

I had a weird dream last night. I was watching a commercial with all these comedians pitching some product which I can't remember. Eugene Levy, Steve Martin and Richard Lewis were the only ones I distinctly remember. The commercial was like a Docker's commercial where everything is supposedly ad lib and the guys are all kind of riffing of each other and laughing like they're just hanging out.

Now for the weird stuff. They were all wearing Docker's-like apparel and Steve Martin had a 2 foot long mullet. Levy's hair seemed a little grayer than normal. Sometimes I was in the studio with them and sometimes I was on the other side of the TV screen watching them. Can anyone tell me what this means?

If it aids your analysis, I had just had a big meal of chicken cacciatore and 1/2 a caraffe of chianti at Dom's. I was still feeling a little bloated when I went to bed.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Happy Now?

I’ll admit it. I’m disappointed, but I’m hardly despondent. Sure, as anyone who knows me will attest, I have fairly distinct political convictions, which I’ve been known to spout on occasion. But I’ve never really pinned my prospects for the future on who was in office. The way I see it, the federal government can certainly affect your life, but until things drastically change, America is still a place where life is yours to ruin.

Besides, not much is probably going to change in the next two years other than committee chairs. Democrats have a one or two seat margin in the Senate and a 20 something seat advantage in the House. Many, if not most, of the Republicans that lost their seats were moderates. It’s unlikely that a more conservative Republican minority, a sizable number of which think even Bush is too liberal, will be in a very bipartisan mood. I also doubt the incoming majority leadership possesses the requisite influence to ensure all Democrats vote the party line, let alone convince Republicans to join them.

About the only real prospect we have for change is impeachment. And as I've said here before, I sincerely hope the Democrats go for it, but they won't. And not because they don’t have the votes for it, although that will probably be the excuse given to the rabid left that seems to comprise their base now. I’m guessing Harry and Nancy will be too busy shoring up power for the ’08 election to do anything principled (i.e. politically risky). Much safer to snipe at a lame duck president from the safety of sound bites and "summits" than to have to testify under oath or meet any sort of real burden of proof.

No, it’s hardly 1994 all over again.


The Daily Mail had a fairly exciting story (here) about a promising new treatment that uses a heart attack survivor's own stem cells to repair heart tissue. I know I’m dangerously close to another political hot button here, but I thought regardless of where you stood on the topic of stem cell research, this was good news for everybody.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Support the Art--See Last King

The Art Theater has once again proven its worth by bringing the The Last King of Scotland to town. Laurie and I, along with the Burai (plural for Buras), took it in last Friday. I'm not entirely sure how much of the movie is factual. It is based on a novel about a young Scottish doctor who was working in Uganda at a mission hospital where he by chance encounters Idi Amin and becomes his personal physician.

While the vast majority of critics are raving about Forest Whitaker's portrayal of Amin, and rightly so, it is the relatively unknown (to me anyway) James McAvoy that deserves no less credit for his turn as the young, narcissistic Dr. Nicholas Garrigan. Whether Garrigan actually existed or not, I'm not sure. There's no mention of him in the epilogue at the end of the film. But it is through his character that you are transported into Amin's inner circle and experience the seduction of absolute power firsthand.

I won't go much more into the film, but I will say this. For me it was as much about the naive arrogance of bumper sticker activism as it was about Amin's cruelty. This theme is particularly underscored in one of the film's harrowing final moments. But I won't drop any more hints. Go see it and see it at the Art so they can keep bringing great movies to this town.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Simmer Down Dick

In my last post I made mention of know-nothing politicians over reacting--wait, over acting about the Lidle accident in New York. This week's best actor award goes to Dick Daley--or Emporer Daley as those familiar with his Meigs Field land grab like to refer to him. In a fit of hyperbole he loosed this gem, "They should not jeopardize, through intentionally or by accident, a single- or two-engine plane flying over our city [sic]." "Remember: a single- or two-engine plane can kill as many people as possible if they want to."

AOPA President, Phil Boyer, responded to Daley's ridiculous assertion in an article which you can read in its entirety here. Below, however, are the portions of the response that really get to the heart of how irrational so much of the demagoguery we've been subjected to in the last several days really is.

OK, for all of those ranting about "threats" from GA aircraft, we'll believe that you're really serious about controlling "threats" when you call for:

  • Banning all vans within cities. A small panel van was used in the first World Trade Center attack. The bomb, which weighed 1,500 pounds, killed six and injured 1,042.
  • Banning all box trucks from cities. Timothy McVeigh's rented Ryder truck carried a 5,000-pound bomb that killed 168 in Oklahoma City.
  • Banning all semi-trailer trucks. They can carry bombs weighing more than 50,000 pounds.
  • Banning newspapers on subways. That's how the terrorists hid packages of sarin nerve gas in the Tokyo subway system. They killed 12.
  • Banning backpacks on all buses and subways. That's how the terrorists got the bombs into the London subway system. They killed 52.
  • Banning all cell phones on trains. That's how they detonated the bombs in backpacks placed on commuter trains in Madrid. They killed 191.
  • Banning all small pleasure boats on public waterways. That's how terrorists attacked the USS Cole, killing 17.
  • Banning all heavy or bulky clothing in all public places. That's how suicide bombers hide their murderous charges. Thousands killed.

Number of people killed by a terrorist attack using a GA aircraft? Zero.

Number of people injured by a terrorist attack using a GA aircraft? Zero.

Property damage from a terrorist attack using a GA aircraft? None.

So be consistent in your logic. If you are dead set on restricting a personal transportation system that carries more passengers than any single airline, reaches more American cities than all the airlines combined, provides employment for 1.3 million American citizens and $160 billion in business "to protect the public," then restrict or control every other transportation system that the terrorists have demonstrated they can use to kill.

Don't worry, Phil. They probably will.

(Yeah, I did that on purpose)

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Much Ado About Lidle

Ever since Eric Lidle earned his place in aviation history yesterday, I've had more than one person ask me what I thought happened. At first it sounded like a typical VFR into IFR scenario-- inexperienced pilot without an instrument rating suddenly finds himself in the clouds and gets disoriented. Also referred to as the JFK Jr. scenario. Tonight, however, I came across this story which sheds a little more light on what happened. It also happens to be the most balanced, unsensationalistic analysis of a high profile aviation accident I've ever seen in the mainstream media.

The aircraft that Mr. Lidle was piloting was a 2002 Cirrus SR-20. Except for some instrumentation differences, this is the exact same airplane I fly. The only really troubling aspect of this whole incident for me, besides the inevitable over reaction by know-nothing politicians, was the fact an instructor was in the cockpit with Lidle. It just makes the whole tragedy seem that much more needless than it already was.

I was going to write about the many inaccuracies being reported by the media regarding this incident, but they are so many it's pointless to even try. There is one widely reported, oft repeated fallacy, however, that I will address. Contrary to what many news stories are saying, light aircraft flying up and down the Hudson or East Rivers do talk to ATC if they are below 1,100 feet. The charts I have for the New York metro area clearly state "although arriving aircraft may be operating beneath the floor of class B airspace on initial contact, communications should be established with approach control" whether they've filed a flight plan or not. They also indicate VFR aircraft operating below 2000 feet in the vicinity of where Lidle crashed need to contact La Guardia or JFK control towers.

Still, I can understand how many non-pilots might wonder why the FAA has allowed small aircraft to continue to fly so close to Manhattan with relatively light supervision. The answer is simple. A light private aircraft does not pose a serious threat as a weapon of mass destruction. The payloads are too small to carry any amount of explosives that could do serious damage and their slight mass and relatively slow airspeeds make them poor projectiles. Also, private airplane operaters know their passengers and cargo making the probability of a hijacking slim to none. Plus, it's very difficult to "blend in" at a small airport. AOPA's Airport Watch program has gone a long way into helping the smaller out-of-the-way airports tighten security.

All that said, it still doesn't change the fact that the biggest challenge to the public's perception of private aviation is not an ignorant press corp, but the errant pilots who give them something to talk about now and then.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

I'm Sorry Bernie

Back in ’93 when I was working toward my private pilot license, I had a particularly difficult stage check instructor named Bernie. The school where I was receiving instruction was what was called a Part 141 school. Basically this meant the school was operated under Part 141 of the Federal Aviation Regulations.

Under Part 141 a school is to maintain a 3-stage, FAA approved syllabus. At the end of each stage the student is given, what is in essence, a mini check ride by a stage check instructor other than his regular instructor. If you don’t pass a stage exam, it is back to the previous stage for remedial instruction. Stage II was the flying school equivalent of a midterm.

My first stage exam had been a breeze and I was completely confident in my abilities to ace stage II. When it came time to set up the stage II my assigned instructor at the time (I ended up going through about 3 of them—that’s another story) told me in a somewhat somber tone I’d be flying with Bernie. He said, “Bernie has a reputation for being pretty tough, but I think he’s fair.” I think he’s fair? Some instructors didn’t? Still I wasn’t too worried. I knew my stuff and could demonstrate it at the controls. I was sure I’d be fine.

I’d never met Bernie before. I’d seen him around the airport, but I had no idea he was one of the instructors, let alone one of the all-powerful stage check instructors. He was in his late 60’s early 70’s and was often seen buzzing around the airport in an old Stearman. I’d never met an old pilot I didn’t like. Old pilots were generally pretty mellow and full of aeronautical wisdom from thousands of hours of flying through every kind of sky imaginable. I would liken them to Tolkien’s ents. I expected Bernie would be the same way.

The day of the stage II exam arrived and the two hour ordeal started in the basement classroom of the school with an oral exam. Bernie sat silently across from me hunched over my folder looking for weaknesses. The first question out of his mouth was less spoken than barked. I can’t remember what it was, but I remember being so surprised by the delivery I totally blanked. Bernie glowered at me from behind his glasses, “Well?!? Don’t you know this stuff?” Eventually I coaxed a reply from my frozen larynx.

The rest of the oral went OK as far as I can recall but any confidence I’d had going in was gone, or at least critically wounded. Every answer I gave, whether right or wrong, was greeted with the same disdainful glare. The idea I was going to have to spend an hour in a cramped 152 cockpit with this guy filled me with dread. For the first time in my instruction, I was afraid I wasn’t going to pass.

The flight portion was a near disaster. The same hostility I’d faced during the oral just seemed to be magnified by the tight space of the cockpit. A couple of times when he asked me to demonstrate a maneuver he would yank the controls away from me, practically screaming at me that I didn’t know what I was doing. My anxiety slowly morphed into anger. I’d always been raised to respect my elders, but this guy was being a grade A ass and I didn’t care how old he was or how much experience he had. He was making me uncomfortable and I was certain he was getting a charge out of doing so. By the end of the flight I hated him.

Despite that flight with Bernie I went on to finish my training and obtain my private pilot license. And with the passing of the final check ride, so passed most of my animus toward Bernie. Once I had the ticket there was nothing he could do about it. I’d see him now and then around the airport, but I still resented him enough that I wouldn’t ever talk to him unless I had to.

That was 13 years ago. A couple of days ago, I saw Bernie again while eating lunch. His wife, every bit the saint I imagined she had to be, gently led his emaciated frame to the table right next to ours and helped him into his chair. She spoke softly to him, “We’re going to have some soup and some nice hot tea, OK?” Bernie simply stared straight ahead, his mouth agape, in the frozen grimace of dementia. His wife caught me staring and smiled sweetly. I weakly returned her smile and looked away. But when I went to pay my bill, I looked at Bernie again and the improbable happened. I started to get choked up.

I felt ashamed for the terrible thoughts I’d had and things I’d said right after that exam over a decade ago. I remember bitterly complaining to my instructor about the “demented old man”. I remember wanting to strike him when he suddenly yanked the controls away from me during an approach, yelling at me as if I was some kind of idiot. Most of all, I was heartbroken at the prospect that a lifetime of flying memories were lost forever. I sincerely pray that wherever Bernie is behind that vacant stare, it’s in the cockpit of his Stearman flying over Central Illinois through a crystal blue autumn sky.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

We were just another couple out of Boston . . .

It’s been a while. Like many of you I’ve been busy living life while making other plans. Last weekend, though, Laurie and I were really living. We flew ourselves out to Boston for the wedding of one of her teaching pals from her Whitinsville, MA days. It gave me a chance to rack up some quality cross country hours at the controls of N218DF and gave Laurie a chance to reconnect with some very dear friends.
The plan was to leave Friday morning, but the rapid advance of a monster low pressure system bearing every conceivable hazard to a light airplane forced us to leave late Thursday night. Unfortunately, a parent teacher meeting obligated us to wait until 8 pm CST to leave. We were also going to be losing an hour shortly after crossing into Ohio, meaning there would be few fueling options open to us. We ended up holing up for the night in Youngstown, OH.
     After a 7 hour nap and a nice complimentary breakfast, we departed Youngstown around 10 with the storm we’d fled in Champaign now menacing us from just across the border of Indiana. Winds were favorable and we touched down in Worcester about 12:30 that afternoon under gorgeous late September skies. During the flight I noticed the rapidity and terseness with which air traffic controllers speak increases steadily the closer you get to the eastern seaboard. It’s hardly surprising when you consider the Philly/Boston/NY metroplex is probably the busiest patch of airspace in the country. You’d better know your stuff and be Johnny on the spot with an immediate readback or you could literally be told to go back from whence you came.
     Once we were on the ground it was Laurie’s turn to drive. “Massatushits”, as she fondly refers to it, is her stomping grounds so I deferred to her on where we went and what we did. Before we got to her friends’ house in Uxbridge, where we were to stay, she took me to Providence, RI and Apsara—home of the finest Thai food I’ve ever had. Laurie had often raved about the place during reminiscences of her wild days as a hot, single school teacher in rural Mass, so it was cool to see one of her old hang outs and stuff myself with Nime Chow in the process.
     From there we drove to Uxbridge and met up with her friends Bob and Linda who were gracious enough to give us a spare bedroom as a crash pad while we were in town. Laurie also taught with Linda. Bob was on the school board when she was hired. Both were at our wedding and both are a lot of fun to hang out with.
     The wedding was Saturday in the Park Street Church right on the Boston Common. Laurie and I got there a little late but before the ceremony started. The church, which dates back to 1809, is fascinating. It sits on the site of the Old Granary Building of 1728 in which the sails for the USS Constitution were sewn. Among the many 300 year old memorials planted in the cemetery next to the church are stones dedicated to John Hancock, Samuel Adams and Ben Franklin’s parents.
     The reception was in the Langham Hotel just a few blocks away from the church. Laurie and I walked to it as the rain Boston was supposed to get never materialized. It was kind of cool to walk through city all dressed up like we were. Naturally Laurie looked awesome and I found myself simultaneously amused and annoyed by the admiring glances she was getting from doormen and other guys on the sidewalk. I couldn’t really blame them, though. I notice many of the same glances anytime we’re gussied up for a night on the town in Chicago. She’s a city girl at heart and when she’s dressed to the nines in a town she loves, she’s hard to miss.
     Sunday we hooked up with my cousin Bob, his wife Liz and their girls for more Beantown fun. We had lunch with them then spent the afternoon exploring the city on our own while they went to a matinee of 1776. Boston really isn’t that big of a big city, so it doesn’t take long to explore it on foot. We roamed from the Back Bay to the South End and then back up to the Common and Beacon Hill. While we were in Beacon Hill we sojourned for an hour or two in Emmit’s Pub at a table with windows that opened out to the street. Later, we rendezvoused with Bob and Liz one more time for dinner at a place called Joe’s on the water next to Christopher Columbus Park.
     By the time we got back to Uxbridge it was only about 11:00, but we were both wiped out. The next morning we departed Worcester under the same gorgeous skies we arrived with. The storm that had been chasing us passed while we were on the ground in Boston. But as a parting shot, it left some nasty headwinds in its wake. The trip back took 7 hours total. The leisurely pace, though, allowed as to spend more time looking out the windows at the more scenic parts of rural New York and Pennsylvania where we could see trees starting to turn.
     I hope to get a pic or two from the flight back posted as soon I get a card reader. (we lost the transfer cord to our camera). We were so busy having fun in Boston we forgot to take pictures.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Chicago, Chicago . . .

A link to some pics of Laurie and I on the town in high style at my cousin's wedding.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

I Am "Subject 12": A Test Pilot's Tale

About a week ago I got a call from someone at the U of I looking for test subjects for an interactive cognition study of pilots. The purpose was to see how pilots processed lengthy ATC (air traffic control) instructions and what aids were useful in remembering them. The kid--he couldn’t have been over 21--who conducted the tests was a psychology undergrad in his 2nd year. He reminded me a little of Data in the methodical, almost dispassionate way in which he administered the tests.

The tests were conducted over two, three hour sessions. The first was Thursday. Before the experimentation began I had to sign a waiver saying I understood the risks involved. About the only tangible risk was the slight possibility of damage to my retina from the infrared eye tracker they were going to be using to track my instrument scan in the simulator. This eye tracker was part of a larger piece of head gear that would also track my head movements as I looked around the cockpit. The whole contraption reminded me of something from a Terry Gilliam movie—sort of menacing looking but completely harmless.

The first portion of the experiment was kind of humiliating. It involved testing my vocabulary and memory. The vocabulary part I aced. The other part though made me feel like a senile old man. That part involved listening to a tape recording of a series of sentences. As soon as a sentence was spoken I had to indicate whether it was true or false. After that series of sentences was completed I had to say the last word of each sentence read to me. I did fine when there were no more than three sentences in series. But when they got up to four I couldn’t remember anything. At first I started making things up, but finally admitted I couldn’t remember. My examiner, as nice of a kid as he was, was almost entirely devoid of humor. Any time I tried to ease my embarrassment by joking around, he’d just silently stare at me as if I was a petri dish and continue the experiment.

Thankfully, that part of the experiment ended after about an hour and the fun stuff with the simulator started. The simulator was a Frasca 142 situated in this big room in the basement of the Beckman Institute. In front of it were three big 12’+ screens on which were projected the simulated world of Frasca. Unfortunately the simulated world of Frasca is stuck in early 1990’s VGA. My flying environment consisted of a flat green earth opposite blue sky with high cirrus clouds. You could probably achieve the same effects with the display on your cell phone.

In the sim, I was tested on my ability to hear and comply with ATC instructions under a variety of conditions. Basically the conditions were:
  • Copying ATC instructions using a kneeboard with paper and pad

  • Flying without any type of memory aid at all

  • Using an “MCP”—I don’t know what that was an acronym for, but it was a touch screen that let me tap in the heading, altitude and airspeed ATC instructed me to fly
I flew each of the three conditions in both smooth air and turbulent air. I had to readback all instructions as I would in real life and all my responses were recorded. While I was doing all this, the examiner would randomly introduce air traffic into the flying environment and I would have to say, “Traffic.” whenever I spotted it.

Every section of the test began with the examiner speaking into the voice recorder, “Subject 12, (condition).” I have to admit it gave me slight chill to be referred to as “Subject 12”. But that’s science I guess. I’m sure collating research data would be much more difficult if those listening to the recordings had to hear, “This is Larry. He’s an Aries who likes trees and enjoys autumn walks in the park. He’s recently been married and his favorite treat is peanut butter.”

On Thursday all we really did was a familiarization session with the simulator and the types of conditions I would be operating under. Today was the main part of the test in which I had to don the aforementioned eye/head movement tracker. Calibrating the eye tracker was exactly like the calibration sequence you usually encounter in video games like Halo. After he’d locked the infrared tracker onto my eye, he had me look at numbered locations on the instrument panel so he could “map” where I looked in the cockpit.

After about 2 ½ hours of "flying" with the tracker cinched down on my noggin, I was getting a sore neck and a slight headache. But I kept telling myself I was doing this for the good of aviators everywhere. I was the Chuck Yeager of interactive cognition and my contribution to science might very well save the lives of countless pilots in the future. The reality is, I’ve probably done nothing more than help put a slight dent in the incidence of air traffic controllers having to repeat themselves. Still, I had about a 1% chance of damaging my retina in the process. Hey, it’s not the same as strapping myself to an X-15, but I could very well have wound up needing a good squirt of Visine.

After I was done, Data paid me (a whopping $44 smackers) and I walked over to Murphy’s Pub and celebrated my exploits with my wife and a $7 pitcher of Leinie’s Sunset Wheat. Yeah, it feels good to be a gangsta'.

Finally, my wife surprised me with the news that we are now a family. Yes, she got me a fish. A spunky little Beta which I shall call Walter. Pictures forthcoming.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

"Pee Wee Forgot to Pay"

So said the back of the diner check taped above the register at the Royal Waffle King in Somerset, KY. The Waffle King is a wonder of culinary delights, economy and service. Sandwiched between a Golden Corral (think Ponderosa) and a Sign-O-Rama on Kentucky state route 27, it offers breakfast and lunch fare 24 hours a day. And apparently the management has an understanding with Pee Wee.

Laurie and I stopped there to grab a bite on our way down to Cumberland Falls State Park. Tony, the guy at the Jamestown airport who gave us directions, said, “It’s a long way to drive just to see some falls. They ain’t nothin’ spectacular but I guess the drive’s nice.” That’s really all we were after anyway—a nice drive in the SSR with the top down. Incidentally, Tony, when not running the airport and subverting the state’s tourism industry, was an avid RC pilot. He had a Great Planes Lancair in the hangar with all the full-scale planes. He said in between chores he’d fire it up and fly it around. I don’t see why he shouldn’t. Not much goes on at the Jamestown airport on a hot and sticky Saturday afternoon outside of grass growing.

The drive was gorgeous. If you’ve never been down to this part of the country you should get over your redneck phobias and check it out. Many of the roads meander through beautiful forests and hewn bluffs. Waterfalls and creeks abound. And the folks, while certainly down home, are more hillbilly than redneck. To me a hillbilly is not the same as a redneck. Most hillbillies can read music and play an instrument and about the closest thing I’ve ever heard to a racial epithet was the term “colored person”. This is usually only used by the older set because to them that’s politically correct. At least it was back when the NAACP was founded. In fact, this trip I saw more integration in Somerset between hillbillies, Mexicans and African Americans than I do up here. In the rural areas like Somerset, there isn’t a “that side of town”. The towns aren’t big enough to segregate and people seem to get along fine.

Sure you see the occasional Confederate flag, but not nearly as many as you can see up here on the pickups in Lava’s parking lot on “18 and Over” night. Most of the people displaying them down there are out to tweak the noses of the white urbanite Yankees that only come down between Memorial Day and Labor Day to tear around the lake on their 50-foot 100mph speed boats—a demographic my Uncle Bobby affectionately refers to as, “The Ohio Navy”.

In fact, if you do decide to venture down there, don’t go until after Labor Day. That’s the time of year when there’s still the best part of the summer left and you can meditate on the gorgeous surroundings without the constant din of twin 500 cu in Chevy big blocks. This is when southern Kentucky is best viewed in its natural state. I wish I could fly all of you down at least once to see it.

In lieu of actually transporting you there, however, you will have to settle for this photographic reminiscence from last summer. I would’ve took pictures this trip, but left the camera at home, as I usually do when I go somewhere interesting. I sometimes wonder why I even bought it.

Thursday, August 17, 2006


For my fellow cigar aficionados I've added a "FUMAR UNDER $5" section to the index--my survery of cigars under $5*. As with the FLICKS section, the list will be limited to six at a time with the most recently enjoyed smoke at the top. Where possible I will link to a picture of each smoke for easy reference the next time you visit your local tobaccanist.

*$5 before tax. Caution: Cigar smoking has been deemed a criminal activity by the People's Republic of California.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

The Kobra

Last Saturday, I had the privilege of taking Laurie's Uncle John for a flight. Uncle John is 89 years old, and over the course of his life has assumed many mantles. Among these are husband, father, farmer, machinist and Kobra. As a pilot, it is the later that has always fascinated me ever since I met him.

You see, from 1944-1945 2nd Lt. John H. De Jong served as the co-pilot of a B-24J belonging to the 494th Bombardment Group, otherwise known as Kelley's Kobras. The group was so named after its commanding officer, Col. Laurence B. Kelley. Although the 494th didn't see action until late in the war, they played a major role in helping Macarthur's army bring the Japanese occupation of the Philippines to an end.

When John returned from the war he went back to working the family farm, but never quit flying. Every chance he got, he would rent a Cessna 172 and fly low over rural Indiana, occasionally buzzing his farmhands while they worked in the fields. Unfortunately, he had to stop flying altogether after being diagnosed with diabetes. Saturday's flight with me was his first in a light airplane in 25 years.

I'm serious when I say taking him up was a privilege. So many guys like him have followed their exploits into history. So few remain to tell their story. Before long they will all be gone and only the books will be left.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Hi. My Name Is Uncle Larry.

And I'm a popsicle addict. I don't know what's come over me, but in the last two weeks I've consumed no less that 50 of the frozen delicacies, the majority of them in three separate dozen+ binges. It all started when Laurie bought some Bomb Pops for the nieces and nephews on the 4th. They didn't eat any, so we took them home. They sat in the fridge for about two weeks until that fateful night that I was looking for a snack.

At first I thought they'd make a great way to enjoy something sweet without packing on a lot calories. The most fattening popsicle is a paltry 40 calories. What I didn't realize is that my appetite, which hasn't been denied much lately, apparently abhors a caloric vacuum and will drive me to consume as many popsicles as would be necessary to equal the same size snack it has become accustomed too. I'm beginning to understand Robert Downey Jr.

Tonight, was yet another episode. Schnuck's has their brand on sale 10 boxes for $10. Thankfully my wife is more frugal than I and she opted to use the special to get a single box for a buck. Had she taken full advantage of this offer, it is quite possible I would not be writing this now. In all likelihood I would suffering from a brain freeze lobotomy and grinning like Jack Nicholson right before the chief gives him the pillow.

In any case, consider this my plea for help. I've gone off the deep end and can't seem to reign in this unquenchable thirst for frozen sugar water and red #5. Then again, now that I think about it, I haven't really felt the same since that last teleportation experiment.

Monday, July 31, 2006

Cheeseburger B-Fest: Not for Sissies

Now before all of you who didn’t make it due to some ailment or another get all bent out of shape, I’m not referring to you in the title of this post . . . as far as you know. No, I’m referring to the level of commitment that it takes to not only stay up late watching crap, but the kind of intestinal fortitude necessary to eat boat loads of crap while you’re doing it. As I told my fellow Cheeseburger B-Festers, I should’ve kept a journal of what I ate. Then, if by chance, some combination of food items proved poisonous the paramedics would know what happened. “Vodka, kosher dogs and twinkies? Is this man insane? Call the CDC. We’re going to need their top men on this one.”

Thankfully the journal proved unnecessary and I survived, albeit with a slight tummy ache. But just for fun, here’s a quick reminiscence of what I consumed and during which film I consumed it. Laurie and I got there late, so my movie list does not include Mark of the Gorilla.

  • Film: Future Hunters (starring Robert Patrick with a cameo by his gooch) Intake: Sam Adams Summer Ale, Vodka Tonic, and a Hostess Cupcake

  • Film: Trancers (starring some dude that looked like he could’ve been Kurt Russell’s father and Helen Hunt who seemed Mad About Punk) Intake: A bottle of water, a few Doritos, and a Twinkie I think.

  • Intermission: A cheeseburger, kosher dog, coleslaw, tater salad and a Miller Lite

  • Film: Breakin’ 2 Electric Boogaloo (starring Ozone, Turbo and Lucinda Dickie with her skimpy leotards) Intake: an ice cream sandwich, Cold Stone Birthday Cake ice cream, a smattering of Doritos and I think another Twinkie.

  • Film: Airport 75 (starring Boeing’s 747-200 with costars Kennedy and Heston) Intake: Nothing. Maybe a beer. It was a flying movie for Pete’s sake. I was too busy looking for technical errors. Surprisingly, it was about 92.3% true-to-life.

  • Film: Robot Monster (starring Rock Hudson’s boyfriend and some other actors I’ve never seen before) Intake: I don’t think I ate anything. I slept through most of it.

  • Film: Night of the Kickfighters (starring Adam West and some other guys) Intake: Nothing. Katie and Mike set me up on a blow up mattress right at the foot of the screen, but even with people getting kicked in the face and Adam West’s laser I was unable to fight the food coma that was kicking my butt. I fell asleep.

  • Film: Airport—or 30min of it anyway. It was “too slow”<said in a whiny voice> for Chicken and Cheeseburger. *sigh* Kids. (starring Boeing’s 707 with costars Heston, Martin, Kennedy, Bissett and her side boob which Chicken forced me to view twice—honest dear, he made me) Intake: Laurie’s scrumptious Cinnamon Cobble Stone Muffins, or as I like to refer to them—Monkey Bread in a Cup. I washed three of those bad boys down with some piping hot Folgers.

  • Film: War of the Gargantuas (starring The Gargantua Bros., Russ Tamlin and most of Japan) Intake: A few Doritos, more water and some of the leftover Cold Stone. I eyed the Twinkies and Cupcakes but doubted I could stomach anymore.

  • Intermission: A cheeseburger, kosher dog, pile of cole slaw and a Miller Lite

  • Last Film: So Close (starring the tuffest women on the Pacific Rim) Intake: More water (in a vain attempt to detox), more Doritos (in a rather successful attempt to retox), an ice cream sandwich and I think that was it.

Laurie drove home as I was on the verge of a serious, er, movement. We pulled off at Bourbonnais (or Burbonus as Laurie likes to call it) where I got some iced tea and took the anxiously anticipated potty break. And that, my friends, was that.

Thank you Mike and Katie for the wonderful time. Please don’t let the low turnout prevent another Cheeseburger B-Fest. We’ll have more folks next time even if it means FedEx’ing Panno out here. How much is it for triple oversize packages anyway?

Friday, July 21, 2006

Excellent Pilot

I arrived at Cirrus about 9 a.m. Sunday to prepare for the flight home. Walking in the door I ran into Chris Huhn heading out for his second day of transition training. As he passed he asked if I’d seen the weather. I’d looked at it right before I checked out of the hotel and hadn’t seen anything unusual. “A big thunderstorm’s cropped up over Minneapolis. Looks like it stretches into Wisconsin a ways.”, he said. That put it right across the GPS direct routing I’d just filed.

I hopped back online and checked—my go to site for aviation weather. Sure enough, where nothing had been on radar an hour ago sat this angry Nexrad blotch of color indicating a thunderstorm of significant strength and size. Back out came the charts and flight planning software. At least I had some time before I left. The service center was still working on the header replacement on the #5 cylinder. Maybe the storm would shoot its wad before I took off. It didn’t.

Instead of Duluth direct to Lansing, IL (my first stop) I decided to head east along the southern shore of Lake Superior toward Ashland, WI and then bend south on a route that took me over Rhinelander and Oshkosh into the Chicago area. Figuring I’d be vectored all over creation and back if I tried to file through O’Hare’s class B airspace I opted to skirt it to the west and then turn east toward Lansing over Joliet.

About 11, the service center released N218DF and I was finally able to take this incredible machine home. It was 90+ on the ramp as I did the pre-start checklist. Sweat seemed to be oozing from places I didn’t know sweat glands existed. It felt good to finally get the fan out front turning. I quickly programmed the flight plan into the GPS, did the run up and was cleared to taxi to rwy 27.

Shortly after takeoff tower handed me off to approach. As I checked in I said, “Duluth departure, Archer . . . “ caught myself and continued, “I mean Cirrus N218DF climbing through 2,000 for 6.” The controller kind of laughing came back, “That was your old plane wasn’t it?” He must hear gaffes like that all the time from guys leaving the factory. He vectored me out over Lake Superior a little before clearing me on course. Soaring out over the blue water dotted with freighters and tankers, It felt good to finally be heading home.

After settling into cruise I dialed up the moving map on the MFD (multifunction display) to see if I could see the Nexrad image of the storm in relation to my route. There, pretty as you please, was the big blotch of red shown to the south of me. The map showed my programmed route bending nicely around the end of the trouble and continuing into clear air to the south. You couldn’t wipe the smile off my face.

While the autopilot took care of the navigation I took some time to play with the avionics. Around Rhinelander I tried to find Little St. Germain—the lake I fished a while back—on the GPS. Apparently Little St. is so little it doesn’t get a mention in the GNS430’s database. I spotted a shape that looked like it might be right, but the GPS referred to it simply as “water”. Most helpful.

Over Oshkosh Chicago Center told me to get ready to copy new routing. I’d been watching my fuel state and was trying to ensure I would have an hour’s worth remaining when I arrived in Lansing by tweaking the mixture. I was hoping the reroute wasn’t going to be longer. It turned out to be shorter—and right through the O’Hare space I was trying to avoid. I guessed they must be cooler about the little guys flying through there than I thought. They weren’t.

Just south of Milwaukee they vectored me off the new route and sent me out over Lake Michigan. And they kept pushing me out farther the closer I’d get to the Chicago skyline. Then they started pushing me lower. Before I knew it they had me about 20 miles offshore down to 4,000 feet. It was about then the uncomfortable realization I had no floatation gear on board began to cause a familiar puckering sensation in my seat cushion. Further exacerbating my anxiety was the wind vector on the PFD (primary flight display) indicating a strong wind blowing directly offshore. If I lost the engine, I was going to be treading water for a very long time.

It was about this time I began to see the occasional boat down below. I figured if worse came to worse I’d steer for one of those guys, pop the chute and hope they saw me. Obviously my fears were never realized, but I now know I’m probably not going to be trying that flight to the Bahamas anytime soon. Not without a raft for peace of mind anyway. That was easily the most uncomfortable 30 minutes I’ve ever spent in the cockpit.

Finally, a little southeast of the skyline, Chicago Approach started reeling me back into shore. Over the Gary shoreline I cancelled my flight plan and, using my fancy shmancy moving map display, squirted between O’Hare’s and Gary’s respective airspace boundaries then made a beeline for final on runway 18 at Lansing. Laurie was there with lunch, ice cold drinks and a seriously needed smooch.

After showing the bird off to her folks I hopped back into the plane for the last leg home. It took about 35 minutes. I was not sparing the horses. Climbing out of Lansing though I had another rather unnerving experience. I’d just switched from Lansing’s common traffic advisory frequency to Chicago Center to see if I could obtain flight following home and was futzing with one of the MFD’s checklists when I looked back up to see a Cessna 172 in, what appeared to be at first glance, a rather unfortunate reciprocal heading. I instinctively rolled left, not exactly sure what his trajectory was yet. He passed about a quarter of mile off my right side. I could almost make out the color shirt the passenger was wearing. Needless to say I’m going to be waiting a little longer to clear a departure airport’s airspace before I get too tied up in the new gizmos.

To bring this long story mercifully to an end, I arrived home without further incident and got the plane put in the hangar with the help of Luke and Laurie. I hope some of you who read this get to go up with me sometime. I know I’ve probably diminished the chances many of you will ask to with portions of this story, but I guarantee you I’ve had more close calls on the ground than I’ve ever had in the air. Hey, “If the government trusts me, so can you.”

Thursday, July 20, 2006

C-Day +7

OK. So I missed a few days. I'll get around to filling in the blanks this weekend. In the meantime here's a link to a few pics I took the last day of Cirrus Transition Training. The guy I'm referring to as JePanno in some of the pics is my instructor. I gave him the nickname after I realized how much he reminded me of Panno. He's a much better pilot than Panno, though.

Friday, July 14, 2006

C-Day +2

Today was all about failure. Not mine, the aircraft systems. We practiced dealing with such emergencies as the failure of an alternator, the failure of a PFD, the failure of the MFD and the failure of the engine. In all cases Cirrus has come up with systems and methods that make most abnormal procedures no more troublesome than losing a headlight. Even the loss of the engine is somewhat ameliorated by the CAPS (Cirrus Aircraft Parachute System). No, we didn’t try the later out. I hope I never have to.

On the way back I noticed that my airspeed seemed a little slower than the day before. All I had to do was look out the windshield and at the leading edges of the wings to find the answer. Bugs. The laminar flow wing this aircraft uses is so aerodynamically clean that the accumulation of bugs created enough drag to slow it down by as much as 10 knots (11 mph). It’s getting a bath tomorrow. I want my knots back.

That’s all I have to talk about today. Sorry, still no pictures. The intensity of the training Cirrus puts you through leaves little time to think about anything else. Tomorrow’s the last day of training and I’ll be done early. I’ll get some pictures then. Now I’m going to get changed and trek to Tejas for 22 oz Dos Equis and a burrito. Adios.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

C-Day +1

Today started much too early. I went to bed at a decent hour last night, but couldn’t get to sleep no matter how many Good Times reruns I watched on TV Land. I don’t think I got into deep REM until about three hours before the alarm went off. DYNO-MITE!

I was at the factory by quarter to 7 this morning, going over normal and emergency procedures in the workbook I completed before I came up here. About 8:30 they had a coffee for all new Cirrus owners and the Cirrus execs. I didn’t get to meet the Klapmeir brothers who started the company, but I did get to spend a little time talking with the CEO, David Coleal. David came to Cirrus from Toyota in SoCal. He’s a very intense guy. In the course of our conversation I found out he’s really into RC monster trucks. He also has a Mini-T. We talked about having a few Horizon folks up to take a tour of Cirrus. He said to e-mail him and he’d see what he could do. I told him Cirrus service, marketing and its drive to innovate is something any company should observe.

Then I got to meet my instructor, Jeff. Jeff’s a young guy with a disposition not unlike our beloved Panno. I wondered if he listened to gangster rap as he drove his white Maxima home from work. I was to find out later because like an idiot I left the temporary registration for the airplane in my hotel room and he drove me back to pick it up. You see, federal regs say you can’t fly unless the airworthiness certificate, registration, operating handbook and weight and balance documentation are in the plane. So for want of a pink slip of paper, my first lesson in the left seat started about 30 minutes late. Oh, he’s more into classic rock.

All the lessons are scenario based. In other words I plan cross country trips as I would in regular operations and I learn the systems on the fly, if you’ll pardon the pun. Going from the “steam gauges” of the Archer to the flat screen PFD (Primary Flight Display) and MFD (Multifunction Flight Display) proved easier than I thought. All the practice with the avionics training software they sent me months ago has really paid off.

I saw some beautiful country. If you’ve seen Grizzly Man, the documentary about the hippie who thought he could talk to bears and then got eaten by one, the scenery was a lot like that only without the mountains. Lakes and forests dominate the landscape. Lose an engine and you’re either in the sticks or swimming with Walleye.

My first few landings as PIC (pilot-in-command) were utter and total crap. I didn’t break anything but did bounce a couple. This aircraft truly is technically advanced. The laminar flow, high aspect ratio wing does not abide ham fisted operators. Once I forced myself to not fly it like an Archer and fly “by the numbers” instead, I started greasing them on. We also tried a fully automated approach. I won’t go into a lot more detail, but 4.1 hours later I was ready for a beer.

So ready in fact I had two tall ones at the Tejas up the road when I got back to the hotel. Think I’ll go back tomorrow night too. They had a bunch of good stuff on tap and in bottles. Until tonight I thought I was in some beer-less village of the damned. There is no beer at the convenient store near the hotel and I’m far enough from downtown, it’s almost impossible to get a cab. Lucky for me I spotted the joint as the hotel shuttle passed it taking me back tonight. It’s about a 10 minute walk along the highway from the hotel. I felt like Carl from Slingblade walking along the shoulder to get to dinner.

Tomorrow training gets tougher. Jeff, or a JePanno as I now think of him, will take me up and we’ll do the same type of cross country scenarios we did today, only this time he’s going to start failing equipment and observing how I respond. So before I hit the hay here I’m going to peruse the emergency and abnormal operations checklist.

Sorry, no pictures. I was a little pre-occupied. Tomorrow I will do better.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006


The look I have in this picture is actually that of the “pinch-me-is-this-really-happening” variety. Seeing it now, I think I look mildly retarded. And in a way I was for a bit. Words completely failed me when I walked through the hangar door and laid eyes on N218DF for the first time. All I could think was, “I’m the luckiest little boy in the whole wide world!”

The day began at 8 a.m. I arrived at the Cirrus factory and was greeted by Judy—a perpetually smiling individual who made me feel right at home in a nanosecond. The only time she didn’t smile at me today was when I pulled out my digital camera to take it with me on the factory tour. Then, she looked at me like I’d just pulled out a 357. You see, under no circumstances are guests, even paying ones, allowed to take pictures in the factory. I told her I completely understood and put the camera back in my bag. Like flicking a light switch, the smile returned.

Judy then introduced me to Ken, who was to be my guide on the tour. Like everyone I’ve encountered from Cirrus, Ken was genuinely friendly and eager to answer any questions I had. The factory is a marvel of efficiency and technology. While every plane is assembled by hand, the process is honed to such a degree that they can build as many as four aircraft per day. All tools and framing jigs are machined on site. In fact, with the exception of a couple of components, the airplanes are almost 100% American made. Considering the Cirrus SR-22 is the best selling aircraft of any kind, including military aircraft and commercial airliners, I don’t think anyone can say America doesn’t do anything well but burgers anymore.

After the tour I was given a warranty briefing and instructed on the use of the software that I will need to update the avionics’ databases. After that came lunch where I got to spend a little time talking with a couple of other pilots that were picking up SR-20s. Then, finally, Debbie Backlund came into the pilot’s lounge with a Cirrus corporate pilot to take me down and show me the plane.

After a thorough walk around, the pilot got in the left seat and I in the right for the “delivery flight”. This is basically where they take you up to show that all the avionics work correctly and to see if there are any little details you’d like addressed. The only things I noticed were a sticky map light switch and a little squeal in the headphones that seemed to be linked to engine rpm. The pilot said he thought the door seal on the passenger side wasn’t right. Even though I told him it seemed fine to me, he wrote it up anyway. That's how dedicated to getting it right these people are.

Tomorrow begins my first day of transition training where I finally get to sit in the left seat. They’ll have to shoot me to keep me from getting pictures of that.

Oh, one more thing. While Ken and I were sitting in the front office I got to meet the Cirrus copywriter/marketing consultant. I think I freaked her out a little bit because I was almost as excited to meet her as I was to see my plane. Cirrus does the kind of advertising I wish Horizon would do more of. Their current ad plays up their parachute system. The headline is “Chute Happens . . . Live With It.” The other ad, which I have hanging in my cube shows a picture of the Cirrus from behind that really shows off its curves. The headline for that is “Finally. Something Else With Curves a Man Can Trust.”

Now, I’ve been convinced from the second I saw that ad that the copywriter intended for the headline to be “Finally. Something With Curves a Man Can Trust”, but that she was forced to change it because some nervous Nelly was afraid it would offend women. The fact that it was a woman who came up with the headline obviously didn’t matter one bit. Well folks, I was 100% correct. Debbie (the copywriter) told me that the ad originally went out sans “else” but that someone higher up saw it in a magazine and made them change it. It was both a kind of relief and sadness to know that aversion to taking risks in advertising existed even someplace as forward thinking as Cirrus.

C-Day, -1

Greetings from Duluth, MN, home of . . . home of . . . well, home of Cirrus aircraft for sure but besides that I have no clue. Due to the enormous economic benefit Cirrus has brought to this community, people have been rolling out the red carpet for me ever since I arrived. The hotel I’m staying at is just 2 miles from the factory and they provide a shuttle to and from. The folks behind the counter at Country Inn and Suites, North Duluth couldn’t be nicer.

The trip up was uneventful. I rented a car to get to Midway because Laurie has been up in Chicago the last three days at a teachers’ seminar, so we would’ve had a car stuck up there if I drove mine. She did meet me though at the Budget drop off at the airport and spent a little time with me before I headed to my gate. It was nice to get a little sugar to help sustain me the next four days.

While we were sitting down by the baggage claim (the only place non-ticketed passengers can really hang out), I happened to glance over my shoulder and see a very familiar face. A face I’ve seen about a thousand times on TV, usually in March. MSU basketball coach, Tom Izzo was on his cell phone looking a little put out. Don’t know what the problem was, but it seemed serious enough that I decided to keep my distance even after he got off the phone. I really like Izzo. I think he’s an exemplary coach as evidenced by how disciplined his teams are.

After kissing my wife goodbye I headed for the gates. I flew Northwest for the trip up and let me tell you, I’m going to love flying myself back. No taking off my shoes and getting wanded. No ridiculously priced concourse food. No uncomfortable, forced conversations with someone you’d otherwise ignore if wasn’t for the fact they’ve packed everyone so tightly into coach you feel more awkward not saying something to the guy you’re going to be rubbing knees with for the next two hours.

From Midway to Minneapolis/St. Paul I was wedged into an A320—Europe’s answer to the 737. But because Airbus, a consortium of European aerospace companies, depends heavily on government funding from the various countries of the companies within it, it is slower in responding to competitive threats. I often hear Airbus trumpeted by the left here in the states as a shining example of what government can do for industry. And while Airbus did have a good few years where it was slightly outselling Boeing, Boeing, which is not encumbered by a bureaucracy and actually has to turn a profit to survive, responded quickly and has once again asserted dominance over Airbus.

Anyway the ride on the Airbus was nice but because it’s almost entirely flown by computer the control responses feel more digital and not as smooth to me. Granted Boeing and McDonnell Douglas (which was eventually bought by Boeing) also use flight computers but they are there to augment the pilots, not replace them. As such the control responses in a Boeing or other older airliner feel more analog because during many of the most critical phases of flight a human is at the controls that knows how to keep other humans comfortable. This is what came to mind as I rode the older DC-9 that flew me from St. Paul to Duluth. I love DC-9’s. They have such a solid feel to them.

But enough of my ruminations on commercial aircraft. Tomorrow Project Cirrus commences in earnest and I need some sack time. My tour of the factory begins at 8 a.m. followed by the paper signing, then lunch, then . . . drum roll please . . . delivery of N218DF. Expect a picture or two in the next post.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

The Peace Corps with Guns

Anyone that hungers for an analysis of American foreign policy that goes beyond sound bites, Sean Hannity and silly contrivances like Fahrenheit 911 needs to read this book. Robert Kaplan has spent most of his life traveling to the worst places on the planet to chronicle the efforts of modern-day empires. In the 80's he was in Afghanistan covering the Soviet exercise in imperialism there. In the 90'’s he was in the Balkans with NATO. In Imperial Grunts he returns to these places in addition to visiting many others as he travels with the American military to see up close how the only empire currently on earth conducts itself.

His analysis is refreshingly different in that he goes to great pains to place all of what is happening in the American military'’s various theaters of operation in historical context. And I'’m not talking within a context of the last several administrations. He goes back centuries to show how what is happening today was basically inevitable. That by and large, empires have risen and expanded in response to what was going on around them. Not as a result of conscious will.

But I will spare you an amateurish attempt at a detailed review and stick to the basic points I came away with.

  1. Imperialism is not necessarily a bad thing.

  2. Imperialism is most powerful when it is least visible.

  3. America'’s political leaders would be better served to study the lessons of the plains Indian wars and British colonialism of the late 19th century than those of WWII or Vietnam.

  4. America'’s military, like any organization, works best when command is decentralized and the officers on the field are given freedom to adapt and improvise.

  5. Special Forces spend more time training other militaries than fighting them.

  6. America should not shrink from the role of police officer. It should, however, rethink how it executes that role.

  7. The greatest obstacle to democracy in the Arab world is not Islam but tribalism.

  8. The American military is not only the most potent in the world, its men and women are quite possibly the most educated, best trained and most motivated all-volunteer force in the history of the world.

I know eight is kind of a funny number to stop on, but that'’s about all that really sticks out to me. As you probably have surmised I highly recommend this book to anyone who is seriously interested in the future of America'’s role in the world. It is exhaustively notated and Kaplan is about as objective as I think was possible under the circumstances. I throw in that last caveat simply because his admiration and respect for the soldiers he traveled with is undeniable. Thankfully, though, he does not try to tie their dedication and heroism to any political affiliation. He simply reports what he sees and tries to put it in context for you. If only all journalism was this good.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Control Room

The Netflix envelope, and nearly every other synopsis I've read, will tell you Control Room is about Al Jazeera's coverage of the war in Iraq. For me, however, it seemed to be more of a study of how moderate Arabs view the world, and specifically the U.S. I came away encouraged as well as sobered.

I think the only real criticism I have is that they left so much of the good stuff out of the theatrical release. Unlike the deleted scenes on many DVDs, the number and quality of those on the Control Room disk almost amount to a second movie. I can only assume they were left out because documentaries are hard enough to market to theater goers without making them 3 hours long. If you rent it, you must watch the deleted scenes. Otherwise, you simply will not have seen the entire movie.

On a side note, I just read the other day that Josh Rushing, the Marine public relations officer who is a focal point of the movie, was just hired by Al Jazeera. Now that I've seen him in the film, I'll have to admit I'm more than a little impressed they did.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Goodbye Charlie. Hello Delta Fox.

In the past few posts you might have heard something about a new "family" airplane. I fly up to Duluth, MN next Tuesday to pick it up from the factory. I've been reticent to talk about it because 1.) I assume most of you do not share my passion for aviation and 2.) It has seemed almost too good to be true.

The airplane is a Cirrus SR20-G2. Like my old Piper Archer (N6897C), the Cirrus (dubbed N218DF) is a 4-person, single-engine airplane with fixed landing gear. But that's where the similarities end--rather abruptly too. Whereas the aluminum-and-rivets Archer was a 30+ year old design that topped out at 128 kts (147 mph), the 95% composite airframe Cirrus is a 21st century design that cruises at 156 kts (180mph). And it does so with just 20 more horsepower than the Archer had.

The SR20's instrument panel consists primarily of two large, flat-screen displays that present attitude, GPS navigation and systems information to the pilot in a logical, easy-to-comprehend manner. Only someone who's had to piece together the separate indications of over a dozen WWII-style gauges to maintain situational awareness while flying through clouds will be able to fully grasp what a miracle this is. Instead of a yoke, the Cirrus is controlled in pitch and roll with a side stick controller reminiscent of the kind used in the F-16 and Airbus 320/330/340/380 airliners.

The pies de resistance, however, is the aircraft's ballistic recovery system. If the proverbial excrement every truly hits the fan (i.e. midair collision, engine failure over the Rockies), I can reach up above my head and pull a red T-handle that deploys a giant parachute which will lower the entire airframe safely down to earth. So far the system has been used eight times in real-world situations and each time it saved the lives of those on board. You can see video of the BRS in action here.

While all of these features certainly make flying the Cirrus easier and safer than the Archer, they will require me to undergo three days of transition training at the Cirrus factory just to familiarize myself with them. I plan on posting while I'm there, so watch for the daily debriefings. When you get a chance, check out the Cirrus website. Even if you're not a pilot, but someone who admires visionary technology, you'll find it interesting.

Sunday, July 02, 2006


UPI Headline:
"Large Asteroid Will Miss Earth Tomorrow"

Who says they only publish the bad news?

Of course, leave it to the French to take the negative slant.

AFP Headline:
"Asteroid Has Near-Collision With Earth"

Hackman and The Conversation

Netflix continues to grow in my estimation as one of the greatest uses of cyberspace yet devised. On its recommendation (based on about 300+ movies I’ve rated) I checked out The Conversation (1974) starring Gene Hackman. Hackman plays Harry Caul—a brilliant recluse who is one of the “top men” in the field of surveillance. The supporting cast is full of up-and-comers that went on to make it big, including a very young Harrison Ford, Terri Garr and Cindy Williams. There's also a bit performance by a not-so-young, but still-on-the-rise Robert Duvall.

While I’m sure some who view the film today will probably find the eavesdropping aspect particularly prescient, I found it merely an instrument to tell one of the most poignant stories of loneliness I’ve ever seen since Taxi Driver. As such, it’s not a real feel-good movie, just a brilliant bit of cinema that satisfies in a way too many of today's vapid flicks won't.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Bye Bye Charlie, Bye Bye.

It was with mixed emotions that I handed the keys to N6897C over to its new owner. On the one hand I was happy to have her out of the hangar so we could make room for the new plane. On the other, she was my first plane. I guess like any "first" anything, Niner Seven Charlie will lay permanent claim to a little real estate in my chest.

That said, the farewell flight to the buyer was a good one. I filed for 5000 which put me right at the same altitude as the puffy cumulus that had set sail over central Illinois and Indiana. Zipping along at a not-too-shabby ground speed of 140 kts, I had a ball punching in and out of the clouds. The sensation of speed was exhilihrating. I tried to capture some footage with my little digital camera, but it didn't turn out quite as well as I'd hoped. If you want to see these .mov files anyway, just drop me a line and I'll e-mail them to you.

Monday, June 26, 2006

One Born Every Minute

"For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in. I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me."

"Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?"

"I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me."

Such is the Judgement Day conversation that Jesus describes in the gospel of Matthew that will take place between God and those that were obedient to him. It is these words that I often have to struggle with when I'm face to face with someone looking for a handout that makes my "sucker meter" start to twitch. I hate being taken for a sucker as much as the next guy, but the unfortunate fact is lots of genuinely needy people end up going without because nobody likes being taken for a sucker.

Tonight I was once again presented with this dilemna in the form of skinny kid with gang tats and a big grin schlepping magazine subscriptions so he could win a trip. As most of these guys are, he was a fast talker. Before I knew it he'd shoved a plastic covered list of magazine subscriptions in my hands and was in full sales barrage. My initial reaction was to give a terse "No thanks.", toss the subscription list to him and close the door. But before I could, this very difficult passage of scripture popped into my head.

I know I don't talk about my faith a whole lot on here. For one I know I am often a terrible representative of it. But tonight I'm going to ask your indulgence because, as reprobate as I can be sometimes, Christ really is the pattern of who I desire to be. And when that desire collides with my more natural tendencies I have to try and sort it out. And from now on, you may see me sorting it out here. So without any further uncomfortable background, I continue the story.

As I'm standing there listening to Jay I start thinking about all the doors he's had slammed in his face. I think about all the other ways Jay could be making an easy buck tonight, but instead he's taking a stab at something remotely legit. I think about how hard it's got to be to have few other career options open to you at the age of 21 but this. I finally agree to a year's worth of Flying Magazine. This is where it gets even tougher.

Up till now this has all transpired with me standing in my doorway, hand on door with Jay standing in the hall. To get my checkbook I'll have to go back inside to get it. I'm faced with closing the door and making Jay sit on the steps in the hall or inviting him to wait inside. I think about my wife in the next room. About all the horror stories of guys charming their way into people's homes and then stabbing them for what they can steal from a costume jewelry box. Only problem is "I was a stranger and you invited me in" is reverberating in my cranium like a pipe organ in a cathedral. Do I be the "sucker" or do I do the "smart" thing and make him chill on the steps while I look for the check? Then I'm reminded that, technically, Christ was the biggest sucker of them all. He fed people, healed people and turned water into wine and mankind expressed its gratitude by nailing him to a cross.

That's what it comes down to I guess. If you're going to claim to be a follower of Christ, sometimes you have to be willing to play the patsy. Not that Christ ever intended us to be blindly trusting ("Be as shrewd as snakes and innocent as doves." Matt 10:16), just to give sacrificially. Especially if it means sacrificing your ego. I invited Jay in and he somewhat nervously asked if he could sit on our footstool. "Sure." I went and got the checkbook, paid him and sent him on his way. He thanked me profusely and took his show to the neighbors across the hall.

A few minutes later I decided to see what I could find online about the company indicated on the receipt--the Sunshine Subscription Agency. If you just Googled it, you know what I now know. There are all kinds of complaints against it. It's a legit company in the sense that they have an actual physical location and aren't selling drugs. It's just that, as Johnny Caspar in Miller's Crossing puts it, they're "a horse of a different color, ethics wise." Most of the bad things I read about involved how they take advantage of disadvantaged youth like Jay.

Did I get taken? In all likelihood, but it won't have been from Jay if what I read was correct. Then again enough people must get their subscriptions if SSA is still in business. We'll see. Now I have to decide if I should cancel the check or hope that, of the many tainted transactions SSA makes, this one actually goes through and Jay gets his commission.

Best Fortune Cookie Fortune Ever

"Ignore previous cookie."

--received 6-26-06 from Super Wok

Sunday, June 18, 2006

The Berries

I mark the passage of time now by how long it's been between posts. Not much has really happened since the last one which is why it's taken this long. I only post now to break the dry spell. Speaking of dry, I went to pick strawberries Saturday and the earth was parched. Time's been flying by so fast, it really hasn't occured to me that it's been a while since we've had a really good rain. Despite the heat and dust however berry picking proved to be much more fun than I would've thought.

We went to Pontious Berry and Herb Farm in White Heath. As the name implies berries aren't the only thing going at Pontious. In addition to a great herb garden they offer tomatoes, onions and sweet corn in season. The vegetables, berries and herbs are grown without the aid of pesticides but, as their website says, they are not a certified organic farm. They just try to adhere to organic growning methods. It's all u-pick and payment is on the honor system. You weigh your harvest yourself, write down how much picked and the price, and then drop the money in a wooden lock box. If you have to make change, there's a box for that too. It's all very granola.

The strawberries we picked were pretty puny due to the lack of water. Apparently their irrigation system went down right about the time the drought started. None the less, these were some of the sweetest tasting strawberries I've ever had. They tasted exactly like you imagine the flavor when someone says the word "strawberry". The lady running the place said pickins were slim as this was the end of the season but between Laurie and I we managed to pick about 3 lbs. Enough for one incredible strawberry pie with some berries left over for eating with ice cream.

We also harvested some of their basil and cilantro. We made pesto out of the basil last night. I've never eaten it fresh like that. It's nothing but fresh for this paisan from now on. After we got back from produce picking I changed the oil and filter on the motorcycle. The bike really did need the oil change. I wasn't just trying to assert manhood after berry picking. Besides when a man berry picks or harvest herbs it's called "foraging".

After dinner last night, we watched Born Into Brothels. This is a very difficult film to watch. For one its an unflinching look at one of the worst possible existences this planet has to offer. It also makes you feel like a total ass for complaining about perceived injustices like someone taking your parking spot or cold Big Macs. That said, it also showed that even in the darkest corners of the world, no matter how bitter their circumstances, kids still dream. That the value of a child's life trancends its "quality".

Finally, if any of you know someone who is looking for a nice, used airplane with a slightly hightime engine, but that's excpetionally clean, send them here. So far I've only received a couple of nibbles. It will be going up on Ebay this week as well. Kool Mo P wanted some info on the new plane, which I will offer when I take delivery of it on July 12. That should be quite an adventure. I will be flying up to Duluth to pick it up and receive three days transition training. Expect a detailed account along with pics here.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Hoosier Air

I am truly a blessed man. Not only do I have an airplane, but I have a wife that actually likes flying in it so much, that she is sometimes more eager to go for a flight than I am. Such was the case yesterday. As a few of you know we're selling the plane to make hangar space for a new one--a whole other story. She suggested we use the stellar weather to take 6897 Charlie on a tour of Indiana and post sales flyers at various airports. Believe it or not, I was actually a little reluctant because we'd just spent a couple of hours last weekend washing it should a couple of prospective buyers drop by for a closer look. But she REALLY wanted to go flying and a voice in my head finally piped up and yelled, "Hey moron! Do you know how many pilots would kill for a wife that begs them to fly?" So to honor my wife's wishes and out of respect for my fellow aviators in less ideal marital circumstances, I planned the flight.

Leg 1: KCMI (Champaign, IL) to KLAF (Lafeyette, IN)

KLAF's proper name is Purdue University Airport. It's right on the edge of campus. And I mean right on the edge. When you depart runway 5 you're just a few hundred feet above the quad. We departed Champaign about noon. Cleared on course, I elected to fly this leg at 3,500 feet. There was a little bit of an overcast plus I just like flying a little lower once in a while. You can see more details on the ground. As we bounced along in the light chop we scoped out cool little farm spreads, small town "rush hours", cow "ants" and all manner of springtime flora and fauna. Dialing in the ATIS (Air Terminal Information Service) for KLAF I caught a strange comment at the end of the weather recording "(something) activity around the airport, all quadrants." On the second time around the loop I made it out--"caution BIRD activity around the airport, all quadrants."

What kind of bird activity could possibly merit a mention in the weather recording? As we got closer I kept my eyes peeled, but didn't see anything out of the ordinary. It wasn't until I was on about 3 mile final for rwy 5 that I saw what they must have been talking about. Flying in the same direction, about 50 feet below and to the right of my flight path, was one of the biggest hawks I've ever seen. It reminded me of a time in California when I was flying along in an even smaller Cessna 150 and got an uncomfortably close look at a couple of vultures that happened to be circling at my altitude. I think it would've been a toss up in that case as to who would've still been flying if we'd hit. Considering the size of the tiny Cessna and the enormity of the birds, odds on the vultures wouldn't have been long. Thankfully, this encounter was nowhere near that close.

Things weren't very busy at KLAF either. When we landed only one plane was taxiing out to do a little pattern work. None the less, the fine folks at Lafeyette Aviation rolled out the red carpet for us. Two line guys came bounding out of the office to direct me to a parking spot right by the front door, chocked the wheels and asked us if we needed anything. Since we weren't buying any fuel, I had to pay a ramp fee of $8. Believe it or not, this really didn't bother me. Places like Lafeyette have limited ramp space and they have to pay the bills with fuel sales. It seems more than fair to me to pony up a little something if I'm going to be taking up space and not buying anything. Even if it's just for the 5 minutes it took us to use the john and hang up our flyer. What annoys me is when I hear some fat cat flying a half-a-million dollar twin that guzzles hundreds of gallons a flight bitching about ramp fees. As one of my old instructors used to say, "If the cost of flying bugs you, you probably shouldn't be flying."

After a quick potty break and posting our flyer on the lobby bulletin board we boarded the plane for our next sales call--KEYE: Eagle Creek Airport just north of Indianapolis International.

Leg 2: KLAF (Lafeyette, IN) to KEYE (Indianapolis, IN)

Indianapolis International is surrounded by about 4 or 5 sattelite airports that are all within about 20 nm of it. One of these, Eagle Creek, is right next to a dammed up lake on the NW side. The reason I decided to make it a part of the itenerary, despite the fact the local FBO also sold aircraft and probably wouldn't let me post my flyer, was because of a nearby restaraunt that received favorable pilot reviews on A little place called Rick's Boatyard. All the reviews talked about an outdoor patio with a fantastic view of the adjacent lake. I figured even if we didn't get anything to eat it would be worth checking out for future hundred-dollar hamburger trips.

As we approached KEYE from the northwest I caught sight of the lake about 15 miles out. The traffic pattern entry for the active runway took us right down the middle of the lake. Below us we saw all kinds of sailboats and pontoons plying the waters, and right there on the southeast corner of the lake Rick's Boathouse restaraunt that looked like it would be right at home in Miami. As we were to find out later, so did the owners. All the apparel they sold in their gift shop used the same font and colors as the Miami Vice logo. Cheesy? Supremely, but in a sort of tongue-in-cheek way. Then again, maybe Indy is like Baratslava--"Miami Vice. #1 new show!" Rick's was right across the road from the airport. Not even a 100 yard walk. It was just as reviewed. We found a spot on the lake side of the enormous patio overlooking the boat slips. In the middle of the patio was a good sized cabana bar that had all kinds of tasty looking libations on tap, but as pilot in command, I wouldn't be able to avail myself this visit. Needless to say I'll be back. Maybe on motorcycle. There were a lot of bike's in the parking lot (get those carbs cleaned Chicken).

After a brief respite of iced tea and live jazz we got up to head back to the airport. The waitress said the tea was on the house. Why, I have no idea. We dropped a generous tip and walked back across the road. Next stop was Bloomington, IN.

Leg 3: KEYE (Indianapolis, IN) to KBMG (Bloomington, IN)

Bloomington, Indiana--home of lily white basketball teams (under Knight anyway) and John Cougar. I don't care if he calls himself John Mellencamp now. He'll always be John Cougar to this American kid doin' the best that he can. Bloomington made the itenerary because it had a couple of FBOs that would be great places for posting flyers and one of the FBOs had Caddilac courtesy cars. I'll let you figure out which of those two factors weighed more heavily in my flight planning.

For this leg I filed an IFR flight plan which would provide us with positive radar coverage from takeoff to touchdown. Our course was going to take us right along the western edge of Indianapolis International. With all the traffic coming in and out of Indy, as well as the satellite airports, I simply don't have enough eyes in my head. I was going to need traffic reports. Plus, in today's day and age you really don't want to be operating around major urban areas without a constant link to ATC. That way if a Blackhawk appears off your wing you don't have to use hand gestures and can ask, "What seems to be the problem officer?" before the door gunner opens fire.

I filed for 6000 ft hoping it would put us up in the midst of the cool looking cumulus canyons that were sailing over us. Turns out they were up at about 7,000, but it was almost as cool to skim the bottoms. This leg, like the rest of them, took all of about 30 minutes. We were on the ground in Bloomington in no time. Which, by the way, has some fairly striking scenery for this part of the midwest. Lots of rolling, tree-covered hills. The airport is on a rise that kind of overlooks some of the smaller hills to the west. As the sun descended toward the horizon and the shadows got longer, it all looked very serene. Just like one of those daydreams of summer that I usually start experiencing about the 4th week in February.

We parked in front of Cook Aviation because they were the ones with the Caddie courtesy cars. Courtesy cars are free transportation that most FBOs lend transient pilots for an hour or two so they can run into town and get a bite to eat or something. That's right. Free. But as with most things that cost nothing, you usually get what you pay for. Courtesy cars are almost always an adventure. Some of the most memorable that I've driven have included a rusted out mid-60's pickup with a speedometer that didn't work, a giant white '70's station wagon that looked like it might have been a coroner's car in another life and I don't know how many retired police cars (probably the most common courtesy car at small municipal airports). You don't even have to leave your driver's license or cc number. I guess they figure no one would be dumb enough to steal a POS car and leave their airplane. But on very rare ocassions you'll be fortunate enough to land somewhere that offers some really nice wheels. Cook Aviation was just such a place.

While the line guy fueled the plane, Laurie and went into the office and asked if we could have the use of a courtesy car to grab a bite to eat. I'm not even sure if I was all that hungry, but I needed to have a plausible reason to ask for the car. As anticipated, the kindly office girl handed over the keys to a 2002 merlot De Ville. We're talking one of those big mamas you see dominating the parking lot at Hometown Buffet when there's an early-bird special. But because it was a DTS with alloy wheels and lower profile tires it looked more Tony Soprano than Lawerence Welk. Down the road a piece from the airport we found a great little Chinese take-out/dine-in place called Dragon. One of those places where your order's cooked fresh. I got the house special mein fun and Laurie opted for the Mu Shoo. Both entrees were fantastic and we had tons left over for lunch today.

I took my time cruising back to the airport. Partly because I was fighting a food coma and partly because I was really enjoying the Caddie. Back at the airport we hung our flyers and settled up with the office girl for the fuel. About the fuel, it was only $3/gal. I about fell over. Avgas is almost always a buck higher than auto gas, but I'd just managed to fill up for a mere .20 more than my fellow groundbound travelers. When you throw in the free use of the DTS I was probably coming out ahead. Man, was I having a great day. The only thing that could have made things more blissful was some guy handing me a suitcase full of cash for my plane. But ain't that America, you and me. Ain't that America, somethin' to see baby . . .

Leg 4: KBMG (Bloomington, IN) to KHUF (Terre Haute, IN)

We decided to stop at Hullman International Airport in Terre Haute because I thought it was a fairly busy general aviation airport and it wasn't entirely out of the way on our way back to Champaign. The airport is apparently named after the Hullman family that brought us all Clabber Girl Baking Powder. It boasts a sprawling terminal that, in it's postwar heyday, was probably every bit as busy as Champaign. At least that's what the photos on the wall seemed to indicate. On this particualar day, however, Hullman was dead. There were few signs of life. Even the Air Guard ramp looked deserted with a row of cold F-16s tied down and intakes covered, silently waiting for their next mission. I thought with all the gorgeous weather, the place would at least be hopping with student pilots in the pattern or something. The only activity was a couple line guys washing an airport police vehicle.

Inside the terminal it was similarly deserted, save for a couple of young ladies working the FBO counter. We located the "selling board", tacked up a flyer and, after another loo break, took off for home.

Leg 5: KHUF (Terra Haute, IN) to KCMI (Champaign, IL)

By now it was approaching 5:30 or 6 and we were headed NW right into the sun. With all possible eye protection deployed--sunglasses, check--tinted visors, check--I was still squintsville with a forward ground visibility of about 5 miles in haze. Time to call for a little radar coverage again. Terra Haute approach was kind enough to arrange for flight following all the way to Champaign. Oddly enough, despite the fabulous flying conditions, Laurie and I seemed to be part of only a handful of souls wandering the skies over east central Illinois. There was almost total silence on Terre Haute's frequency. It wasn't until we were handed off to Champaign approach that the radio calls seemed to pick up. Still, none of them seemed to be headed to Willard.

Winds were light so approach gave me my choice of runways. Our course was almost perfectly in line with runway 32, so picking was easy. As I exited the runway after landing I noticed Champaign's ramp was about as dead as Terre Haute's. Even the university planes were put away. I can only chalk it up to summer break. After shutting down, we wiped all the fresh bug kill off the leading edges of the cowl, wings and wheelpants. Just in case a prospective buyer, grasping one of our sales flyers, should come by for a look-see. After I put 9'er 7 Charlie away, I stood there in the still, sultry sunset air taking it all in. Laurie said, "This was the perfect day." No argument here, babe.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Everything In Moderation . . . Well, Not Everything

Sorry guys. I was fooling around with the blog the other day and turned on the comment moderation. It is off now. Please forgive the momentary lapse into censorship.

In other news I'm thinking about changing the template, so things may look a little different on your next visit. Or not.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

I'm Coining a New Word

stereondipity (ster-ion-dip-it-ee): n. The chance synchronization of a person's driving actions with the music on the stereo. Most commonly occuring when a song ends at the precise moment the person comes to a stop in a parking space and just before they turn off the ignition. Also common when driving in the rain while listening to jazz or quickly accelerating away from an intersection precisely as a metal guitar solo begins. Usually accompanied by the sensation of being in a music video or movie montage. Most often occurs if the music on the stereo is particularly rockin' (i.e. Boston, Clutch, Bon Jovi).