Tag: airplanes


I got my pilot’s license at Van Nuys airport back on April 3, 2000. If you like flying, have ever thought about getting a license, or just like really good film-making, you should check out this new DVD:


One-six right refers to the long runway (8,001 feet) at Van Nuys airport–the runway from which I made most of my takeoffs (most of my landings were on the shorter 16L). The video looks awesome and I’m ordering a copy today. Thanks to kevnyc for pointing it out to me. (kevnyc was one of the first people to fly with me after I got my license.) Check out the scenes from the video that they have on the web site.

Watching and listening to the “look ma, no hands” video, about the first time you fly solo as a student, brought back a lot of memories and emotions I had on the day that I did my first solo flight in September 1999.

Read about my first solo flight

Observations from 36,000 ft

It is 10 PM Eastern time and I am sitting in seat 2B in the First Class cabin of United 307 from Baltimore, Maryland to Los Angeles, California. I have been sitting here for just shy of four hours and I have exactly two hours to go, if everything is on time. I am bored out of my mind. I thought I would take this opportunity to list some observations.

1. Looking around an airport terminal, you can always tell the most important people by the thickness of their cellular phones. The most important people have the thickest phones. They have to be thick to hold the extended life battery pack so that they can be on the phone all of the time. That’s how important they are.

1a. The most important people in the airport terminal also walk around with those ridiculous-looking BlueTooth headsets. This is a corrolary of #1 above.

2. There are two places in which it is particularly inconvenient to get a stomach ache: stuck in traffic, or stuck at 35,000 feet.

3. If you are ever stuck at 35,000 feet with a stomach ache and the flight attendant offers you an ice cream sundae with chocolate syrup and whipped cream, you should refuse it. Accepting the dish of ice cream only makes matters worse.

4. First Class on United is not what it used to be. The napkins used to be cloth. Now they are thick paper.

5. Most people who fly First Class on United have probably upgraded using miles or upgrade credits. No one in their right mind would actually pay for this.

6. I like airplane bathrooms. They bring out the claustrophillia in me.

7. On United, you can listen to air traffic control on channel 9 on your headset. On long flights like this, it seems that no matter how often I check air traffic control to see how we are progressing, we always seem to be somewhere over Kansas.

8. No one in First Class seem to be using laptops. However, everyone in coach seems to be working. I’m not sure what this says, but it seems somehow significant.

9. If there is so much more leg room in First Class, then why do my legs feel cramped up?

10. Laptop battery power decreases in inverse proportion to my level of boredom. As I get increasingly bored, my laptop seems to run–


At this point everyone knows about the plane crash in NYC and that Cory Lidle of the New York Yankees was killed in the crash. There is nothing I can add to this other than my sympathies to his family, friends, teammates, and my praise for the firefighters and police for a quick response.

I ended up having to reschedule my training session with Bernard today. He asked to do it later, and because I am going to L.A. tomorrow and have errands to run this evening, we just rescheduled for next Thursday. This has been a lazy week for me with respect to workouts.

For computer science geeks, chapter 10 of Donald Knuth’s book, Literate Programming is a good one. I read through it this morning because it related to some documentation work that I am doing on software that I have been working on for the last month and a half. It is a kind of history of the development of TEX and the debugging thereof. Most people who read this blog (with the possible exception of kevnyc) will have no idea what TEX is.

Speaking of kevnyc, I did a video chat with Kevin last night. I was at home in my office and he was on the beach in Monterey, California, right around sunset. He even managed to capture a pretty cool screenshot of this while it was happening.

Lots of stuff to do before I head to L.A. tomorrow evening. I noticed that Zeke has been scratching quite a bit and I think I noticed a flea, which is weird since he gets regular monthly flea medicine. I’m out of the medicine this month so I’m stopping at the vet on the way home tonight to get some more for him. I’ve got to clean up, do laundry and some other chores, and of course, pack for my trip. I also need to squeeze in time for new episodes of Smallville and Gray’s Anatomy.

Unreasonable Me

Yesterday, I ranted about the lack of reason and critical thinking, and among other things, how it leads to supremely idiotic email. I don’t want to give the impression that I am a perfectly rational being myself, that I am some kind of R. Daneel or Spock. So I thought I’d list a few of my idiotic irrationalities.

The one at the top of the list is my irrational disdain and hatred of political flyers placed on my car. (The hatred comes into play when you don’t notice the infernal things until you are buckled in and they are placed in such away that it is impossible to reach around them and pull them off the windshield without getting out of the car!) I don’t know the rationale behind these flyers. To they really earn votes this way? If everyone thought like me, they wouldn’t! When I got to my car this evening, I had not one but two of these flyers on my window.

The first one was SIMMS for Attorney General and the second one was for Peter Franchot, who has the original tag line: New vision. New leadership. Our values. Something we’ve never heard before from a politician!

This reminds me of how operating system software is marketed: Faster. More efficient. Powerful. All it means is that the previous version sucked and in this “new” version, they are trying to fix all of the things that worked in the original version.

So why is my disdain and hatred for these flyers irrational? Simple: I would never consider voting for someone or something for which one of these flyers was stuck on my car. Yes, it’s insane! It makes no sense at all! And it’s me! If a flyer was placed on my car telling me to vote against Proposition Armageddon, and that my vote alone would prevent the destruction of all life on Earth, I don’t believe I’d be able to overcome by passionate and fearfully irrational hatred of these flyers. I’d rather let the world destroy itself. At least then there would be a guarantee of no more flyers.

Maybe I’m not being clear on how irrational I am about this. If God Himself placed a flyer on my car, asking for my vote, I’d refuse.

Incidentally, when I got home from work, I had five of these flyers in my mail: Flo Hendershot for Country Council; Vote No on Doug Gansler; Elect Eric Olson; a second VOTE VOTE VOTE for Flo Hendershot; and Rushern Baker, for whom I could not determine what his campaign was about.

Today, I believe I am superstition free. It took a while to get here. In fact, I got rid of my longest standing superstition about 2 years ago. I have no fear of flying (I was a pilot for crying out loud!) I also have no fear of crashing. Airplane incidents are few and far between, and the training you go through to cope with airplane problems is far, far more substantial than what you go through to get a drivers license. But whenever I got on a commercial flight, I always read the the Safety Information Cards and followed along with the video, even though I knew the whole thing by heart. Doing this, I told myself, meant that nothing bad would happen on the flight. Is that not nuts!

About 2 years ago, when I was flying with increasing frequency, I finally told myself that I was being ridiculous. I make fun of superstitions left and right and am a vocal proponent of reason. And yet, here I was thinking that my reading the safety card would keep me physically safe. It took some effort, after all, what if I didn’t read the card and there was a problem. Coincidence! I told myself. No necessary connection! Finally, I got on a plane one day when I was particularly tired and I said to myself, screw it. I put my on my iPod headphones, blasted the music and went to sleep. I woke up 2 hours into the flight. It was a perfectly average flight. I’ve flown 2 or 3 dozen times since then and I never read the information cards (unless its on a plane that I am unfamiliar with, in which case it makes sense, if only to know what to do in an emergency.)

I stopped believing in ghosts, flying saucers, alien abductions, ESP, astrology and all other forms on nonsense sometime between 6th and 7th grade. I tend to get annoyed when friends and family members mention silly superstitions of their own, but I usually keep it to myself. Does it hurt me that they believe that nonsense? Still, as you can see, I have some irrationalities of my own. I hope that I am working my way through them by recognizing them as irrationalities, even though I still retain them. Maybe one day, I will be free of all of this silliness, but I don’t know. Some of it, like the bit about the flyers, is deeply ingrained in my personality.

And so when I occasionally mutter my mantra: “Against stupidity, the gods themselves content in vain,” you can be sure that from time to time, I am talking about myself.

Conair flight 5191

As a pilot, I am both saddened and confused by news of the crash of Conair fligth 5191 from Lexington Blue Grass airport this morning. The lastest news reports seem to indicate that the airplane took off from the wrong runway, the short, 3,500 ft runway instead of the 7,500 ft runway.

This is what confuses me. Air traffic controllers will tell a commercial aircraft which runway they should use. Controllers know the types of aircrafts and their capabilities. For a controller to make an error like this is very, very unusual. Even so, the pilot has the right to decline any instructions that he or she deems unsafe. The type of aircraft taking off, anywhere between 4,500 – 5,000 ft of runway would have been required if the aircraft was as full weight. For the pilot not to decline the instruction to take off on the short runway is even more confusing. Finally, unlike the small airplanes that I flew, most commercial planes also have a co-pilot. Even if the controller and the pilot missed the error, there was a third person who could have stepped in to stop it.

This was an early flight, so perhaps the tower was not yet operational. Still, the decision to use the short runway was a bad one. Perhaps the winds were not favorable to using the longer runway. At worst there would have been a direct crosswind, but it shouldn’t have mattered. If weather was a factor, the flight should have remained on the ground until it was safe.

Most of the facts are not yet in, and so I suspend judgement for now. However, all pilots are taught “ADM”: aeronautical decision-making. Taking off an a runway clearly too short for the aircraft is a bad decision. I feel terrible for the families who lost loved ones on the flight. From the initial reports, it looks as though better decision-making could have prevented it. But we’ll have to wait and see.

The airplane dream

So last night, I had a dream that I was in a Cessna 172 and strausmouse was the pilot. We were approaching what, in my warped dreamland, was Van Nuys airport. (In my dreams, Van Nuys airport is never like the actually VNY, into and out of which I’ve flown dozens of times. However, it is always different in the same way.) Eric was making a very low downwind approach and even managed to stall the plane once just before turning final.

I have no fear of flying whatsoever, but his approach to 16R scared me!