Who Am I?
- Bob Barbanes:
- A nobody; a nitwit; a pilot; a motorcyclist; a raconteur; a lover...of life - who loves to laugh, who tries to not take myself (or anything) too seriously...just a normal guy who knows his place in the universe by being in touch with my spiritual side. What more is there?
31 January 2008
Enroute, he turns to me and says he'd like to land first at a friend's camp which is nearby and which, luckily, I'd flown over. Once. These hunting camps all have big flat fields, and they make perfect places to land helicopters, if you have one. "Okay," says I, "if we can find it before it gets too dark..."
Flying helicopters is all visual. These crazy machines have no sense of up and down of their own. Unlike an easy-to-fly airplane, helicopters are notoriously unstable. I must be able to see to control the ship. It is easy - very easy to get "spatial disorientation" (i.e. vertigo) when you can't see outside. The movements of the helicopter mess with your head. Yes, I do have gauges that tell me which way is up and which way I'm headed, but I still need outside references to fly the helicopter upright. And sometimes, flying at night is like being inside of a very dark closet with the door closed.
Try this experiment: Turn off the light in your room and close your eyes tightly. Now push your computer chair away from the desk and spin yourself around - it doesn't even have to be that fast. Nod your head a couple of times. When the chair stops, stand up. The sensation of dizziness will be startling. What happens is that the fluid in those little circular canals in our inner ear gets moving, giving us a false sense of right-side up. The fluid in our inner ear is what gives us our equilibrium.
If this happens in the aircraft (which is constantly moving in three dimensions), your body can send you erroneous messages that conflict with what the gauges are telling you. These messages can be so strong that pilots will disbelieve the gauges and crash.
I've been there, a long time ago in a helicopter that was unintentionally inside a cloud due to my own stupidity. The gauges showed me in a steady right turn, but my body was telling me we were in an extremely steep left turn! I literally froze on the controls, panicked. Somehow...don't ask me how...grace of God or something...I did not crash. We eventually emerged from the cloud in a steady right turn. I was able to regain control of the ship, my composure, and continue the flight. My passenger in the back seat never looked up from his Wall Street Journal, none the wiser as to how close he'd just come to death.
Anyway, we did find the friend's camp and managed to squeak in there while I still had enough light to see. The six hunters staying there were all still out hunting, which pretty much ends when it gets too dark to see through a rifle scope. I shut down and got out, enjoying a crisp, clear, moonless January evening as far from civilization as you can get around here. They eventually all came straggling in and we had a nice visit, with them telling stories of all the deer they saw but did not for some reason shoot. Hunters are a lot like fishermen in that way, I guess.
Finally the Boss decided to leave to go to our camp. It was 6:45 by then and was dark, dark, dark. The field we'd landed in was big, but had trees all around the perimeter, which I now could not see. However I had made a mental note of where a good, big open spot between them was and decided that I'd take off in that direction. When it was time to go, I did just that. Six hunters, all standing around watching my departure. Dear God, please don't let me f*** this up. End result: We didn't hit anything.
This part of south-central Alabama is all hunting land. Consequently, houses are few and far between. I leveled off about 800 feet above the trees for the five mile flight to our camp. Below us was a just spooky sea of blackness. It's really quite unnerving.
"Oh my God, it's dark down there!" the Boss said with just a touch of nervousness in his voice.
"Yup," I shrugged, doing my best Gary Coooper, trying to act casual. "But remember something - if you can't see, that means I can't see. This is why I need a clear night to do this." If he wasn't before, he's convinced now.
A week or so earlier, an air ambulance helicopter was out at three a.m. searching for a lost hunter a little further to the north in the state. Although the crew managed to locate him, the helicopter crashed and killed all three onboard. We don't know what happened yet and speculation runs rampant. But I do know one thing: whatever did happen, the flight over that unlit, featureless terrain did not make things any easier for the pilot and may have in fact compounded his problems.
Finding our camp was not a problem for us Monday night. The GPS pinpoints it with accuracy and it happens to be the only lights around for miles. I descended to 500 feet above the trees and slowed the ship way down. The trick is to keep the visible lights on my side of the aircraft; you never want to turn away from the lights, which could put you into that dark closet I mentioned before. Once I had intercepted the proper approach angle and path, the rest was easy...relatively. (Don't get me wrong, it's still a challenge.)
I wish small helicopters had some form of artificial stability that would right the thing and allow me to get my bearings if I became disoriented. (Have I whined about this before? It seems that I have.) But they do not. Why not? It's a long story - too long for this blog. Basically, there are just too few helicopters out there to make it economically feasible.
Hunting season is over as of today, thankfully, so we won't be going up to the camp nearly as much. Flying at night can be beautiful, and a lot of fun in the right conditions. I appreciate the amount of night time flying I've been able to do, but I won't be sorry to see it end. For now.
30 January 2008
Former presidential hopeful Joe Biden gave us the funniest thing I've read about Rudy Giuliani: "There's only three things he mentions in a sentence, a noun, a verb and 9/11." (Giuliani's office shot right back: "Senator Biden has never run anything but his mouth.") Rudy was obviously hoping to cash-in on the national recognition he gained during the terrorist attack on New York City in 2001. Sure, the whole country knows his name now, but what else does the country know about Rudy? Not very much. Or not enough, apparently.
I had no doubt McCain would win. Florida is filled with old people who probably regard him as a war hero. But there are stories aplenty circulating through the internets concerning McCain's activities as a P.O.W. and the special treatment he received. Time will tell whether these will catch any traction and do any real damage to his candidacy, just as Kerry's reputation as a swift boat hero was torpedoed last time.
A friend said something interesting about McCain: "He's like a house that's been on the market too long. Why hasn't it sold already?" Good point. Is John McCain our perennially Not-Ready-For-Prime-Time President? I'm so ambivalent about him. I can see him in the Oval Office; I just don't know if I want him there.
I'm kind of leaning toward the view that whoever we elect to be president should be a governor first. Governors know how to run things; senators do not always. With that in mind, I think Huckabee or Romney would probably be "better" presidents than McCain.
The thing about Hillary is that if she's elected, we get him back. As much fun as Bill Clinton had in the White House last time, imagine if he got to live there again? If she were smart, she'd ask Bill to be Vice President so they'd have to live in separate houses.
Seriously, my theory is that Hillary should ask Barack Obama to be her Vice President. What a ticket that would be! They'd get most of the vote from women, plus ALL of the black vote. Clinton/Obama? Unstoppable! Teaming up is their only chance. If not, I just don't think that this country is yet ready for a woman president or a black president. We're just not there yet...although I could be wrong.
In the end, come November I believe it will be a Republican president. We'll either be saying "President Huckabee" or "President Romney." With all of the anti-Bush backlash in the country, the Democrats were virtually handed this election on a platter. It was theirs to lose, and I think they're going to do just that.
27 January 2008
So, the other morning I downloaded from iTunes Ringo Starr's latest song, "Liverpool 8" from his CD of the same name. I put it in the folder that I use as the master for my iPod Shuffle, then gave it a listen with my undivided attention. The song is kind of cute...not bad, if you like ex-Beatles doing their looking-back-at-my-life thing.
Went to Hamburg
The red lights were on
With George and Paul
And my friend John
We rocked all night
We all looked tough
We didn't have much
But we had enough
Kind of makes you want to go, "Awwwww," doesn't it? Yeah, kind of schmaltzy. Ringo is good at schmaltzy.
The song is a nice tribute to the city of Liverpool, England as well. I've liked Ringo's albums in the past (especially the wonderful Time Takes Time which I still listen to) and will probably download this one too.
And then a funny thing happened. The iTunes in my computer is set for sequential play, not shuffle. Right after Ringo's song ended, the next one in the cue was "Living In The Material World" from George Harrison's 1973 album of the same name. This song contains the lyric,
I got born into the material world
Getting worn out in the material world
Use my body like a car
Taking me both near and far
Met my friends all in the material world...
Met them all here in the material world
John and Paul here in the material world
Though we started out quite poor
We got Ritchie on a tour
Got caught up in the material world
Nice wordplay there, Georgie!
Another ex-Beatle song with a self-referential lyric. And it's not that my iPod is jammed full of Beatle songs, it's not. This helicopter pilot may visit the past from time to time but he does not live there. (And then he slaps himself for referring to himself in the third-person, something he'd previously sworn he would never do again. And he won't, he...er...I promise.)
What's interesting about "Living In The Material World" is that Ringo is playing drums on it! In fact, right after that double-meaning line about how they got "Ritchie on a tour," George takes a little pause while Ringo plays one of his very recognizable signature drum riffs as if to say, "Yep, I'm still here!" It's one of those inspired moments that, if you're a Beatles' fan (and I am probably the hugest) cause you to go slackjawed with awe. Clever, those Beatles. (And, why had I never noticed it? "LITMW" came out, as I said, in 1973. How come I never caught that lyric and drum riff until 2007?)
Speaking of the breakup of the Beatles...well, I was reading Hal Johnson's recent blog entry about post-apocalyptic books, and in terms of world-ending events, the Beatles' breakup was surely one of them...
Anyway, it was surprising to me to learn that most of the individual Beatles often played on each other's solo albums - although never all at the same time. Ringo was the best at getting them all together. in fact, his Ringo (also from 1973) album is a virtual Beatles reunion. It was at least as much that as some of their last albums which were sometimes just collections of solo songs done by the individual Beatles with session musicians under the Beatles brand. (If you could call guys like Eric Clapton and Billy Preston "session musicians.")
Credit for the breakup is usually heaped on John and Yoko, with the latter getting most of the blame. True, John shouldn't have brought her into the studio...at least not into the creative process that was "the Beatles." But on the Ringo album there is a cut that gives us some insight into the actual reason for the breakup.
The Ringo album contains his first "look back" song called, "Early 1970," which was when the Beatles officially broke up. In it, he sings very clearly about his recently-former bandmates. (But first, we have to painfully acknowledge that Ringo was not the strongest lyricist in the group.)
Referring to John and Yoko:
Laying in bed, watching t.v., cookies!
With his mama by his side, she's Japanese
They screamed and they cried and now they're free
And when he comes to town I know he's gonna play with me
Then, referring to George:
He's a long-haired cross-legged guitar player, mm-hmm
His long-legged lady in the garden picking daisies for his soup
A 40 acre house he doesn't see
'Cuz he's always in town playing for you with me
You can very clearly hear George playing in his very distinctive slide-guitar style on this song.
But the very first stanza of the song is about Paul. It is the most telling. In the later verses, Ringo is confident and happy that John would play with him and comes right out and says that George does (they were obviously good, close friends). What does he say about Paul?
Lives on a farm
Got plenty of charm, beep-beep
He's got no cows but he's sure got a whole lot of sheep
A brand new wife and a family
And when he comes to town, I wonder if he'll play with me?
Wh-wh-whaaaaat? "I wonder if he'll play with me?" Says a lot about their relationship right then, I think. There are stories that Paul became overbearing after the death of Brian Epstein. He himself has rationalized it as, "Someone had to be in charge, and nobody seemed to want to." Which may or may not be true. But it is clear that the others resented his domineering attitude.
In fact, on YouTube there's a little clip of the "Let It Be" movie. George and Ringo are in the studio, working on the song, "Octopus's Garden." John (with Yoko, of course) enters, and the three Beatles start jamming. Then Paul walks in and everybody falls silent. It's pretty amazing. He was obviously a major source of tension at that point.
I hadn't really planned on a long blogpost about the Beatles. Just wanted to note Ringo's new CD and song and it turned into War and Peace, as usual. But the Beatles were a huge influence on society...and me, obviously. As sad as it is to know that John and George are no longer around, it's great to see Ringo and Paul still making music and having fun.
25 January 2008
The ones we use in aircraft are sort of complicated and not very easy to use - even the so-called "easy-to-use" ones! Even the best are far from intuitive. The one I currently have in my helicopter (Garmin 496) has many features that elude me due to the fact that: a) I don't use them often; and b) they are buried deep inside sub-menus. I do know how to program a one-leg, "direct-to" flight plan, and I know how to tune the XM Radio option. Other than that, I have to consult the voluminous manual when I want to enter and store a waypoint that is not already in the extensive database. And just about everywhere I land is an "off-airport" waypoint that is *not* in the database.
I promise I'm not going to get all jargon-y on you.
Check out this baby! The Garmin 496
GPS's have been showing up in cars for a few years now. Some rent-a-car companies have been offering them as options. My boss's Range Rover came with a built-in unit that was cumbersome for the driver to use, and dangerously so if you tried to program it while underway. Lately I'd started seeing an unfamiliar brand - TomTom - showing up in auto parts stores. They were very cheap. I assumed that they were a fairly useless gimmick.
During the holidays I made a trip up north with a friend. First stop, Washington D.C. We landed at Reagan/National Airport but wanted to go to the Udvar-Hazy Smithsonian museum which is out at Washington Dulles Airport, well west of the city. So we rented a car. And being typical guys, off we drove without map #1 in the car, not even the bad, placemat-style one they give you at the rental counter. But Gene had brought along a TomTom that he'd gotten for Christmas. It was kind of cheesy-looking....mostly all screen...no buttons to play with (and you know how we pilots like buttons to press). No external antenna like I have in the helicopter either...nothing at all except a power cord to the cigarette lighter, and it didn't really even need that. We suction-cupped it on the windshield and fired it up. Gene started tapping the touch-screen. I figured that it might, at best, point us in the right direction until we found signs to Dulles.
Boy, was I wrong!
Gene quickly inputted (is that a word?) our destination. Immediately, TomTom began issuing turn-by-turn instructions. (The standard voice is that of a male with a vaguely Nordic accent. We began referring to the thing as "TomTom" as if it were a real person.) If you get lost (and we...err...I did), the GPS figures out how to get you back on the correct route and calmly directs you to do so. The reason I got lost was because I did not listen to TomTom and thought I knew better. I did not.
One of the criticisms hurled at the low-priced TomTom is that it does not give actual street names when calling out when or where to turn. The more expensive units will tell you, "Turn right on Broadway." Initially I thought this might be a problem but in practice it is not. The screen is so large and readable, that when the voice says "In 800 yards, turn left," it is quite easy to glance over at the highlighted route and see where you're supposed to turn.
At the beginning of 2008 there were "a few" of these types of GPS's on the market in all price ranges. Suddenly, the market is awash in them! A google search will turn up units with many features and capabilities. Want your GPS to also be an MP3 player? Done, sir! Want XM Radio and/or XM Weather? You can have that too. They are amazing devices, and I would guess that we've only begun to realize their usefulness. As with any emerging technology, the market is changing fast. New units will have more capability and be cheaper as production ramps up. And ramp up, it will!
For about $125 the TomTom (or something like it) is a "must have" if you do any driving in or to unfamiliar places. On a long trip I'd still take one of those national atlas books, but I'd use the GPS for the specifics. Every car ought to, and eventually will have one of these newfangled GPS's. The one I assumed was "just a gimmick" turned out to be incredibly accurate, handy, easy-to-use and valuable - more so than I imagined it could or would be. It sold me.
21 January 2008
Saturday night, we went out to supper at a great Italian restaurant called La Dama. Although kind of fancy and upscale, it is a very family-friendly place and the owners encourage people to bring their kids. A row of video games in the back keep the older ones occupied while the adults eat. Clever, that.
We all arrived in SUV's. It was Chris, Melissa, Wilder and me along with two other couples-with-children. One had a six year-old boy and a one year-old girl. The other couple had a four year-old girl and a six-month old girl.
The thing about kids is that they take over your life. Your entire focus is on them. Everything you do, it is with them in mind. They demand your complete attention. This makes adult conversation a jerky, halting, interrupted process.
I watched these couples struggling with their respective children, and I thought to myself, "Thank God that's not me." I mean, really. No offense intended to you parents out there, but being around people with children absolutely reinforces my conviction to never have them.
They say that having children "changes" you...makes you more tolerant, less selfish, more loving, blah-blah-blah. Perhaps. No, thanks.
There are some people who are just naturally great parents - the three couples I had dinner with Saturday night are all excellent examples. They all seemed to relish the job. I would not. I know the kind of pain and suffering I inflicted on my parents, and I would never wish that inflicted back on me. No way, no how.
It takes a special type of person to be a parent and go through all of that. I know in my heart of hearts that it is not for me. It's nice to get these little periodic reminders.
17 January 2008
“Oh, do you know their song, such-and-such? The lyrics are awesome!”
Then he proceeded to recite the lyrics word for word. I had to admit that I was not familiar and had in fact only heard one tune. And I somewhat jealously thought to myself that it must be nice to be that young, when you can spend so much time listening to, dissecting and analyzing music.
I remember those days. I miss those days…days long gone, replaced by adulthood and the time pressures and constraints and concerns that inhibit the ability to just “chill” and listen to a whole CD in one sitting, over and over if necessary. I couldn’t do that if I wanted to, then or now. With limited time and exposure, and waning interest in the concerns of teenagers, I just can’t get excited over the latest band that will be all-but-forgotten in two years.
iTunes has something called the “Single of the Week” that you can download for free. This week, they’re featuring the band, Black Tide. They’re pretty good, musically anyway. These kids are barely 18, yet they sound amazingly like certain heavy metal bands from the 1980’s – as if we were all desperately clamoring for a return of that sound. I kind of like the music, all crunchy guitars and a speed-metal beat, but check out the lyrics to the featured song, “Shockwave.”
Want a shockwave baby
I’ll take your f***ing life
Don’t mess with me
I’m a shockwave ready to kill.
Uhh, riiiiiiight. Yeah, I can relate to that – NOT! But your average sixteen year-old boy will probably eat it up. Black Tide could be huge. Maybe not the next Beatles, but certainly the next Megadeth.
I just can’t get into “Shockwave.” Still, I love music, and I love new music, and I still love rompin’, stompin’ loud rock music. But I like the more “mature” rock music too (think Widespread Panic). However the only place to consistently hear any of that is in concert or from satellite or internet radio. Guys like me are kind of left in the musical lurch.
And so, with uncanny timing, my friend and fellow helo pilot, Hal Johnson posted in his blog this past Sunday on the subject of whether listening to rock music should be the domain of the young? Can we old guys still rock out if we want to? Or should we leave rock music to the kids as we drift off to Mellowville? (Read Hal's post here. We aviation types do seem to spend a lot of time writing about music.)
The fact that I’m not as “up” on music as I’d like to be was painfully driven home a couple of weeks ago when Rolling Stone Magazine came out with their list of the Top 100 songs of 2007. I knew exactly three of them. Three! Only one of which I could sing to you. Am I that out of it? Apparently so.
Also, our tastes change as we get older. There are a lot of bands out now where the lead singer just screams…shrieks at the top of his lungs about…something (damned if I know). It’s not melodic, and I wonder how anyone can listen to that? It wears me out. On the other hand, if I hear that crappy, sappy, “Hey There Delilah,” by the Plain White Tees one more time, I think I’m going to actually kill someone – probably myself.
At the risk of sounding horribly old-fogeyish, the problem with today’s rock music is that it is so derivative. There is very little that is truly new. I recently caught a song on the radio that I swore was from a 1980’s band called Great White. It turned out to be a current band, the favorite of emo-boys all over the world, My Chemical Romance and their song, “Teenagers.” The guitar solo and song melody are such a rip-off that the surviving members of Great White should sue MCR for plagiarism.
So from the lack of originality in today’s rock music, to the blatant stealing, to the note-for-note remakes of classics, there is a lot that I’ve simply heard before. It’s uninteresting and turns me off. But to kids, it’s all new! So like Hal, I tend to go back and “rediscover” rock artists and songs that I either may not have paid much attention to first time around, or whom I can just appreciate better with today’s digital technology. All the while, I fool myself into thinking that I’m still hip.
Hal Johnson writes: I sometimes joke that I think of Counting Crows and the Foo Fighters as new groups. Sheesh, truth be told, maybe it's a stretch to claim that I'm joking.
Yo, Hal, although neither of those bands are technically new groups, the Foo Fighters are still current and hot. And coincidentally, they’re playing in Pensacola this weekend and I’m going! (But please don’t tell my friend Matt. He doesn’t know yet that I got us tickets, heh-heh-heh.)
Real rock ‘n roll may very well be created by young people for young people. We may not relate to it anymore, but that doesn’t mean we oldsters can’t enjoy it. I won't be first in line for any Black Tide concert tickets, but when the Foo Fighters play Pensacola this Sunday, I will be there in the crowd, screaming, “WOOOOOOOOOOOH!” at the top of my lungs and giving Dave Grohl the "horns" (an upraised fist with the extended index and pinky finger).
I’ll probably be the oldest one there. But you know what? I won’t care.
09 January 2008
If you take your t.v. viewing recommendations from a helicopter pilot whose tastes run more to slapstick comedy than highbrow drama, I can and do suggest "Bleak House."
05 January 2008
We've been up here at the hunting camp for the past week or so. I could have gone back home after dropping the Boss off, but as long as he's here with a hunting party, I'd feel really, really badly if someone got hurt and the helicopter was not available to take them to a hospital. We are waaaaaaay out in the woods here. Since I'm not really a hunter (oh yeah, I fit in well with this crowd...not!) I get to hang around the camp house most of the time...watching television. My stupid laptop - my stupid, stupid laptop has picked this time to crap out on me.
Just as you should probably not buy a gun from a shady guy on a streetcorner, you probably shouldn't buy a used laptop either. I need a laptop mainly for writing, email and checking my various aviation newsgroups. I'm not a gamer and I really don't need any fancy programs or features. Just give me a laptop that has a built-in wireless modem and I'm all set.
A not-so-shady friend had just such a computer for sale, cheap. It had been issued to the former owner by a defunct corporation that never asked for it back. Catch was, Windows was password-protected. Try as we might, we could not delete that function. I tried to re-install Windows XP on the thing, but it wouldn't even let me do that without Administrator authority. Okay, no problem, not as long as I remembered my friend's very easy password.
...Until it stopped working. First day I was up here at the camp this week, just like that, entering the password only brought up an error message. What the...? I tried and tried, using every variation and alternate password I could think of. No dice, the computer remains locked up tight. Useless.
There is one other computer here at the camp, but it's the Boss's and my access to it is very limited. Which leaves me few options. I picked up a Michael Crichton novel ("Airframe") and finished it in one marathon day of reading (not his best work, in my opinion). I've read and re-read every aviation magazine and the two Rolling Stone's I brought with me. That left the t.v.
Apparently, nothing of importance happens in this country. Yesterday there were three main stories: The Iowa caucuses, the missing hiker in north Georgia, and Britney Spears breakdown. Over and over and over those three stories were aired. And it didn't matter whether you watched Faux News or CNN.
Last week it was her younger sister, Jamie Lynn. This week it's Britney. Today (Saturday) they are still fascinated with her. And I wonder, why do we care? I certainly don't. Yet everywhere this poor woman goes, scads of photographers follow, documenting her every burp. On the night of her "breakdown," helicopters with bright searchlights turned her house to daylight.
CNN did a big story on the possible causes of Britney's bizarre behavior of late (all of it reported as "news" by CNN, of course). They trotted out some psychiatrist who offered her supposedly knowledgable opinion, as they always do. With absolute seriousness and not the slightest bit of irony, the reporter concluded that perhaps Britney should just take some time off and out of the spotlight.
Statements like this always make me knock my hand against the side of my head and go, "Huh? Did I just hear that right?" I felt like screaming at the t.v., "JUST HOW IS SHE SUPPOSED TO DO THAT WHEN CNN CAMERAS FOLLOW HER AROUND EVERY MINUTE OF THE DAY?!"
I've got the perfect suggestion for Britney: Move to Guanaja! For that is what I feel like doing after a couple of days of being subjected to the American media and the pure unadulterated crap it puts out.
I'm about to go crazy up here. Fortunately, I think I'm also going home today. First stop will be Best Buy or Circuit City for a new, unpassword-protected laptop. God, spare me from having to watch any more lousy American television! On second thought, maybe I will take up hunting. But not deer, oh no! My form of hunting will be different. No television set in the country would be safe...