Who Am I?

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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?

25 January 2011

Do NOT Piss Off David Thorne

David Thorne is a graphic artist from Australia who is living here in Virginia here in the U.S. He maintains a hilarious (to me) blog called 27b/6, the title of which means…well, it must mean something to him. I’m not sure.

Anyway, this past winter David decided to go snowboarding. He went to a ski shop in his area in an effort to purchase a pair of gloves. He was assured by the staff of the store that the gloves were waterproof. First time out in the snow, David found out that not only were the gloves not waterproof, but the color in them bled and stained his jacket. So he went back to the store to try and exchange the gloves. Let’s just say that the experience did not turn out acceptably. And David, being David, did not take it lying down.

He posted a fake ad to his blog. It claimed that the store was giving away a snowboard, bindings and boots – for FREE! The “catch” was that you had to promise not to remove a sticker with the name of the store. There was no such promotional giveaway, of course, but legions of David Thorne’s fans thought the ad was real, and jammed the store’s phone lines and email with requests (5,000 of them, evidently). I saw the ad and was tempted to call. But I hate the snow and the cold so much that I’m not even interested in getting any type of winter gear even if it’s for free.

The store, as you can imagine, was not pleased. Someone (most likely the store owner) contacted David by email. Big mistake. What ensued was a typical exchange of increasingly bizarre letters in which the proprietor dug himself into a deeper and deeper hole.

David is not one to be, um, “messed with” (even though it was he who started it). He altered the ad slightly with some additional information and ran it again on his website.

Ah, the power of the internet! As nasty as David’s little ad spoof might be, I cannot see how he could be profiting in any way from it since his blog is free and doesn’t seem to have any banner ads or popups (so-called “click-through” ads that would generate traffic for someone else). David’s blog is no more “monetized” than mine. Nor did David run this ad anywhere but on his personal website (as far as I know). But it is a good lesson for businesses. One pissed-off customer can cause a whole lot of trouble.

You can read David's blog entry about the situation HERE. As with all of his postings, read the left column first to get the back-story, and then read the email exchanges.

16 January 2011

Our Stories

For a couple of years I’ve been paying for a mostly-empty storage shed, which is kind of silly since I have a garage now...and have had one for over a year. I’d brought the motorcycles over to the house pretty quickly, but I’d left a bunch of, let’s face it, junk: An old, pre-DOS “portable computer” the size of a suitcase (CPM operating system); three dead laptop computers; three electronic musical keyboards I cannot play; camping equipment; clothes I’ll never wear; hundreds of aviation magazines...you know, the typical crap that we accumulate that we just never get rid of for some reason.

So recently my friend Gene and I went and collected all of the rest of the, um, stuff. A lot of it got thrown out, but the rest of it now resides in my garage, waiting patiently to be sorted and repositioned to the dump or saved and elevated to the attic – which I’ll get to, I swear! Don’t rush me.

After we were done I went to the office to tell them I was leaving. In place of the youngish ex-Navy guy who runs the place was a woman – a white-haired, older woman who might have been his mother or possibly grandmother – almost as old as my own mother. Pushing 80 in any event. She was healthily plump and she had this happy, open face and these wonderful, sparkling eyes. I'm a sucker for people with interesting eyes. So instead of just saying, “Hey gram’, cancel unit #380, I’m outta here,” I just had to sit down and chat. I told her I’d moved into a house with a garage and didn’t need the shed anymore.

“Oh, I’m getting ready to move too,”
she said excitedly. And I thought to myself, “...to a nursing home?” but I did not say that. I said, "Moving?"

Turns out she used to live down the coast in Destin, but moved to Pensacola a couple of years ago. First she lived west of town, out on Escambia Bay. But she didn’t like that so she moved into town proper. But now she was moving again, back to Destin, to a little house right next door to her church, and right close by the bed-and-breakfast that her daughter owns. Rather than being depressed, she seemed surprisingly enthusiastic and optimistic about the prospect of packing up and moving again (something I detest). Then she told me about her church and after that, her daughter’s B&B.

As she rambled on, I glanced over at Gene. He was standing, staring out one of the windows of the office. And even though he had his back to us I could tell he was rolling his eyes impatiently.

Me, I love talking to people. Everyone has a story to tell. It usually does not take much prodding to get people to tell it. You just have to ask, and appear to be interested in what they have to say – something you cannot fake. And while these stories are not always fascinating, not always exciting, sometimes they are very. And in any case, they are fascinating and exciting to the speaker. To him or her, it is the most important story in the world. And so it is to me too.

After a while we drove away from the storage shed place and the old woman with the sparkling eyes and happy face. “You always do that,” Gene said, rather testily. “You always get people talking.” Typically he does not engage people in conversation. He’s just not a talker.

I laughed. It wasn’t like we had anything else pressing to do just then. What was the harm in spending five or ten minutes listening to someone talk about their life? (Okay, fifteen minutes, so sue me.) Maybe it was the only real conversation the woman had that day. Hey, she sits in that little office and the few people who do drive in and out probably don’t stop to chat. In all the time I’ve had that shed, I may have stopped in once in addition to the time I rented it.

It seems that nowadays we scurry around, rushing from place to place, always in a hurry, with little time to just...talk...to one another. No time. We’d rather phone or text or IM or leave a message on Facebook.

Connecting electronically is not really connecting at all. Personally, I love interactions with real people, however brief or fleeting.

You could go through life without ever touching people in a meaningful way, but it would be a lonely, dismal existence. So talk to people! Let them know that their story is important...that they are important. Why? Because most people are interesting and deserve to be heard. Not only that, but someday, maybe someone will be interested in hearing your story. And you know what? You deserve to tell it too. If I'm around, you can tell it to me.

10 January 2011

The Evil That Men Do

As the tragedy in Arizona began unfolded on TV the other day (and of course I’m talking about the event where Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was shot), there was one surreal moment for me.

I happened to surf by Fox News. They had one of their typically alarmist blurbs on their busy, cluttered screen. It said, “Shooting has whole country on edge.”


I wasn’t on edge. I was saddened and dismayed to hear about so many people getting shot and killed. But I was not “on edge.”

We live in a free society – one in which people are allowed (some would say encouraged) by our Constitution to own guns. The framers of the Constitution did this deliberately, knowing that an unarmed society is tantamount to slavery...which, oddly enough, they also endorsed (okay, so they weren’t right about everything).

But there’s a downside to unrestricted gun ownership that we don’t like to face. Sometimes crazy people own guns. And sometimes they use them for other things than plinking at empty beer cans.

I try to not get all upset by things I see on the national news. This is because I remember a time before there was any national news to speak of. There were three television networks, and each had a thirty minute news program in the evening. With all that goes on in the world, most of the things that happened domestically got the short shrift. There were no satellites like we have now that enable any two-bit reporter in any podunk town to be a star for 90 seconds.

I know that all kinds of bad things happened...have always happened throughout history. Multi-car wrecks, tornadoes leveling towns, murders, shootings, kidnappings, mudslides and babies getting stuck down wells... these didn’t just start when CNN went on the air. If this same Arizona shooting happened on a Saturday in 1965, you might not have even heard about it. And even if you did, the event would not have been granted the national catastrophe! status conferred on just about everything these days.

I hate that there are evil people in the world. I hate that people use violence against others. I wish it wasn’t so. But it is. And it’s been going on since the dubious biblical story of Cain and Abel.

We have already begun to hear that the young man accused of Saturday’s Arizona shootings was known to people as having mental problems. A lot of people seem to have known about it! People who knew him have come forward (anonymously, of course) to describe him in unflattering terms. And it leads us to wonder if anyone tried to reach out to him...and whether there is – or ought to be - such a mechanism in society to help the mentally troubled before they do something harmful either to themselves or others?

It's easy to become depressed and overwhelmed with all the violence and misery in the world. It makes you feel so...so...uncaring if you just shrug your shoulders and go, "Meh- it's the human condition - nothing we can do about it." But there is. What we can do is deal with our own little worlds...be kind and caring and responsive to the people around us. Be compassionate and sympathetic...and more importantly, empathetic. And we should try to help those who seem a little "out there."

But at the end of the day we must recognize and come to terms with the fact that sometimes people will do inexplicably horrible things anyway.

06 January 2011

Aircraft Paint and Construction

For a long time now, airlines outside of the U.S. have been putting goofy or wacky paint jobs on their planes. In the trade they are called "logo jets." Sometimes it's just the "livery" itself that is striking, like this Belgian airline Jetairfly.

Other times the airline will apply a "specialty" scheme such as this 747 belonging to Japan's All Nippon Airways.

U.S. airlines have always been very conservative. Oh, there were the pastel fuselages on Braniff's jets back in the 1970's. But only recently have other airlines in this country picked up on the trend. Along with Frontier and Alaska Airlines, Southwest Airlines has been a leader in this regard. Not long ago they commissioned a 737 to be built with a paint scheme that honored my home state of Florida.

Ever wonder what goes into the construction of an aircraft? I have. We've all seen videos of automobile assembly lines. But are airplanes built the same way? Well, yes and no.

Southwest Airlines recently put up a video of one of their 737s being built. It is not detailed, of course, and it's a highly sped-up, time-lapse kind of thing. But it's interesting nonetheless.

Kind of like putting a (big) model airplane together, no? It is interesting to see that so much of the big plane is made by hand - few robots here!

Kudos to SWA for the video.

01 January 2011

Working On Holidays

So at seven o’clock this morning…this New Year’s Day morning…I was on the road, headed up to the airport with the intention of flying the Boss. There was very little other traffic, and I guessed that most people on the planet were still safely snuggled in their comfy beds for another couple of hours, waiting to wake up and take some aspirin. But I was headed to work. In fact, I’d been up since 5:30 checking the weather. Obviously, I had not gone out and had a big time last night. Such is the life of a pilot who does it for money.

However, even yesterday I knew we were not going to fly today. I’d been watching the weather as I said. First of all there a line of severe weather headed our way in advance of a cold front off to our west. And the warm, moist southerly wind ahead of it was wreaking havoc, as it does. By sunrise, most airports along the coast were reporting low ceilings (below 1,000 feet) and the temperatures and dew points were all exactly the same. This means one thing: Fog. Which is what Channel 3 had *not* forecast for the area but the FAA did. By the time I left the house it hadn’t yet formed at the Pensacola airport. But I knew it would.

It didn’t take long to find. As I crossed Pensacola Bay headed east on Highway 90, the visibility was bad. Even with the high southerly wind the fog was right on the water. Typical ground fog won’t form when the wind is blowing. But there are many different kinds of fog.

(At 2:00 in the afternoon as I write this, Destin, Florida still has southeasterly winds at 12 mph, with 2.5 miles of visibility under a 300 foot overcast. The temperature and dew point are both still exactly the same. Forty miles to the west here in Pensacola we have 1 mile of visibility with light rain and the same 300 foot overcast. Not good.)

At the town of Pace, I turned north and headed away from the coast. Now the rain began. It continued all the way up to the airport.

Just as I got there the Boss called from his beach house down the coast. “How’s it look?” he asked.

“Not great,”
I replied. “It’s been raining just about the whole way up from Pensacola. FAA forecast is ugly. How’s it where you are?”

“Thick fog! You couldn’t get here if you tried.”

I had no intention of trying.

We discussed the weather briefly. We both knew the forecast was for it to be bad. Optimistically, we had hoped the cold front would pass through sooner than expected. But it had not. Even if the fog lifted, the weather would be getting worse as the day went on.

“I’m going to drive,”
the Boss said wisely. “Let’s not even try it.” He hates flying in bad weather. I like that about him.

Not long after I got to the airport, the weather improved. Naturally. Often we will cancel a flight due to a bad weather forecast with associated bad conditions, only to have those conditions improve unexpectedly. When it comes to weather, you have to take what you get. Sometimes Mother Nature does not follow the “rules.”

Since the FBO was closed and I do not yet have a “smart phone,” I pulled the helicopter out of the hangar so I could fire up my Garmin GPS that has XM Weather with its special aviation feature. The GPS has to see satellites, and can not do so inside a metal building. Sure enough, we were just in a small band of “good” weather between the bands of nastier stuff. The decision to cancel had been righteous. I just wish I could have done it from my bed instead of an airport an hour away from the house.

As I sat in the helicopter studying the weather Freddie McCall, the guy who runs the airport approached. He had a stern look on his face.

“Can I talk you out of going?”
he said somberly. He’d been watching the weather too.

“Oh, we’re already cancelled,”
I laughed. But I was grateful for his concern, and explained the reason I’d pulled the ship out.

Some pilots might have been tempted to see the little clearing and blast off with fingers crossed. And some airport operators might have let a pilot do just that. But not Freddie. He cares. He cares enough to be the voice of reason – to be the one who says, “Hey, let’s think about this a little.” You’ve got to love that. No flight…no passenger and certainly no cargo…is so important that it’s worth dying over.

Freddie went inside to put the coffee on while I pushed the ship back in the hangar. As quickly as the weather had lifted, it was back down again. And it stayed that way until I left the field shortly before noon. In the meantime, Freddie and his wife Darleen and I relaxed and engaged in a time-honored aviation tradition: hangar flying. It’s what we pilots do when we can’t fly for some reason. ‘Cuz most of us, when we’re not actually up there doing it, we’re down here on the ground talking about it. And I can talk about flying all day long. And then some.

And there we were, two pilots at work early on a holiday - and a holiday weekend at that! Such is the life of a pilot who does it for money. We’re not normal, we aviators. And you know what? Most of us wouldn’t have it any other way.

I have big plans and hopes for 2011. My wish is that you…yes, you have a wonderful, safe, productive year ahead, and that all your dreams come true as well. For you deserve nothing less!

Happy New Year!