Sunday, December 27, 2009

Christmas Weekend, 2009 and an Avatar Experience

I couldn't keep my days straight over the weekend; Friday was Saturday and Saturday felt like Sunday to me but it was fine because the weekend seemed longer than normal and not the other way around.

We had a dozen people or more from my side of the family over for Christmas Eve and had an enjoyable evening seeing them all. We were a little worried that the heavy snowfall we got would cause most everyone to have to cancel but they all made it and we were happy for that. We let technology fill in the gaps and bring us together with those who were separated from us by too many miles. Melody, my niece in Portland had the idea to connect with us via Skype and a good idea it was. I downloaded the 1.9mb file and tested it the night before with my brother who also lives out there. The connection worked much better than I figured it would. Here's the result from his end and from ours. The only issue we had was the lighting on our end but I found a quick fix for that.

Tammy got me the two main things I wanted for Christmas; a Park Tool stool for working on my bikes in the garage and the 28 hour, 7 volume Lance Armstrong Tour de France DVD collection for viewing while I'm training on my rollers in the basement. I managed to get through the first 2 of 28 hours yesterday.

Most of my workouts lately have been behind either a shovel or my 23 year old Simplicity 8hp snowblower. We got seriously dumped on over the weekend with the type of snowfall that's sure to cause you to cringe watching an older, out of shape person attempt to tackle; wet and very heavy. The bank at the bottom of our driveway is getting as tall as I can remember it ever being in previous years. It would make for great fun if I was still in my tunneling phase of life but I've recently outgrown that. The kids across the street are taking full advantage of their similar mounds of snow as are other kids in the neighborhood. I watched the plow come through yesterday and you could tell the driver was being watchful for kids as he was going quite a bit slower than normal.

I brought Mom over to Keith and Tracee's Christmas day and spent an hour with them. Keith recently purchased a used 37.5 foot motor-home and I wanted to check it out. He and Tracee travel a weekend drag racing circuit in the Midwest during the warmer months and this will give them quite a bit more comfort than they've enjoyed in the past.

Tammy and I saw the movie Avatar last night. The fact that it was 3-d was the main reason I wanted to see it. I'm a bit of a 3-d geek. I'm not much for Sci-Fi stuff but Tammy is. Odd thing though was that not all screens offer it in 3-d. It's playing on three different screens at Burnsville's Atlantis 15 but only one of them was 3-d. It would be a good movie regardless but spend the extra few dollars (we paid $12.50 per ticket) and get the full affect. The glasses they give you come sealed in plastic and are quite a bit better than the cardboard framed lenses you've previously used.

We got there early enough so we could have a good choice of seats. There were two guys in their mid teens in line behind us there to see it for their fourth time. That was a good sign. They recommended sitting in the middle of the theater half way up the height of the screen which is what we did; smack dab in the middle. While the 3-d effects were quite cool they weren't so strong that they'd cause motion sickness.  They were maybe a little less than what I was expecting. Dizzying 3-d effects would've been an issue for Tammy so it was just right. I did catch myself flinching once as some chunk of exploding debris came at us and barely missed me over my right shoulder. I'd occasionally lift my glasses away from my eyes to see the difference with and without them. About what you'd expect; a little blurry.

The color in some of the scenes, especially the night scenes is spectacular. You're watching computer animation for the most part but it works so well that you won't give it a second thought. I liked the futuristic air traffic control stuff and thought it was mind-blowingly cool. I wouldn't mind staying around a few extra years at the 'place of dysfunction' if that's where we're headed. But then the movie takes place in August, 2154 so it's doubtful I'll make it that long.

The story was one of good vs evil. I won't say any more about the storyline in case you're going to see it except to say that I did find myself at one point pondering the similarities with what was happening in the movie and some of the wars we've waged in my time; Vietnam in particular. I mentioned that thought to Tammy after the movie and she thought maybe a stronger comparison could be made between European Settlers and Native Americans. Go see it. Two thumbs up from us.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

214 out of 216 and Falling or FAA Management Gone Wild

Let me frame this entry with a simple question: What is a leader? A simple answer: Someone people choose to follow. The FAA has very few leaders while we're top heavy with managers. What's the difference between a leader and a manager one might wonder? Simply put, a manager says 'go' while a leader says 'let's go'. A leader is somebody you respect and try to make look good. You have their back and they have yours.

Christmas is just a few days away and I want my thoughts in a different place than where they are. I wish they were of family coming to visit and gifts under the tree with the anticipation of a late Christmas Eve service at Hosanna during a huge snowstorm we're expecting. Instead they're stuck in a 5 minute episode that unfolded during a holiday dinner at work with our crew the other night only to be tweaked once again in a Quality Assurance briefing this morning.

Our crew's supervisor (to me and others, a leader) orchestrated a potluck dinner for several of us to be held during our team meeting Sunday night. He also invited his boss, our area manager (heavy emphasis on the word 'manager' and absolutely none on 'leader') to sit in and listen. We were all sitting there with full plates in a rather quiet room. To be honest, the presence of this particular 'manager' soured my mood and would set the tone for the topic of discussion I would pursue.

I broke the silence.

Because this person represents in my eyes all that is wrong with FAA management I expressed my disappointment about a lack of change in culture I was hoping to see with the new administration (more about that culture at the end of this post). The FAA currently sits at 214 out of 216 of government agencies to work for when defined by employee satisfaction. Controller input into the survey was only 10% but I'm quite sure we make up a higher percentage of the workforce than that. Had our voices been proportionately heard we'd likely have finished dead last in the survey. I commented that while it's nice that myself and my fellow controllers will finally be receiving raises after three years of frozen wages, had McCain been elected we controllers would still be looking at another two years of no pay raise while management would continue getting raises as they have all along. The manager assured me that they too would have finally gotten into the game this coming year and had their wages capped had we not ratified a contract. Wow...what leadership!

He went on to say (and this is the part that bothered me most) that he felt the highest paid controller should be making less money than the least paid supervisor in a facility. Say What? I asked him in so many words if he really meant to say that a much younger 4 year employee should be able to trump my 28 years of controlling just because they opted for a management position? He was emphatic that they should and went on to say that it's because the job of supervisor is a more responsible position than that of a controller and you can't have someone in a position of authority making less than the person they're supervising. Sure you can; the FAA has done that my entire career without it being an issue that I've ever heard of.

His, a more responsible position? I asked him if it was permissible for supes to surf the web while they're on position. He stated that it was. I then told him that there's no way I could do that as a controller in the sector because I have far too many responsibilities in front of me. I asked him again who had the more responsible job. If he had an answer I don't recall it.

He then asked what I felt it takes to do the job he does? Without hesitating I replied "A GS-7 (government scale pay-grade 7) with two months of training". It was an honest answer. Before I could follow up with thoughts about NWA188 and his key role in that management fiasco, Mark, my supervisor, asked if we could change the subject because it was getting too heated for a holiday dinner. I agreed.

News got around about what had been said in the meeting and I was happy to hear the words of thanks from those who'd heard what had happened. I merely said in so few words what they also believed; that the job of supervisor/manager has nothing to do with accepting more responsibility but is actually just the opposite. You're no longer on the razor's edge of critical thinking necessary to get the job done. The primary task a supervisor has is ensuring sectors are staffed adequately to handle the traffic. Trust me when I tell you that I could teach my wife or daughter in a matter of a day or two how to do that. Provided you have the sectors staffed adequately, if you're a supervisor and there's an incident you have little to fear. That's all on the controller in the sector.

If the FAA was serious about reducing costs they'd consider hiring and training people to answer the phone in each area of specialty for the purposes of approving/denying shift requests and disseminating traffic management initiatives. They could pay them so much less than they're currently paying someone to do the same work and we could avoid the huge expense of training people to be air traffic controllers when their only goal is to sit at a desk and answer a phone while making an obscene amount of money for so little effort.

Our management ranks are overflowing with people who were less than stellar controllers but yet according to the area manager in our pot-luck dinner meeting I'm to believe that those people (including him) were actually in search of more responsible positions. Bullshit!

Oh, and about that culture change we've been so patiently waiting for? Suckers!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Saturday Evening Musings and Wally Cleaver

Tammy's comment from ten minutes ago, "If that dog lives another year I'll be surprised". We just got back from the mall to find the remains of Rachel's Hershey's Kisses candy-cane on the couch in the basement. A quick check with Rachel told us that she hadn't had any of it yet and had left it on the couch after watching TV where we're assuming Charlie got into it. I can't figure out how he was able to separate the foil from the chocolate but he did...well, most of it anyway; I'm sure he ingested some of that as well.  There's nothing left but the plastic tube the chocolate came in.  Tammy looked online and found that a dog his size would have to ingest twice the amount he did before it would be hazardous to him.  The fun that little guy has while we're away!  I'm half tempted to set up a couple web-cams around the house just to check in on his antics from time to time.

We gave up on trying to teach him to leave the ornaments on our Christmas tree alone. The temptation is too great for him. Tammy moved all the ornaments from the bottom half of the tree to the top half. It may look odd but it works. He's making his first Christmas with us a memorable one.

Tammy and I spent a few hours this afternoon at the Dakota County government building watching Rachel's Mock Trial team take on a team from Eagan High School. The competition played out over two days with Rachel's team taking 2nd place overall behind Lakeville South. Rachel plays the part of an expert witness. It's a bit of speech, drama, civics and law all rolled into one.

The case is a fictional story about a high school athlete who dies suddenly from anabolic steroid abuse. The widowed father of the dead student is in court to hold the school accountable for his child's death asserting that the stresses placed on his child by the track coach to succeed led her to improve her performance illegally.  Attorneys for the school dismiss the blame and accuse the father of being negligent in his role as parent. There's a script that's followed but different outcomes can be arrived at depending upon where emphasis is placed by each side. The teams have to learn both the defense and plaintiff sides of the case as they will argue each throughout competitions over the next couple months.

As I was sitting back watching I couldn't help but be impressed with a few of the kids in particular. I'm a bit biased but I'd include Rachel in that bunch. She came away with an award for best witness out of six so my impressions couldn't have been too far off.

My Wizard of Oz meets Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon video series on YouTube is no more. Warner Brothers put the kibosh on my uploads due to copyright infringements. I'm surprise they lasted as long as they did, actually. The 1st video out of the 6 had just gone beyond the 125,000 hit mark and was showing no signs of slowing down. It wasn't like I was somehow benefiting monetarily from the videos but it was a clear violation on my part so who am I to challenge the decision to yank them? I'm in the process of resurrecting them on my Vimeo account.

I am left with one troubling last impression of the movie. Do you see anything wrong with this image?

Speaking of images that go back a ways...there's a guy I work with who was in a band years ago. He was their lead guitarist and they traveled the Midwest under than name Wally Cleaver. They once opened for Huey Lewis and the News before 40,000 people. They had a pretty good run from around 1981 to 1987 before their lead singer decided to head out on his own leaving the others to pretty much go their separate ways.

I remember asking Grant years ago if he still played his guitar and he said he didn't. That surprised me because I'd love to be able to play but I'm completely tone deaf and the only thing I can play besides the radio is a CD player. If I had that talent I know I'd use it.

Grant isn't on Facebook (yet) but he told me last week that one of his former band-mates started a fan page on on Facebook where he uploaded a few dozen photos and some video of the band from back in the day. I had to check it out. Sure enough, there they were and there he was...a lean, fresh faced Grant with guitar slung around his neck. I'm not sure you can access these if you're not on Facebook so I've uploaded a few of them here; mostly for the guys from work who will get a kick out of them:  Grant, in what looks like a make-shift sound room...some motel/hotel room someplace...the band with '80s hair and a more recent photo of them all from last summer.

Is there a reunion of Wally Cleaver in the works?  

I'll leave you with this...rock on!

And the rest of the video set.

Monday, December 14, 2009

2009 Jalisco Terrace House-hop and 2 of 6

Tiger Woods is no longer a tiger; he's a cheetah!

We had our annual neighborhood house-hop on Saturday and as always, it was a late but very fun night. Somebody said there were 32 of us. We started at 6:00pm and worked our way to four homes throughout the evening with ours being 3rd on the list. We usually offer up our place every other year as a host house. It's fun to have that many people over and seeing them enjoying our digs as Tammy and I don't do a lot of entertaining. Here's a set of photos from the party that I posted to my Flickr account.

I'm enjoying having a heated garage for a change but it comes at a price and I'm not just referring to the additional cost to heat it. Many of our side streets are full of slush from an 8 inch snowfall we had last week and that slush sticks to the underside of our cars where it eventually melts in the 40 degree temperature of the garage leaving lots of water on the floor. I was squeegeeing it out onto the driveway to be scooped up and thrown on our snowbanks but with the temps being in single digits as they were for most of last week the water quickly freezes to the driveway and that's not a good thing. Tammy had the idea to get a wet-vac from Sears and vacuum up the water to pour down the drain in our laundry tub bypassing the driveway altogether. Why didn't I think of that?

We finished panel 2 of 6 for our entertainment center over the weekend. I'm not so good at estimating how many hours of work are left to do on a piece. When I say we've got 10 hours left, I've probably more realistically got twice that. The sort of stained glass projects that Tammy and I do are typically much more labor intensive than much of what you're likely to see at craft fairs and shops. It can be a slow process but we love the challenge.

Here's a closeup view of what a single panel looks like.  The 3rd of 6 panels is in the queue and ready for our attention.

For those who read here regularly you know that Charlie is our puppy-mill dog. We didn't actually get him from a puppy-mill but we suspect that the person we got him from did. He's a nut to put it mildly and we love him but he marches to his own beat and he's either slow or stubborn to understand when we don't like something he's doing. Lately that something is trashing our Christmas tree. We've come home several times in the past week to find broken glass ornaments strewn throughout the house. Much of the time he'll chew the ornament to bits but it doesn't appear he's cut himself at all. The world is his chew toy.

I was putting dishes in the dishwasher this morning and for the first time ever I noticed Toby sniffing around trying to lick the plates. He's never done that before and I'm quite sure I know where he learned it.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Day Tripping

Rachel sent her application to the University of Minnesota at Rochester a few weeks ago with plans to send out at least one other to Northwestern College. I know in her heart that she really wants to go to Northwestern but because it's a private school it will be more expensive and we're not sure that the curriculum is going to be strong enough for what she wants to study. We're still looking into that. So it was a little bittersweet this past week when she received an acceptance letter from UMR. Tammy and I aren't sure that she's fully bought into the idea yet and we want it to be her decision. We were actually surprised that she received her acceptance letter so quickly as the deadline to submit applications was the end of November; the date on her letter.

Last Thursday night found the three of us tree trimming and home decorating. It was the end of an era of sorts because next year when we break out the decorations Rachel will be off to college and it will be just the two of us. Our tradition has always been for Rachel and I to do the tree together while Tammy tends to the other decorations. We talked about leaving it all until she comes home on break next year but my guess is she'll be so busy seeing friends that it won't be practical. So, I savored this one last time (at least for a while) that we trimmed the tree together while listening to Christmas music and retelling the stories behind many of the ornaments.

It was Tammy's birthday Saturday but since she had to work we spent the day together Friday and celebrated it then. It was one of those days that you look back on and wish you could do it all over again and no, not because I messed it up but because it was such a fun day.

We got a mid-morning start and stopped for coffees at Starbucks a couple miles from home. Getting on the freeway Tammy programmed the Droid for Excelsior to check out its GPS navigational abilities along the way. I'm still singing that little gizmo's praises. One thing I'm curious about and I suppose I could easily find out through a search of the Droid forum is if it will route me around congested traffic. My guess is it does given that it gets its data from Google Maps but I'm not certain. Traffic was light as we got on 35W and drove the 30 miles to our destination so it didn't matter.

We got up to Excelsior and stepped out into mid teens weather then went about checking out the many shops that line Water Street. There were a few antique places which don't interest either of us much but there's also a nice mix of home decore and clothing stores as well as restaurants. We spent a few hours in and out of shops before coming to rest at Jake O'Connor's Public House for a late lunch.  I think we'd both like to visit Jake's again, maybe for dinner next time.

Rather than leave for home after lunch I wondered if she was up for an hour long drive to Stillwater for more of the same. We haven't done enough day trips like this lately and I think we both wanted to make the most of it. Tammy liked the idea and it actually worked out well as she had an hour long conference call she was supposed to be a part of at 2:30 so she spent the drive on the phone in addition to the clock at work from the passenger seat.

It's been a few years since we've toured Stillwater and never had we been there in Winter; it's usually a summer afternoon drive for us. It's a lot like Excelsior but rather than being a lake town, it's a river town with lots of shops and restaurants. We worked our way up the block against the late day cold and a brisk wind then ducked inside Northern Vineyards Winery to sample some wines. $5 gets you a sampling of ten different wines and your money is refunded if you purchase a bottle. We bought more than enough to recover our $10 'tasting' fee. The woman who served us mentioned that many of the shops in town close by 6:00 so we gathered up our packages and continued up the sidewalk.

A block north of the winery is Stillwater Art Guild Gallery where we took our time looking at the eclectic mix of work from local artists. Randahl Raduenz was kind enough to offer to give us a tour behind the scenes where a lot of the magic happens and showed us many other pieces that couldn't be displayed because of a lack of wall space in the gallery. Randahl's work is unique in that he will often paint images within his scenes; images that aren't apparent at first glance but once you begin to look deeper they appear. We'll be back to visit but next time with an eye toward bringing something home with us.

Walking back to our car on the south end of the city we decided to keep the day/night going and stop by the Mall of America on the way home. Christmas is always my favorite time to be at the mall. Sure, there's a lot more people there this time of year but the mall is so large that it absorbs them well. I've never felt it to be overcrowded. My only disappointment was with the new decorations they've switched to this year. I don't get a sense of warmth from them as they're mostly blue and silver with some flocked greenery. Nothing like years past with the large bulbs of Christmas-ee colors.

Throughout the day we'd been in search of an artificial tree or two for our basement to bring some holiday cheer down there but we still hadn't found one...or two. That would change once we got to the mall where we spied just what we were looking for. We brought our finds out to the truck then went back inside to stroll around and maybe knock off some stocking-stuffer items on our list for Rachel.

We had one last stop at Target for ornaments for our new trees before we'd arrive back home 12 hours after leaving.  It was a full day but surprisingly we both still had energy to set up the trees and trim them.  I can't think of a better way to spend a day.  I was telling Tammy how years ago before we ever met, December 5th was for some reason always a very good day for me, to the point where I had singled it out unlike any other day of the year just for that reason; because it stood out.  How was I to know that it was Tammy's birthday?

Thursday, December 3, 2009

A Virtual Stroll

This is a continuation of a series of writings about my time in the Navy. The first in this series of posts can be found here or go here for the most recent.

A lot of my friends had cars and apartments off base and would be able to escape shipboard life after work if it wasn't their 'duty day'. I didn't feel the need to have to get away, in fact, I found a nice routine living on the ship that worked for me and I was able to save a fair amount of money by not having all the added expenses my friends were taking on. Meals were provided on the boat but occasionally I'd head out into the city on my bike for some fast food. Once each week I'd load my laundry into my duffel bag and sling it over my shoulder for a two mile bike ride to the laundromat on Highland Ave and 16th street; what is now Italy's Beauty Salon.

I remember being inside there one night in October 1977 doing laundry when I learned of the plane crash that would be the demise of the Lynyrd Skynyrd band. I wasn't a huge fan but I liked their music.  It's one of those moments that for whatever reason I have a distinct memory of where I was when I heard the news.

Tucked in behind the laundromat was the bike shop where my interest in bikes began to seriously take hold. The shop was run by a nice, older guy in maybe his 60's. He would give me tips on what components I could swap out on my Peugeot I'd bought a few months earlier at the Navy Exchange for upgraded stuff he'd sell me. He would eventually point me in the direction of a guy a few years older than me from his church named Jerry LeRue.  Jerry raced locally and was in need of some cash for his wedding and parting with a frame was a means to that end. It didn't actually fit me all that well but I was more supple back then and made it work. I put a ton of miles on it.

The frame, an Eisentraut Ltd, is as much a piece of art as it is a bicycle frame and would eventually become an American classic.  I have to wonder if Jerry ever regrets parting with it. I nearly did but I still have it. I placed an add online maybe ten years ago with some photos of it looking for a buyer.  I had offers but in the end I couldn't let it go. Years later I would stumble onto the pictures I'd taken and uploaded on a website called Classic Rendezvous. I was flattered to have photos of my frame on the site.

With my new frame I developed both an appreciation and appetite for more expensive bike components than what the shop behind the laundromat typically carried.  I had already begun frequenting other higher end bike shops when he closed his doors before the end of my enlistment. A 'head shop' would open in its place.

Down from the laundromat and beyond a small building which used to be a flower stand was Winchell's Donuts. It's still a donut shop but no longer Winchell's. I'd sometimes make late-night runs there on my bike when I got a craving.

Across 16th street was McDonald's which according to my journal was boasting 25 billion served as of early 1977.

Of all the intersections in San Diego I knew Highland Ave and 16th street best.  Next week will mark 30 years since I left the area after my enlistment but from my short Google Street View tour it appears this small section of shops remains largely unchanged while much of the surrounding area has become unrecognizable to me.

I was semi-content with where I was in life at this point but at times I couldn't help but wonder how much ground I was losing to my friends who were well into their 2nd year of college. I'd be four years behind them when I got out and while I knew I was where I needed to be I also knew I had a lot of work in front of me once I got out. Some of the writings in my journal reflect an impatient attitude wishing my enlistment was over so I could really get on with my life. I no longer felt challenged by my position and to me each day seemed another day further back that I was falling. Still, for as anxious as I was to move on I was able to enjoy the time I had left knowing that I was living some of the more carefree days I'd ever know; and I was right.

To be continued...

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Thanksgiving Weekend, 2009

I spent Sunday morning reformatting Tammy's Dell laptop. She picked up a nasty bug of some sort off a link from eBay that rendered her computer useless. A search for 'Antivirus 2009 Pro' let me know that I was in for a challenge as it was rated 8 on a scale of 1 to 10 for severity. I worked what little magic I could before throwing in the towel and reaching for the start-up disks. After a few hours of babysitting the process I now have a happy Dell laptop as well as a happy wife.

Rachel and I both had issues with our new Motorola Droid cellphones and had to have them replaced. The keypad is covered with a thin vinyl that was beginning to separate on Rachel's phone. She's pretty sure the protective cover we bought for our phones was put on backwards and a small tab was catching on a few of the keys whenever she'd slide the cover closed. My phone simply quit working after six days of use. The battery was showing that the phone had at least a 60% charge but I couldn't get it to turn on even when plugged in. I brought it in and the tech thought the battery may be defective. She gave me a new replacement phone and surprisingly the difference between the battery on the new phone being able to hold a charge vs the other is night and day. We're both very happy with our Droids even with the problems we've had.

Tammy had to work Thanksgiving afternoon and evening so Rachel and I went up to my sister's home 40 miles north in Maple Grove. Truth be told...I invited us over; her cooking is that good but of course it was nice to see her and Jerry and the others. Jackie generously loaded us down with a feast to take home to Tammy which she was so happy to have. I really wish she could've been with us.

We detoured to Keith's on our way back and spent some time with his family and Mom who had spent the afternoon there. Another nice visit was had before we found our way home via Mom's to drop her off. Keith really didn't seem as tired as the photo makes him appear but my photography skills leave something to be desired...'say cheese' may have helped.

Rachel had a sleepover for her friends from Brenda's School of Dance on Friday night where she both teaches and takes instruction. Pizza, pop, chips, talk, posing and lots of laughs made for a late night. A few of them managed to keep the party alive until 4:30AM as there was no hurry getting up in the morning. Rachel really loves this group of friends especially considering it wasn't too long ago when a whole different group made up the dance team and there was a lot of bickering and back-biting. Rachel gave some serious thought to leaving the school for greener pastures a little over a year ago but she stuck it out and to her surprise every one of the girls who were making the experience so miserable for all the rest didn't return. Tammy and I are glad she stayed put but my advice to her then was to move on as her time left there was so short and high school years can be so fleeting.

I thought for sure that my long rides were over for the year but last week I again found myself keeping an eye on the weekend's weather forecast with a glimmer of hope about getting out for one last longer than normal effort before resigning myself to rides of less than 40 miles. By Friday I'd somewhat lost my enthusiasm for a long ride on Saturday but I kept the option open; maybe it was the turkey talking. All that changed when I got up Saturday morning to let the pups out and I saw how nice it was.  A temp in the low 30s with little to no wind and a high expected to be near 50f.   It would be a crime to let a late November day like that go by without making full use of it; and so I did.

I brought the pups back inside where Tammy was making up a spread of pancakes and sausage for the sleepover kids who were showing no signs of getting up anytime soon. She pawned off all the pancakes that were a little burned or deformed on me which I was happy to make disappear. If I wanted to minimize my need to stop during my ride, taking on extra fuel before leaving home was a must.

With no particular route in mind I headed to the northwest to take advantage of whatever winds would develop later in the day. Passing through Excelsior I had the feeling that I was cycling through a Department 56 Village scene. The sidewalks as well as the streets were bustling with people enjoying a Thanksgiving weekend. A reindeer tied to a fence post where Christmas trees were being sold attracted little ones and no doubt some of the older crowd too. I thought how I'd like to bring Tammy back here and spend an afternoon going in and out of the shops that line the street.

The sun's low arc across the sky in front of me made it difficult to read the screen of my Garmin Edge 705 through the glare of my Flanders Bros jersey reflecting off it. I'd strain to look at it occasionally but didn't particularly care where I was headed; just that when I'd used up half my daylight hours I'd need to point myself in the direction of home. This was unfamiliar territory for me and I was impressed with the road I was on and the light amount of traffic using it. I got as far as Watertown, 50 miles out, where I refueled with a Chuckwagon sandwich at the Marathon station before jumping on highway 25 to begin the trip home. I'd been pushing into a quartering headwind of something less than 10 mph and I'd now get to more or less use it to my advantage.

Could this really be late November weather I wondered? Don't question it, just enjoy it I told myself.

Strange, but I saw no other cyclists out on the roads with the exception of a middle-age couple on their upright hybrid bikes. I'm sure there were many others out there but our paths never crossed.

Highway 25 would eventually take me to Norwood/Young America where I'd turn onto highway 212 and get the full affect of the wind at my back. Having my Edge 705 this year has allowed me to explore some roads I'd taken a pass on so many times before. One of them is county road 41 that meanders south out of Cologne toward East Union. It's a beautiful, lightly traveled road with one nice hill that prompted me to grab some video with my Droid.

My last stop for fuel was in Jordan where I usually hit the Holiday station for a pack of Hostess cupcakes but before I could lean my bike in that direction McDonald's across the street caught my eye.  I shifted my weight and veered into their lot then hurried inside for a couple cheeseburgers instead. Hey, I don't question my cravings when I'm on my bike; I simply indulge them. I was back on the road in less than 6 minutes and feeling good about knocking off the final 23 miles before the sun would set at 4:35 but rather than take a route that would maybe add a couple more miles to my total (which I usually do) I opted to stay on hwy 282 and take the most direct route home.

Official sunset may have been 4:35 according to my Edge but by 4:15 it's looking pretty dark and there are places I'd rather be than on the road without lights.  I sometimes make an attempt to sit up a bit higher or get up out of my saddle more than usual to make myself more visible at times like this. But still I was very tempted to add some additional miles at the end of the ride and use every last bit of daylight.  My better judgment won out and my wheels rolled back up our driveway with ten minutes of daylight to spare and 109 miles behind me.  I offered up a prayer of thanks to God for bringing me home safely then leaned my bike against the brick in front of our garage before walking back down the driveway to check for mail.  Tammy had already beat me to it.  I was still in my endorphin induced euphoria when for a moment I considered hanging out until our Christmas lights came on but I knew I had some pups beyond the door inside the garage who were waiting with wagging tails to jump up and attack me the way they do every time I come back from a ride.  The lights are beautiful and I enjoy them but they're no match for Toby, Allie and Charlie.  I headed inside.

Monday, November 23, 2009

We're Not Alone...

...and I have proof in the form of my Motorola Droid smart-phone. The capabilities of this phone are so far beyond what I'd ever imagined something so small could provide that the only way of wrapping my head around the 'hows' of this thing is to resign myself to believing that space aliens are among us and they're the ones responsible for this thin rectangular box of magic that fits neatly in the palm of my hand.

I mentioned in my previous post about giving serious consideration to taking the plunge on a Droid; I did it or rather, we did it. Rachel and I got Droids while Tammy went with an Envy 3 which is what I'd have otherwise gone with had it not been for my perceived need for a smart-phone.

Droid has nowhere near the number of apps (short for 'applications' that can be downloaded to enhance the phone's capabilities) the iPhone has but there are plenty available to get me started and there will soon be tons more no doubt. One of the more fascinating apps I've seen is Sky Map (as mentioned by Tim in the comments section of a previous post).

Unlike other cellphone cameras I've owned, Droid actually takes some very nice photos. There's a software issue with the autofocus though that apparently degrades photo quality on a 24.5 day cycle. I found this quote online attributed to one of the phone's developers, Dan Morrill, he states:

Yes, this is exactly what is happening.

There’s a rounding-error bug in the camera driver’s autofocus routine (which uses a timestamp) that causes autofocus to behave poorly on a 24.5-day cycle. That is, it’ll work for 24.5 days, then have poor performance for 24.5 days, then work again.

The 17th is the start of a new “works correctly” cycle, so the devices will be fine for a while. A permanent fix is in the works.


We're currently in the good part of the cycle so hopefully they'll have a fix ready to be applied before the 11th of December when we'll be back into the bad part of the cycle.

The phone's camera is 5mp with a flash that actually works and as I said, I'm quite happy with the quality of the photos it produces but just as good is the video it takes. I'll post some from the dog park or maybe Thanksgiving get-together in the next few days.

I got out last Friday for what will probably be my last long ride of the year. I wasn't expecting to be able to do another of this length for 2009 but everything came together late last week and I went for it. The temp was in the upper 40s to lower 50s with winds light out of the southwest. I was wishing I'd been able to get started a couple hours earlier to make it an even longer ride but I had no complaints.

Within two miles of leaving home I'd already noticed two cellphone distracted drivers who were creating some annoyance for others and I was hoping it wasn't going to be a sign of how the day would go. Cellphones add a whole other dimension of risk for cyclists that didn't exist before they came onto the scene and it's only getting worse. That's not to say they're not a hazard to everybody but we cyclists are especially vulnerable. I don't think about it much while I'm on the road but seeing such inattentiveness as I did to begin my ride gave me something to ponder as I headed out toward county road 5 and north into Burnsville.

I took the scenic route a few miles to the west of highway 169 and managed to get as far as Henderson (53 miles out) before stopping to refuel. I really wanted to press on to Le Sueur and pick up highway 169 for home but I was seriously flirting with not getting in before sunset and I didn't like my chances should I keep pressing outbound. I opted to head for home at that point and figured I could tack on whatever miles I'd need to put me over 100 once I got much closer in. It was the right choice giving me 106 miles for the day.

I was hoping to spend most of Saturday down in the shop finishing the next panel for our basement entertainment center but the warm and sunny weather had me outside most of the day. I spent the afternoon cleaning windows and washing, waxing and detailing our vehicles while watching several neighbors hang Christmas lights. Hey, I'm ahead of the game for once.

I'd finish this entry by saying 'bring on the snow' but you'll never hear me utter those words.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

My Shadow, Tough Talking Pups and A Droid?

Rachel met me out at my work yesterday morning to do a job shadow for a couple hours as part of a school assignment. She'd like to have shadowed somebody in the medical field, ideally our family doctor but with all the doctor/patient confidentiality requirements it wasn't going to happen. Not that she wants to be an air traffic controller but coming in and seeing where I work and watching me during a session in the sector proved interesting for her, or so she said. Some of the guys at work have read enough about her in my blog so I thought it would be fun to have her come in and meet them; and it was.

The sector was pretty quiet as we first sat down but traffic levels built nicely and she was able to get a good idea of what it is I do. We talked about what it takes to be a good controller and wondered out loud if she could imagine herself working in this sort of environment. I told her that she definitely has qualities about her that are necessary to do the job (attention to detail and an ability to multi-task) but I'd rather see her do something much different with her life. Not to say that her talents would be waisted here but I see her out in the world working with others in a way that wouldn't happen in our darkened control room. She agreed.

Rachel was here once before but that was ten years ago after Tammy and I were first married and she was only 8 years old. They spent a couple hours with me at the sector with Rachel using most of that time doodling with a pencil and paper while I explained the job to Tammy. Today's experience was quite a bit different for her.

Tammy and I brought the pups to the park yesterday afternoon. Our weather has been absolutely gorgeous the past two weeks and it's been nice to be out in it. I brought our video camera along because Tammy was telling me about how Charlie likes to make a run for a herd of llamas in a pasture adjacent to the park. They see him coming and they run toward him which sends him back in full retreat mode. I had to see this for myself.

Speaking of the pups, they're now on Facebook: Toby, Allie and Charlie.  (I believe you'll need a Facebook account and signed in to see those links)

Our cellphone plan is coming up for renewal next month. We've been with Verizon the past four years and have no complaints about their service so we plan to stay with them. The only question is, do I upgrade my phone to a smart-phone or stay with my middle of the road Envy or something similar? I'm very tempted to pull the trigger on a Motorola Droid but I'm having a difficult time justifying it. Do I need one? Nope. Would I like one? For sure.

We've already decided to get Rachel a Droid for Christmas. She's a busy kid and being able to retrieve her emails on-the-go and get online whenever she needs to is becoming more of a necessity. Yesterday for example: meet me at my work at 7:30 then back at school by 10:00. After school she had nearly three hours of Mock Trial after which she hurried home with only enough time to grab her dance clothes and a sandwich Tammy made for her to eat on her way to teach dance for 5:00 in Farmington.  In between the classes she teaches she has time to do homework and that's where the Droid and its ability to connect her to the net comes in handy. It's a changing world out there. She wouldn't get home until after 9:30 but even then her day still wasn't over as she would have more homework to do.  She's certainly getting the education I never did.  Tammy and I would rather she wasn't so busy but it's what she thrives on.

I've been getting in some nice rides the past couple weeks.  I was out Monday morning before work and came oh-so-close to taking a pass on work altogether. A bright sunshiny day and temps in the low 50's. It doesn't get any better than that this time of year.  I'd like to get out for one last longish ride tomorrow before the real cold weather takes hold; possibly 100+ miles. The forecast is calling for southwest winds and temps in the upper 40's under overcast skies. I'm thinking a Le Sueur loop. Tammy will be in the office and all my yard work is done.  I've got a stained glass project to finish but that's on Saturday's to-do list.

It appears we'll be hosting Christmas Eve at our home.  I think I'll use the 'event feature' on Facebook to send out invitations as everybody who will be invited (with the exception of my mom) uses FB.  Maybe it's tacky to send out invites this way or is it just another way our culture is evolving...or is that devolving?

Saturday, November 14, 2009

A Send-off for Bob and Tilt Shift Photography

In the next few years we're going to see lots of people retire from our ranks in the FAA as the huge bubble of people who hired on after the PATCO strike in August 1981 become eligible. We've already seen quite a few leave but nowhere near the amount that will retire in the next 3-5 years. A friend from work, Rob, was telling me that there's a study of air traffic controllers that says for each year a controller stays on the job beyond age 50, they lose one year of life. I tried to find the study online but wasn't able to. I suppose that for some there's truth in those numbers but I'm not going to make any plans based on them. My intention has always been to work until age 56.

Bob retired last July but any sort of retirement party for him must have been overshadowed by vacations and warm, sunny weather. Rex organized a small, somewhat surprise get-together for Bob yesterday at RJ's in Hastings. There were maybe a dozen of us who showed up for lunch and beer and a couple hours together to wish Bob well in his retirement. Bob is that little voice on my Facebook who keeps reminding me that the waters of retirement are fine and to jump on in. One of these days/years I'll join him and I intend to do it in the form of a cannonball off the three meter board...but I just ate lunch so I have to wait at least an hour before going in the water.

With broadband internet connections so widely available now it seems we're all experiencing a variety of videos like never before. Of all the videos I've seen (and it's quite a few) I do have one that stands out above all others (thanks to a link from my nephew, Tristan). The style of this video is called 'tilt-shift' and I'd never heard of it before. It's where the depth of field of the image/video is very shallow, blurring the edges and giving it the illusion that it's closeup photography of a miniature scene; also referred to as 'miniature faking'. Done in the right setting it can have some very interesting results. Check this out...(be sure your audio is up)


Bathtub IV from Keith Loutit on Vimeo.

The music also adds a nice feel to it and it seems the video was maybe edited around the lyrics at times. If you checked out the links under the video you'll see that he's got several others uploaded. Here's my 2nd favorite of his called Bathtub V.

Speaking of videos, here's a collection that is sure to appeal to you on some level. They're videos of dogs seeing their owners for the first time in months after their masters come home from being deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. Enjoy.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Veterans Day, 2009

There are two times each year when I'm never more proud, in a humble sort of way if one can be just that. Our lead pastor at church takes time each year on Father's Day to ask all of the dads in the congregation to stand in recognition of their role as fathers. It's an incredibly meaningful moment for me. I may only be Rachel's step-dad but I stand because I'm both proud and blessed to be in her life and to be a father-figure to her. Pastor Bill also takes a few minutes each year around the time of Veterans Day to ask former and current members of the military to stand and be honored for their service. This is also a very proud moment for me although I don't feel that my service comes anywhere close to that of those who put their lives on the line in a dangerous combat environment. Still, I'm moved by the recognition.

Those of us who have never experienced the hardship of war and the tormenting damage it can do to the psyche can't possibly appreciate the sacrifice made on our behalf. But that shouldn't stop us from trying.

Stranger, by David Baerwald, Mp3 or Wma

brother at this moment
you ain't feeling any pain
and you're staring out the window
and it looks like rain
and you're a veteran and you know
about monkeys on the brain
you watched every dream you've had
lie broken in the drain
three hundred thousand men
all different all the same
three hundred thousand men
all different all the same
piled up like driftwood
in a pouring rain

hey stranger
ain't there nothing I can say
can you think of any way
that you can make it through the day
hey stranger
ain't there nothing I can do
you lost it all for me
there must be something I can do for you

a quarter of the country
is one paycheck from the street
a tenth of the country
has never had enough to eat
and one one hundredth of the country
is strangling all the rest
and every policeman on the street
is wearing a bulletproof vest
three hundred thousand men
all different all the same
three hundred thousand men
all different all the same
piled up like driftwood
in a pouring rain

hey stranger
ain't there nothing I can say
can you think of any way
that you can make it through the day
hey stranger
ain't there nothing I can do
you lost it all for me
there must be something I can do for you

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Sunday Evening Musings

I was checking out my Facebook Thursday morning as I contemplated whether or not I'd gotten out of bed too early after the all-night shift; it was going on 11:00. Before I could give it much thought I got a chat message request from a friend to go riding. That was definitely on my list of things to do but so soon? I needed to wake up first. Maybe it was the kick-start my day needed.

My riding for me has and I think always will be primarily a solo endeavor. I'd say I'm a bit unusual in that way because it seems most cyclists enjoy the company of others when they're out riding for hours at a stretch; maybe it's a safety in numbers thing. As for me, I don't mind spending time with myself and actually prefer it when I'm riding. I'm a loner at heart. I've done enough group rides to know that conversation with others isn't what works for me but rather, the solitude of the road; it's the main reason I'm out there. Still, an occasional break from my routine can be nice too.

Jay said he could be by in 30 minutes so I quickly checked the winds and forecast temp then hurried to grab a bite and get suited up. Southeast winds lend themselves to the Hampton Loop which is the way we went. I didn't know what Jay was up for but I think the 45 miles we did may have been about 10-15 more than he was fueled for.

I'll never take a sunny day for granted again after the stretch of cloudy, rainy weather we've experienced for too many weeks of late. It was so nice to be out and I considered adding another hour to the ride but I didn't want to push it since I'm still recovering from 'the bug'.

We had some visitors Thursday night. Two Mormon missionaries had come by our house earlier in the week when Tammy didn't have time to sit down with them so she invited them back. She likes to engage them about their beliefs and I think a part of her feels bad at all the rejection they must experience door after door. We had a nice discussion and after all was said we agreed that neither of us was likely to sway the other about what we believe but we enjoyed our time together.


I took advantage of some unseasonably warm weather to put up our outdoor Christmas lights on Friday. Rachel asked me earlier in the week if I was putting lights up this year and that she was hoping I would. There's no way I'd disappoint her as this will be her last Christmas living at home before leaving for college.  I have a feeling I'll still be hanging up outdoor lights next year and the years after that too for when she comes to stay with us during her break from school.  And someday when Tammy and I are grandparents and I'm not keen on climbing the ladder anymore I think I'll still find a way to keep the tradition alive even if I have to pay one of the neighbor kids.

I hurried through a bunch of yard work yesterday morning so I could get back out on my bike for most of the afternoon. I had another request from Jay to ride with a couple other guys but I took a pass in favor of my fix of solitude. With the winds out of the west I headed toward Shakopee and figured I'd decide when I got there which way to go. I tracked toward the northwest with thoughts of St. Bonifacious running through my head but I didn't see how I could do it with the sun setting at 4:56. I set my sights on Victoria instead. A quick stop for fuel there and I was back on the road.

A few miles out of Victoria I spotted another rider off in the distance and the chase was on. It's a thing we bikers do and we pretty much all do it. I caught him climbing a hill just north of highway 10 and we struck up a conversation. My first words when I catch somebody are usually, "where you headed?" We then typically share where we're from and maybe discuss bikes and equipment...small talk. Depending on how much speed difference there is between us I'll sometimes ride together for a bit before being on my way. John was keeping a similar pace (I had to work to catch him) so we rode together for ten miles before our paths diverged.

During my time with John I'd committed myself to extending my ride through Jordan rather than taking a more direct route home. I'd use up most of what was left of daylight and have to hustle to make the 5:00 service at Hosanna. Tammy was still in her office and would be until 7:30 doing her telephone triage nursing so I'd be going alone. H1N1 calls are dominating her days lately.

A few miles from home I got a text message from Rachel saying she was having a good time at the senior-high retreat (put together by Hosanna) near Alexandria a few hours to the northwest. I wouldn't get a chance to respond to her message until I got seated at church more than a half hour later after I'd had a chance to shower and change clothes.

71 miles later the pups met me at the back door and I gave them a couple minutes to lick the salt off my face. It's a treat they look forward to. I know...what a treat! It's a part of our routine. Toby and Allie lick while Charlie bites at my hands. I felt bad for them because they'd been on their own pretty much the entire day and I was about to leave them again. I'd make it up to them later with some lap time while Tammy and I watched a movie.

I poked my head in Tammy's office to see if she was interested in going out to dinner later. She suggested T.G.I. Friday's. I liked the way she was thinking.

Finally, after a very full day we were relaxing in the restaurant, having a burger and a glass of wine while I recalled my day for the lovely Mrs Gilmore. I had been going since the minute I woke up and I don't think I realized that until I recounted it for her. I love days like that.


I wish I had taken a photo of Tammy while we were there so I could include it here but all I had with me was my cellphone camera. Not good enough. I'm getting some flak from a couple guys at work who say there's a disproportionate number of photos of Rachel compared to Tammy in my blog...and they're right. All I can say in my defense is that Tammy is one of those who shudders at the shutter. Okay, that may be a bit strong but she doesn't really like her photo being taken and I respect that. Rachel on the other hand couldn't care less. Anything to please the love(s) of my life.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Apologetics, Not an Apology

There are way too many sick people at work to avoid catching this junk that's going around and it finally caught up with me last week. I'm still sneezing and hacking but it could be worse. I'm not sure if that's because of the zinc tablets I'm taking but I'd like to think I'm not wasting my money on them. Don't get too close to this post; I don't want you to catch it.


I took a couple sick-days from the salt mine last week and used the time to resume work on the stained glass project that I'd put away when the weather turned warm last spring. We're so close to finishing it that I think another 8-10 hours should be all we need. I'd really like to get the entire project completed this winter. We've got some neighbors who would like us to do some work for them but I don't want to take on anything until these six panels are done. Here's what a completed panel looks like and here's where I was with the current one as of a few days ago. We're quite a bit further along now. If all goes well I'll have it hung by weeks end.

These windows are going above the entertainment center in our basement. Here's a link to a video I made last spring that shows the project in more detail.

Christian Apologetics is the science or art of defending the Christian faith. So many of us who call ourselves Christians readily gloss over some of the more difficult realities of our faith; myself included. I recently finished reading a book titled Letters from a Skeptic by Dr. Gregory Boyd and Edward Boyd. Greg is a Christian theologian and Ed, his father, is a cynical skeptic of the Christian faith. The book is a series of letters the two exchanged over the course of a couple years whereby Ed posed some very difficult questions to his son about Christianity followed by Greg's responses.

Some of the titles of letters his father posed to his son in the book are:
Why has Christianity done so much harm?
Why is the world so full of suffering?
Why does God create earthquakes and famines?
Why did God create Satan?
Why didn't God spare your mother?
Aren't the Gospels full of contradictions?
Why are there so many differing interpretations of the Bible?
How could an all-loving God torture people in an eternal hell?


Ed would form his questions with an honesty that left no room for Greg to misunderstand his father's intent. To give you an idea of how the book reads, below is an excerpt from one of those letters titled, Why does God make believing in Him so difficult?

Why does God put us in a position where we have to try to believe in Him? Why does He toy with mankind, teasing us with evidence that's good enough to make us uncomfortable, but never coming out directly and making Himself clear? what's so great about "faith" that He desires it above an obvious revelation of Himself? And when He does reveal Himself---supposedly in the Bible---He does so many damn bizarre things that no one who wasn't there to see it can be expected to believe it. Yet "salvation" supposedly hangs on this! Why do people have to believe things and accept stories that they'd never accept under ordinary circumstances in order to be saved? This isn't exactly fair.

So if I want to avoid hell, I presumably have to believe that a snake talked to Eve, that a virgin got pregnant from God, that a whale swallowed a prophet, that the Red Sea was parted and all sorts of other crazy things. Well, if God wants me so bad, Greg, why does He make believing in Him so damn impossible? He gives an evidence here, an evidence there---enough to get us wondering---but then He throws in these other bizarre things which we can't possibly be expected to take seriously! If there were only the evidence, or only the crazy stuff, I'd have no problem. But combined, it's most aggravating.

It seems to me that an all-powerful God could do a much better job of convincing people of His existence than any evangelist ever does, and even better than all your arguments do. Hell, just write it across the sky, nice and big: "Here's you're proof, Ed. Believe in Me or go to hell! Sincerely, the Almighty." You wouldn't have to spend an afternoon arguing history to me. I'd be on my knees.

I suppose it's for the better, but the more convincing you sound, the more ticked off I seem to get. And I've found myself recently thinking about all this material too much, which means I walk around here in a state of frustration. I don't have a clue as to what you could do about this. Maybe tell your "Spirit" who is supposedly quietly chipping away in my heart to come out of the dark and write in the clouds! Short of that, I think I'm destined to be an intrigued but frustrated skeptic, and your optimism about me is doomed to disappointment.

Sincerely yours,

Dad


Sometimes I'd actually find myself oddly amused at Ed's frustration; he reminded me a bit of my own father. His questions were well thought out and while I may have at times been strangely entertained by Ed's straight-to-the-point cynicism, I couldn't help but be sympathetic toward him as well. Just when I thought he couldn't possibly pen a more difficult scenario for his son to explain away, he does just that. Very pointed questions which Greg would speak directly to in his responses. Rather than write his answer to his father here for you to read, I'll encourage you to pick up the book and read it there with the rest of the dialog. There's also a story within the story of his father's struggle to find anything meaningful in his son's faith. I promise you that you'll find the book enlightening and worth every minute of your time. Link to the book at Amazon.

I saw Greg speak at our church earlier this year at a Men's Breakfast and he'll be back to talk with us again in December. I'm looking forward to it.

Greg isn't well liked by many in the Fundamentalist Christian arena. Watch this video where Greg appears at 2:07. He marches to his own beat and there's something about it that is very appealing to me, but then, I've been accused of being on a different wavelength from the norm myself a time or two.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Learning from NWA188

The Northwest flight (NWA188) that missed its mark and overshot MSP airport last week continues to be in the news. I still can't get over how both pilots could disassociate themselves from the task at hand to the degree they did, especially considering that in a job such as piloting an aircraft, multitasking is a necessary ability. The pilots have lost their licenses and have been suspended and now the focus has turned to the FAA and why we were so slow in notifying the military of the situation.

There's a bit of disinformation in the news today with respect to who failed to notify the military as our protocols require. You'll likely hear that 'controllers' failed to do this when in fact controllers did everything they should have. When it became apparent that the flight was no longer responding to radio calls, controllers notified management. In situations such as this a controller will ask the supervisor in the area to contact the flight's operations desk and give them a message to call us on a radio frequency we provide them with; it's a common occurrence. Other times a controller may ask a company flight on frequency if they can send a message to their dispatch via a data link and have them contact us. We can usually reestablish communications in just a few minutes. Once a controller has notified the supervisor there isn't much else to do or that needs to be done from in front of the radar scope.  We simply wait for the flight to call.

I'm not sure how far along NWA188 got before the military was finally notified but based on what I'm hearing in the media it was much later than it should have been. I've heard the flight was silent for as long as 91 minutes.  That's a long time by any measure.  In our post 9/11 world we've established procedures to allow us to be much more proactive in situations such as this. For whatever reasons it appears we fumbled this one quite badly.

What will we as controllers and management learn from this? Plenty I hope.

Switching gears just a bit here.

We occasionally get Quality Assurance briefings at work where they play for us (on fancy new projectors mounted from the ceiling which receive data from a laptop at the podium) audio and radar data of close calls (separation errors) in hopes that we can learn from them. Sure, we can all take something away from these situations but the problem I have with the way they're conducted is that management uses errors of our coworkers much to the humiliation of the controller involved. Figuring out who the controller is isn't difficult as their voice isn't distorted. It's embarrassing to the individual and it's entirely the wrong way to go about it. We could just as easily use events from other facilities around the country where the person involved would be anonymous to us but we don't.

After our last QA briefing I talked with the manager who presented it and asked him why it is he doesn't use anonymous events from similar facilities rather than embarrassing my fellow controllers? He responded by saying that if he were to tell me he'd run a stop sign on the way into work it would have more of an impact on me than had he told me of somebody who I didn't know running a stop sign. Huh?  No, I don't think so; besides, we're not talking about running stop signs. He implied in our short talk that he had no intention of changing the way he conducts his briefings. I told him I disagreed with his approach and left it at that. What more could be done or said?  It's his call.  He's one of our better managers actually in my opinion but his logic here left me bewildered.

Management has little to fear from being embarrassed like the rest of us in a QA briefing because their time in the sector is extremely limited and it's nearly always when there's little to no traffic. Their chances of getting two together are very remote.

This latest incident with NWA188 raises an interesting question for me. Will QA brief us on how management should have handled this event better? Will they talk about distractions that may have played a role in their lack of attention to a serious matter? Will QA talk about what management should have been doing while NWA188 flew over the top of MSP at 37,000 feet totally bypassing their destination with the military none the wiser?  I'm curious to see how this is handled.

To ignore this episode and management's role in it in future briefings will speak very loudly indeed.  Maybe now QA will have a better understanding of my concern when it's management's actions that are being scrutinized before a roomful of people; except, this time it's much more than a roomful of people.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

David Crowder Concert, NWA188 and Photo Review

I got up from laying down after the all night shift Thursday morning and figured I'd better get a ride in while I could because the forecast wasn't looking so good. The temp was just above 40 with a northeast wind steady at 15 mph under overcast skies. 40 degrees is very reasonable cycling weather but the key is to be somewhat chilled when you start out. Being warm and toasty at the beginning leads to being sweaty, cold and clammy before the ride is over. While putting air in my tires before leaving I could tell that I needed a lighter top layer. I'm glad I made the switch.

I loved the ride and would like to have gone further but David Crowder was playing at our church and I didn't want to be late getting in line for some good seats as it was general admission. I considered a quick detour by Hosanna on the way home to get a pic of their tour bus but I figured I should really act my age.

The concert was worth every penny and better than any of the other times we'd seen them. I don't know that Hosanna has ever been rocked quite like that. Tammy and I got seats maybe ten rows back from center stage while Rachel and some friends camped out in front of the stage.

It's not uncommon for people at our church and churches similar to ours to lift their hands in praise while worshiping. I just wish they wouldn't do it during concerts; especially if they're really tall to begin with because it makes it especially difficult to see anything other than them and that's not what we were there for. I was intent on getting some decent video so I jumped into the same row as the tall guy with long arms where there were a couple empty seats and found a clear view. We'd all be standing until the concert was over and I was fine with that. I expected it.

My cellphone vibrated to life mid-way through the show. It was Rachel texting me to say, "I go to church here :)". I love that she has such a connection with Hosanna. It's an important part of her life and we're thankful for that.

I got some good video as I'd hoped for (although a little shaky at times) and uploaded it to our YouTube account. Here's a link to a playlist of it.

I can't remember a rainier stretch of weather than the one we've been in for the last few weeks. The sun was out for most of the day yesterday and it was really nice to be out under it. I got up and went about my usual routine; feed the pups; let 'em out; make breakfast (something substantial for what was going to be a busy day); check my email then load the pups into the back of Tammy's Forrester and head to the dog park. They haven't been to the park for a few days with all the rain we've had so I knew I had to take advantage of the clear skies for their sake.

They were so happy to be there. It's funny...Toby has this thing he does with me whenever we're on a walk. He'll pause and look back at me and wait while I catch up to him, then I lean over so he can jump up and lick my face. As soon as he does it he runs forward to continue his walk. It's the sweetest thing. I get at least one kiss each walk and often times, two. I love that little guy.

I spent most of yesterday raking leaves. The job only gets bigger each year as trees grow and drop even more leaves. It was nice that most of my neighbors were out doing the same thing which will reduce the number of leaves that migrate with the wind into our yard. In splendid geek fashion; before and after.

While I was out raking I noticed a couple neighbors up the street talking; Dave and Tom. They're both pilots for Northwest/Delta and I wondered what their thoughts were on the recent news story about NWA188 and its loss of radio contact with controllers and subsequent overflying its destination of Minneapolis. As Dave said, "stranger things have happened". I'm sure he's right but I'm hard-pressed to think of one. Tom mentioned that the NTSB most certainly jumped the gun when they went after the Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR). The only time that data from the CVR is reviewed is in the case of an accident and not for punitive reasons. There's a reason it works that way and that is to ensure that the CVR remains operational at all times in case there ever is a need to review it. Pilots have the ability to disable the device and once you begin to use its data for anything other than accident reconstruction you risk not having the data when you need it most. Besides, details recorded on the CVR are written over every 30 minutes so whatever the NTSB finds will be of little value with respect to what led up to the pilots' distraction.

The pilots are pretty emphatic that they weren't sleeping but I'm having a difficult time imagining any other scenario to explain what happened. We lose aircraft on frequency all the time but seldom is it ever an issue where we can't find a way to get them a message about what frequency to contact us on with a phone call to their dispatch.

At least we're getting a break from Balloon Boy and his nutty professor father.

Rachel got her senior photo proofs back. Laurie did a great job photoing Rachel; she/we couldn't be happier. There are nearly 200 photos to select from so Tammy had an idea that we'd each pick our ten favorites and go from there; a process of elimination. So far so good. Here's my favorite. I had no idea that so much effort (or money) went into senior photos but then I never had mine taken...or went to Homecoming or Prom or...I wonder how it was that I ever graduated now that I think of it?

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Need for Greed

David Crowder, How He Loves ...Mp3 or Wma

We've kept a couple kennels set up in our home to use for Charlie when we're away for extended periods but no more.  I brought them out to the garage last night to store them as Charlie has graduated to full house privileges.  Something finally clicked with the potty training for him a few weeks ago and he gets it. 

Believe it or not, it actually took me a few months to fully warm up to this little guy.  I'm sure it was because I felt I was slighting Toby and Allie by doing so but he's really won me over; how could he not?  He's a sweetheart but he's also a scrapper.  When Toby gets tough with him as he still does occasionally, Charlie gives it right back.  But for the other 23 hours and 59 minutes out of the day they're fine.

His big thing lately is to carry his food bowl around and play with it. He's often at my side with a ball or stuffed animal in his mouth tempting me to try and get it from him...typical puppy stuff.  He also likes to bite the palm of my hand and bite it hard.  Jackie (my sister) says that's how he shows affection.  Without question he's the goofiest dog I've ever seen.  Charlie then and now

[rant] I posted this link to my Facebook page last night. No doubt talk radio will be all over this about how it's purely class envy on the part of Democrats and another step toward Socialism. Whatever; call me a Socialist. So long as these corporations are taking government handouts (money from me) to enrich those who have failed their companies most, I'm all for this sort of intervention.


When I used to listen to Rush he'd often talk about our economy and how it's not a zero sum game. In some respects he's right but when you're talking about the fiscal integrity of a company he's absolutely wrong. Obscene salaries and bonuses to the few at the top come at the expense of workers who made it all possible. Somewhere along the way we've become desensitized to the degree that greed has taken over. We've become numb to the point where we stand by and watch as those at the top are rewarded for running their companies into the ground.  How did we get to this point?

What's most troubling when listening to guys like Limbaugh and Hannity is that they appear to have millions of listeners who are fine with the idea that greed is an acceptable byproduct of capitalism and that there's nothing wrong with it. Where is the shame?

We're all in this together. I pray that one day we'll begin to live our lives in a way which reflects that ideal. [/rant]

I've been using AVG anti-virus protection for the last two years but my license recently expired and I was going without. I considered going back to the free version of AVG but I hadn't gotten around to downloading it. I noticed a link my brother placed on his Facebook page about Avast and their free version of anti-virus protection so I opted for it instead. The biggest difference I've noticed is how much less time it takes my computer to boot-up now than it did when AVG was doing its thing in the background. I'm not sure that's necessarily a good thing.

I'm happy to say that I've done several workouts on our Concept 2 rowing machine in the last week and I've got no tendinitis issues to show for it. That's not to say that I don't still feel a twinge of pain in my right forearm on occasion but I can definitely say that my time on the rower hasn't aggravated it. I've been disappointed that I haven't been able to use it much since buying it back in January but I'm hoping that with my new understanding of proper form I'll be able to spend a lot more time on it especially since winter is on the way and I'll be doing more indoor workouts.

I managed a 37 mile ride after work Tuesday afternoon. I hurried home and got suited up as quick as I could but didn't get on the road until just before 4:00. My Edge 705 told me I had around two and a half hours of daylight to work with...if the skies weren't so dark. The low overcast and on and off drizzle made it appear much darker than it was. I was seriously concerned the last half hour out there as I had no lights and thick clouds were blocking out what little sunlight was left.

I picked up a nice draft off a semi at Cedar Avenue nearing the end of my ride.  He pulled away and I tucked in behind for as long as my legs would allow. I finally fell away climbing the 5% grade hill just west of Cedar at 31 mph.  Had we been on the flats and the truck accelerating at the rate he was I know I could've easily stayed with him well past 40 mph.

I hope nobody was on this ship during this test.

David Crowder Band tonight!