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 re-establish 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 being 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 oftentimes, 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

We've kept two 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 of a semi at Cedar Avenue near 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.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Seeing More Clearly and a Picture Perfect Day

I've been struggling to see things as I should at work for longer than I care to admit and no, I'm not inferring that I'm now agreeing with FAA management. I'm talking about my vision. When I was 43 my vision began to suffer the effects of Presbyopia to the point that I could no longer read a newspaper without holding it at a ridiculous length; something longer than my arms would allow for. I got my first pair of progressive lenses/glasses soon after. Previous generations called them bifocals. Mine were actually trifocals with no lines to distinguish the varying strengths. Over the years I've had my prescription strengthened a number of times and I could tell I was due again, or in this case, overdue.

Being an instructor at work requires me to position myself several feet from the radar scope (behind my trainee) where, depending on the size of the data-tags (their size varies with a controller's preference), it can require extra effort on my part to see them clearly. I was noticing this more so in the last few weeks and so I took advantage of Thursday's lousy weather to make an appointment for an eye exam. It just so happens that Tammy's sister, Theresa, works in the lab at a local eyeglass shop and she personally ground the lenses for me. I know they're done right. I was told they'd take a week to process but Theresa called yesterday afternoon to let me know that they were ready. I'm wearing them as I type this and yes, they feel very nice and stronger than what I've been using.

My riding has been very hit and miss lately—mostly miss. I headed out Friday in mid-40's weather under partly sunny skies with little wind. It was a beautiful day to be out. I'd planned to do a quick 30 mile loop but when it came time to make the turn north on to County Road 11 my second thoughts took over and I pressed on to the east while putting together in my head an entirely different route than what I'd intended to ride, one that would take most of the afternoon. I continued east and picked up Highway 3 and rode that north toward St Paul.

I took advantage of a nice draft for a couple miles behind a tractor as he made his way through West St Paul along what would be the busiest stretch of traffic I'd encounter all day. There's no shoulder here so I was fine with tucking in behind him and following in his wake. My only concern was reacting soon enough to any potholes that were being obscured.

I considered going across the Minnesota River into downtown St Paul and over to Minneapolis but I opted for the less-traveled route along the south side of the river. Before too long I was making my way along the river bottoms in Eagan and considering extending my ride into Prior Lake. It didn't take much consideration...Prior Lake it would be.

Somewhere along the way clouds took over and I spent the last ten miles in a light drizzle. I arrived home with 63 miles total and a very satisfying feeling in my legs. I really needed that.

Rachel finally got together with Laurie and Dave Phillips Saturday morning for her senior photo session. Dave is also an air traffic controller who I recently mentioned in my blog for his help with our garage project. His wife is a photographer and it was decided years ago that she would be the one to take Rachel's senior photos when the time came. It dawned on me one day last week that Ritter Farm Park (where we've been walking the pups) would maybe make for some nice scenery for her photos so Laurie and Dave met us there. The three of them went about taking photos while I walked the pups.

After the park they drove into Minneapolis for some photos at Minnehaha Falls and Ford Dam; talk about going the extra mile.  They spent nearly five hours together.  We were concerned that the weather wasn't going to cooperate and she was running out of time to have them taken. In the end, it was definitely worth the wait.

Here's a link to a few photos I took of her while at the park.

And here's some video of the pups at the park from Friday and Saturday.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Earning Some Down Time

I've been accused of neglecting my blog and I suppose there's some truth in that. It hasn't been for a lack of things to write about or lack of interest but rather, a lack of time.  I get a bit of an anxious feeling when I haven't written in several days. Maybe it's a form of withdrawal.

Sometimes a blog piece flows out of me and pretty much writes itself. Other times it's not so easy; especially those times when I'm conflicted about an issue. Such was the case last year in my posts leading up to the election.

I searched my soul a lot during that time as I was contemplating the presidential election and my decision to vote for Obama. Speaking of that decision; do I have any regrets about it? No. I've learned not to put my faith in politicians just as I learned long ago never to bet on the Vikings in a must-win situation. Am I disappointed with Obama and the decisions he's making? Yes, a little. But, unlike so many on the right, I'm willing to give the guy a chance rather than disparage and dismiss him so quickly.

It was a curious announcement last week by the Norwegian Parliament of their decision to award the Nobel Peace Prize to Barack Obama. A better choice may have been to give it to the American people.

I got up from my overnight shift Thursday morning and headed out into the yard to begin the all-day task of pulling up and cutting back our flowering plants. Just as in years past the job amounted to three truckloads for the compost site ten miles to the east.  It's not something I look forward to doing but it always feels nice to have it done. Toward the end of the day, I walked up our front walk past the now-empty flower garden and noticed a lone bumblebee zigging and zagging in a futile search for flowering life to sustain it. Just a couple weeks ago Tammy brought me out to show me all the bumblebees in the garden and how some of them were so loaded down with pollen that they had a difficult time negotiating the path from one flower to the next. I honestly felt bad for the straggler.

Another thing I've been neglecting lately is maintenance on my bikes.  I made a vow to myself a couple months ago that I wouldn't overhaul them again until I could do it in the comfort of our newly finished garage. That time finally came Friday night when I was able to spend a few hours enjoying my new digs. This sort of time for me is very relaxing and I suppose you could almost call it therapeutic.  No pressures whatsoever.  Tammy was working in her office but the pups came out and kept me company for a while. They'd get bored before too long and make their way up the steps by the back door. That was the signal that they wanted back in the house.

I've de-cluttered the space about as much as I can. That was high on my list of goals when I started imagining what the final result would be. The cabinets Keith made provide us with quite a bit more storage space than we had before. I regret that I didn't take some 'before' photos for comparison.

I spent a few hours out there last night finishing work on my bike and hanging our extension ladder above the garage door. Hanging the ladder was a simple job but it nearly turned ugly. I was standing on a stepladder drilling one of two hangers into a stud above the door with my other hand on the garage door spring for leverage. I've been told that garage door springs carry a lot of tension and I can now confirm that it's a fact because the spring broke while my hand was resting on it. (You can see the broken spring toward the bottom of this photo) Fortunately for me, the piece my hand was holding on to was the much smaller of the two sections after the break. The other side went through a violent unwinding and I didn't fully appreciate what was happening until it was over. Thanks to a sticker on the garage door I was able to call for service and have someone out to fix it this morning for $189.  It was a quick fix and the guy was in and out in not much more than 15 minutes.

Rachel is the last of her friends to have her senior pictures taken; they need to be in by the 30th for entry into the yearbook. She had a date scheduled last weekend but it was rainy so they rescheduled for yesterday morning. The plan has been to take some outdoor photos with fall colors but with a temp in the low 30s, they decided to reschedule again for the middle of this week. That too is looking iffy at this point. The photographer is concerned about what the cold air will do to her skin tones.

Not to worry though because she had her photo taken during registration for her school I.D. card. She and her friend Trina went dressed up in '80s workout clothes. I say keep the money we'll pay for senior photos and use the one she's already got. It sounds like a reasonable dare to me.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Homecoming and Another Project Completed

I was finally able to get our website moved over to the new host service at GoDaddy.  I think I'll take a pass on resellers for webspace in the future.  The only casualty in the move was my other blog detailing our basement remodeling project from five years ago.  I forgot that I'd used my website to host the data and it was lost when the switchover occurred.  Fortunately, I was able to resurrect it with archived data on Blogger. It lives on. It was ranking highly on searches for basement makeovers so I'd like to leave it out there.

Last weekend was Homecoming for Rachel's high school, Lakeville North.  It's a time for her to use her artistic talents as she decorates her Homecoming pants.  I've no doubt she has at least 30 hours of work into these and it shows with all the detail.  I'll never forget years ago after she finished her pants and put them on to model them for me.  I got to looking at them and down the back of her legs she'd written 'Pathers Rule' rather than 'Panthers Rule'.  She was able to fit the 'n' in and roll with it.  They still looked great.

She'd intended to go to the Homecoming dance with Josh but they broke up last August.  A guy from her Mock Trial group asked her instead.  She enjoyed the time out with Tom and her group of friends but I think she's enjoying her singleness for now. Photos.  The photo session was a bit over-the-top but I was happy to go along and watch. I think I was more interested in watching the parents do their thing trying to capture the perfect shot.

If you clicked on the music link at the beginning of this post you've been listening to the latest from David Crowder.  His music is Christian oriented and for me, it's some of the best new stuff out there. We've seen him and his band three times and will be seeing them again later this month at of all places, our church.

We're now happily working under our new contract at work. The pay raises won't kick in until after the new year but all other aspects of the contract are in play. I came back to work yesterday and it was nice to see my coworkers comfortably doing what we do in jeans and tennis shoes. With the imposed work rules we'd been operating under the past three years, management said we needed to dress business casual so as not to erode public confidence. The only erosion of public confidence if anybody was paying attention was with respect to those leading our agency (with the exception of Obama's appointees) and the distractions they were creating.  But hey, they're dressed nicely.

Keith and Dave came by last Friday and installed cabinets in our garage.  It was an all-day job that included some electrical work.  Dave (also an air traffic controller) did the electrical.  I couldn't be happier with the job Keith did putting these together.

Finishing our garage wasn't on our 'to do' list this year but was inspired by a trip to Sears for a Father's Day present...a rolling tool chest.  While back in the tool department I got to looking at examples of finished garages and thoughts of something similar for our garage began to fill my head.  I spent some time with Keith and gave him what ideas I had and let him expand on them.  The project has been a few months in the making and for the most part, is now complete. All that's left is the tweaking and that could take years of hanging out in the garage.  I don't know that the job is actually ever finished.

Roll the video.