Stranded In The Southland

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Off To The Mountains...

It's been over 100 in LA these days, so I decided to head for the high mountains to get in some more comfortable hiking.  Usually I fill up the car before heading into the wilderness, but this time I decided that the 120 mile round trip to Mt. Baden-Powell probably wouldn't be a problem with the less than four gallons I had in the Prius (at 45 mpg, it should go 180 miles).

Alas, who knew that the laws of physics applied to the Prius?  Climbing from 1,000 feet to 8,000 feet kinda took a bite out of the mileage, and I was in a hurry to hit the mountain and didn't fill up.  I'd had a restless night before, thanks in part to the cat jumping on my belly at 3AM, claws and all, to inform me that he was ready to go out.

I bought a new annual pass, and headed to Baden-Powell.  It was already nearly 1PM, and I'd promised to pick up M. at the airport at 7PM.  B-P is a six hour hike.  Hmmmm.  I fell back to a simpler, shorter hike that was off the beaten path and bagged Mt. Lewis (bringing me up to 71 peaks scratched off the Hundred Peaks List).

It was a really short, but killer-steep hike, reminding me how out of conditioning I am.  It was beautiful on top, with a gentle breeze and fantastic views of the desert.  Not only that, but there were a couple fairly fancy looking sailplanes soaring overhead, grabbing some lift from the thermal that was creating a little cap of cloud a few thousand feet over the mountain.

To my surprise, even from a few hundred feet below, I could definitely hear the wind whistling over the gliders.  It was kind of eerie and keening, but definitely audible.  How cool!  I so need to learn to soar!

I figured that one easy peak wasn't enough, so I bopped down CA 2 towards Mt. Wilson, hoping to pick off Krakta Ridge and maybe see some of the evidence of last year's Station Fire.  I got to the burned trees, took a bunch of pictures, and then headed back to Krakta Ridge.  On the way back, the gas gauge took a dive to one pip (one gallon?), making me wonder about whether I'd make it back to the nearest gas station.  Since the dealer had replaced the ECU last week, I had my doubts about whether this was perfectly calibrated, anyway.

I started up Krakta Ridge, but eventually bailed as it was uniformly steep, and I figured that if I ran the car out of gas, I'd need some extra time to get to the airport.  I wound up nursing the car through miles of wonderful twisties, going 20 mph under the speed limit, in the hopes of making it out.

To my delight, there were many downhill sections mixed in, and I finally coasted in to the gas station with at least half a tank, and plenty of flop sweat everywhere.  I guess this is why I always fill up the car before heading out into the great unknown.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Three Pirate Books In Three Weeks

Somehow piracy came up a few weeks back, and both M. and Rod insisted that pirates preyed on the slave trade, rescued the slaves, and then the slaves took up piracy. I had no idea, and realized that I hadn't read much at all about piracy, and given my enthusiasm for most things naval, I might as well remedy this.

So, naturally, I headed down to the library, loaded up on pirate books, and dug in. Piracy seems like it'd be really exciting to read about. I mean, walkin' the plank, pieces o' eight, drinkin' and carousin' and all the rest. Maybe I made poor choices, but, yawn -- there wasn't much evidence for enlisting slaves, walking the plank, or most of the rest. And piracy started to sound kind of like bank robbing -- low return, high risk, and possibly not that much fun.

I started out with John Burnett's Dangerous Waters, which discussed modern piracy. Burnett became interested in the issue after his sailboat was boarded in southeast Asia. He then went on to do a bunch of research, and relates trips on a 300,000 ton Very Large Crude Carrier (VLCC) and a rather smaller tanker.

This was written before the Somalian pirates got cranked up, shortly after 9/11 (in fact, it sounds like he took his rides pre-9/11, then everything changed up and he had to modify the book a bit). Most of the piracy involved poor folks with fast boats managing to clamber onto the poop decks of big ships, ransack the captain's safe for whatever petty cash they could get, and then bail, all in 10 or 15 minutes.

As Burnett points out, though, all it takes is a few minutes of chaos for a giant oil tanker to wind up on a reef, creating a multi-billion dollar disaster. It sounds like the shipping companies are not nearly serious enough about preventing piracy, and things may get worse before they get better.

I wish that Burnett had talked a little bit more about the people who are getting by at or below the poverty level, watching these rich ships head by, and just wanting a piece of the action. 'Course, he relates a little of this, and he does point out that the crews of these ships are not exactly living the life of riley, as the owners are continuously trying to pinch pennies to get the cargos delivered as cheaply as humanly possible.

I guess the more things change, the more they stay the same. In Under the Black Flag, David Cordingly provides a wide-ranging history of the golden age of piracy. Cordingly was one of the organizers of what sounds like an amazingly popular exhibition on piracy at the UK's National Maritime Museum, and seems to have just gone on from there.

While it seems terribly well researched, and chock full of a minutia, it never really manages to sing. The organization is haphazard, which a chapter about women pirates, and another about piracy as it appears in film, and a vaguely historical narrative that sort of climaxes with the defeat of Blackbeard. Alas, though, there didn't seem to be a unifying idea.

Cordingly does explain that there just wasn't any walking the plank, and that, actually, there were a few beatings but remarkably few pirate killings. While the pirates may have recruited freed blacks (or escaped slaves who spoke English), it sounds like they generally treated cargoes of slaves as commodities to be sold. Or put to work doing the crap work on the ship.

And he relates that there was indeed a whole lot of crap work to be done on ships (mostly without slaves), and that the sailors of the day were poorly paid and extremely poorly treated. Even if they escaped the press gangs ready to drag them off to service in the Royal Navy, it sounds like they were often cheated of their pay and beaten for tiny infractions. The pirate life, which sounded far from perfect, was probably a wonderful improvement.

I finally turned to The Republic of Pirates with some relief. Here we had a book by a journalist, Colin Woodard with some knowledge of the sea, but who might put together a gripping narrative. Alas, it was not to be.

Woodard aims to tell the story of the period in the early 1700s when pirates pretty much took over the Bahamas, and were then disbanded by a clever combination of pardons on the one hand, and reasonable force against those who wouldn't take the pardons. It goes into a great deal more detail than Under the Black Flag, but repeats a great deal of that earlier book.

I'm not sure if everybody uses the same sources (there is obviously much love for A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pyrates written by the pseudonymous Captain Charles Johnson in 1724), but there are long quotes that are just the same. Woodard throws in a few more maps (what good is history without maps!?), and some random pages detailing the economics of the time and the rigging of various ships. These were just random slapped into the book though, and were never referenced in the text.

All in all, it sounded like the pirate life involved a pleasant diversion from the hard work of the merchant sailor, but it rarely enough resulted in a particularly big payoff, and seems to have often resulted in folks swinging by the neck until dead. While plenty of pirates took advantage of the King's Pardon and went on to other careers, it doesn't sound like they had much to show for their efforts. Bummer.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Crater Lake, Mendocino, and Home

[Argh, just let it be over! How can it take a year to write up a two-week vacation!?]

After a pleasant couple of days in Bend, we headed down to Crater Lake. It's definitely a beautiful spot, with some unique natural features. It's also probably the crappiest national park we've ever visited.

There were a whole bunch of placards that were just empty, with nothing at all on them. I mean, I guess they get some snow, but you'd think that by July 4, they'd be able to replace the stuff that didn't survive the winter. There was almost no interpretation at all, although I did enjoy the pleasant little rock overlook at the southern end of the lake.

After obsessively driving all the way around the six-mile crater lake and then some, we spent the night in Grants Pass, loaded up on Oregon beers, then headed to the coast and points south. We bopped by an autocross some friends were putting on in Eureka, but just missed them.

Finally, we wound up in Mendocino, hanging out with some old NorCal friends. After a pleasant stay, we hauled ass south through SF, down the I-5, and barreled into town, exhausted and relieved to be back.

[Yeesh, it's done, it's finally done!]

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Yet More Volcanoes and Beer

We spent much of the day exploring the Newberry National Volcanic Monument. It's not a particularly famous place, but it turned out to be mighty cool. We headed out south on the 97, stopping off at a particularly cool river canyon carved through the volcanic rocks that underpinned the whole area.

Then we wound up at the Lava Butte, which was a pretty decent-sized cinder cone surrounded by what seemed like miles of rough, recent (8,000 years or so) volcanic flows. In fact, for all of the 8,000 years, this stuff looked like it could've been spewed out last year -- there was almost no visible weathering, and damn little vegetation. M. even gamely trekked around the top of the cindercone, enjoying the views of the distant mountains all around us. The museum at the base of the cone was okay, but not really amazing.

We then headed south, and wound up grabbing some lunch in Sunriver. This is a "planned resort community," and for all I could tell, home of the Stepford vacationers. Our bagel lunch was pretty mediocre, but the trip to the grocery store just about unhinged me. This was like going to the mall, without any of the diversity, surrounded by a homogenous bunch of folks who just didn't seem to have a whole lot of imagination. I mean, all the folks from Sunriver were just as nice as could be the day before, and I wish them all the best in the world, but, dang, don't make me go back!

We were a little rattled by the whole place, but happily got back on the road south to check out the main caldera of Newbury Volcano. We had a quick hike up a "new" (1,300 year old) obsidian flow that was interrupted by some close lightning strikes, and a pleasant drive up to a 7,000 foot peak overlooking the whole thing.

Then we headed back, and stopped off to see the Lava Cast Forest, which would've been more fascinating if we weren't worried about getting struck by the nearby lightning as we hiked through a flat plain. We were definitely the highest things around, so we took a rather hurried look at the casts of the trees and hauled ass back to the car, just as the rain started in. We had a great drive back along a dirt road with dust everywhere and the constant worry that we'd hit mud and get stuck. I mean, this doesn't sound interesting, but it leant a little interest to the proceedings without any real element of risk.

We ended it all up with a very pleasant dinner at the McMenamins Old Francis School, a fabulous hotel and brewpub. McMenamins owns a number of hotels built in converted schools or other old buildings; they feature brewpubs, really interesting rooms, and all sorts of extra features -- this one had a cheap moviehouse showing recent flicks for cheap (with beer). Next time, we definitely make reservations well in advance, and stay at McMenamins!

White-water Rafting!?

[Crap, I'm still not done with this!?]

To my amazement, M. had decided that she wanted to go white-water rafting. I mean, she's climbed volcanoes and hitchhiked through Patagonia, but she's really not much of an adrenaline junky. Oh, well, far be it from me to argue!

We found an interesting place in Bend that would take us on a short, cheap trip, and, fortified by a fine lunch and beer tasting at the Deschutes brewpub, we headed out. We got onto a bus nearly full to the brim with friendly folks from Sunriver (about which I can say more later), trucked down to the river, and headed out.

It was a very pleasant experience, gently paddling down the river with a guide and few of our new friends, floating past big volcanic flows that had obviously redirected the river, and bopping through a couple of class 3 rapids and on down and out. We both got thoroughly soaked, which was kind of the point of the exercise and had a pretty good time.

The guide was a pretty friendly guy, and really went out of his way to make it a pleasant experience for us, chatting us up about our trip and making everybody feel pretty comfortable. We were kind of abashed by the other folks in the raft, who'd been golfing and biking and doing all sorts of stuff in the morning, where we'd just been hauling ass and drinking and doing laundry. :-)

We finished off the day with yet more beer, at yet another brewery, and some exhausted sleep. All in all, the rafting was a pretty worthwhile activity, even if it was kind of pre-packaged.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Granger, Where Dinosaurs Roam

While sampling wines in the Yakima Valley, we wound up stopping by the little town of Granger to top off the gas tank. M. noted a strange-looking sculpture on a building across the street from the Chevron. When we checked it out, we were amazed to find out that it was a dinosaur!

It turns out that the town is full of full-sized renditions of a variety of dinosaurs. The over-all quality varies from atrocious to not very good, but the effect of a little town full of these dinosaurs is just great. They poke out from behind houses, from the back of the library, and seem to have been placed on just about any scrap of public land that folks could find.

The city fathers apparently hit on this scheme in an attempt to draw tourists to the town. It doesn't particularly seem to have worked, which is kind of a shame -- it's a wonderful story, and I'm delighted to see folks who can follow through on this sort of big idea! If you're in the area, and, like me, you appreciate the charm of big ideas and a strong do-it-yourself attitude, check it out.

[I think that most of my photos are on M.'s camera (who knows if I'll ever get 'em?), but I'll include one lousy iPhone shot just to give a flavor for the place.]

Wine and Beer in the Yakima Valley

[Okay, so I'm somehow determined to obsessively chronicle this summer's vacation, even though it's been months since we got back. I just need a few more posts to finish up:

* We went wine tasting in the Yakima Valley, with some beer tasting mixed in, then drove down to Madras.

* We spent two days in Bend, went white-water rafting and checked out more volcanic scenery.

* We visited Crater Lake, then stayed the evening of July 4 in Grants Pass.

* We zipped down the coast to Mendocino, then left the next morning in one last big push home.]

M. is far more of an oenophile than I, but even I enjoy stopping by the odd winery. And, to my delight, the wineries of the Yakima Valley were all just a little bit odd.

Actually, they were just small operations with enthusiastic owner/operators, and those kinds of wineries are fun to visit even if you're not that enthused about wine. We visited several places that just had a big ol' barn or warehouse in the back, surrounded by vineyards, and a proprietor who hustled out when we drove up. Everybody was terrifically friendly and full of interesting suggestions, including our fellow wine tasters.

We finally wound up in Prosser, sampling a few wines at a storefront tasting room. When we expressed our dismay at the fact that the next-door beer tasting room was closed, the locals all pointed us at the new brewpub in town opened by the same folks.

It turned out the be an unprepossing cement-block building with a suspended ceiling, but a bunch of great beer quotes on the wall and really fun staff. The owner/brewer's wife served us a great sampler of their beers. When I casually asked her about whether a particular tiny road was a good way out of town and on down to the Columbia River, she insisted on carefully drawing us a map showing the three or four turns along the way, despite the fact that she simultaneously taking care of several other tables. Yow!

I'd definitely like to spend some more time in central Washington, if only to investigate up-close the fabulous hops farms that we rushed past.

We had a great drive down our tiny roads to the Columbia, although we had a moment or two of doubt. Mid-way down, M. wanted to take a picture of the sun setting over the wide fields of wheat, and I suggested that she roll down the window to get a clearer shot. Now, I'd've thought that "And why don't you make sure that you put away the hand-drawn map so it doesn't blow out the window?" was kind of assumed. Not so much, I guess. :-)

Anyway, we bopped by a wacky (allegedly) full-size model of Stonehenge on the river, and then hauled ass south until it got dark, when we just kind of pulled into a motel in Madras and settled in. What a day!

Friday, July 17, 2009

The Ape Cave, Volcanic Canyons, And Yakima

After an extra day in Portland (we had to hit Powells, right!?), we were a little unsure about what else to take on. M. had mentioned a desire to see more of Washington, and I was kind of interested in checking out more volcanoes, but we didn't really know what to do.

We finally decided to trek on up to Mt. St. Helens and check it out from the south and east. The roads got smaller and smaller and quieter and quieter, until we finally wound up in the National Forest south of the mountain, and stopped off at the Ape Cave. This is a fabulous lava tube extending down the mountain, first explored by a youth group who called themselves the "St. Helen Apes."

The Forest Service rented us a big-ass Coleman lantern for $5 or so, we pulled on our warm clothes and headlamps, and headed down. You can either head up-hill on a long hike with boulders to climb and all sorts of rough stuff (which M. was quite reasonably opposed to) or you can head down on a nice short hike (which is what we settled on).

I'd never been in a lava tube before, and I was totally blown away. This thing was 20 feet high in places (even in the lowest places, I could barely touch the ceiling!), and probably 30 feet wide in places (and again, never less than about 10 feet wide). It seemed like you could take a freight train through there.

After a short stroll, the cave eventually runs into a big plug of silt, so that it just disappears into the floor, getting shorter and shorter. I started to crawl the last little bit, but once I banged my head hard enough to draw blood, I figured enough was enough.

On the way back out, we turned off the big-ass lantern and just used our headlamps, which were more than enough for our dark-adjusted eyes. In fact, it was pretty cool to spend some time with all the lights off, just looking around at nothing at all, in the cool, quiet, dark.

Strangely enough, the cave was pretty cold, at around 42 degrees. I'm used to caves that are in the mid-50s, and I couldn't find a really good answer about why the cave was so cold. (It was suggested that basalt is such a dense rock that it's a great insulator, and further suggested that cold air falls into the tube and warm air can rise out of it, since the cave slopes up. I'm still interested in learning more.)

Anyway, after a pleasant little hike in the dark, we decided to head on up to the western side of the mountain, skipping the nearby Lava Canyon because our park service map indicated that it was washed out. Naturally, 40 miles up the road we discovered that not only was the Lava Canyon road not washed out, but that the road to Windy Ridge, the lookout point on the west side of the mountain, was closed for construction.

Bummer. We were running a little late, anyway, though, so we had a chance to check out the mountain from Bear Meadow, and then haul ass for Yakima. We wound up driving down a great volcanic canyon with amazingly textured walls, and dropped out into the high plains of central Washington, arriving in Yakima shortly before dark.

Yakima is a town of only around 90,000, but their proximity to wine-making regions apparently means that they get a fair number of tourist looking for fine dining. We had a pretty solid meal (by LA standards), although after a month or two I can't remember the name of the restaurant or find the receipt. Anyway, it was another great day on the road.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Bonneville and the Columbia

I don't often have a chance to hang out with my parents, other than at holidays, so it was a pleasant surprise to learn that they'd be in Portland for a conference during our vacation. We managed to spend most of the weekend together.

My folks are inveterate history geeks, so we headed out to the coast to check out Lewis and Clark's western-most camp, at Fort Clatsup. They've got a nice reconstruction of the fort, and a pretty decent visitor's center. Most amusing, though, was the little ranger-led hike. The ranger kept talking about various edible berrys and encouraging folks to sample them. "Look, there's trailing blackberry. There aren't many, but give it a try!"

This worked great, right up until we got to the elderberry, and M. popped one in her mouth just as the ranger started to describe how, uncooked, it would actually make you sick. Heh, so much for anticipating the shpeil! Fortunately, it would take much more than a single tiny (1ml or smaller) berry to make M. sick, especially with her iron stomach.

We had a fun drive back through Astoria (what a cool looking town -- too bad we didn't have more time there) and along the Columbia, with a detour here and there to try to take smaller roads and stick closer to the river.

Strangely enough, it appears that folks are starting to grow Poplar (or Cottonwood) as a farmed tree, in plantations. A little time with google verified this, and suggested that the tree provided some natural bleaching for paper and an alternate source of pulp. Plus, the Poplars grew were the normal evergreen pulp trees wouldn't. Still, it was odd to see a deciduous tree plantation!

The next day, we set out for the Bonneville Dam. M. laments that it just isn't a trip with me until we've stopped at a dam or two, and it's hard to argue the point (witness, sadly, trips to England, Spain, Poland, Tennesee, Nevada, and Montana).

Bonneville was pretty impressive, though. They have a pretty standard lock setup for navigation, but this was my first time to actually check out a fish ladder. The idea is to have a tiered set of pools for salmon and other fish that head back upstream to spawn. It's really fun to see in action, especially with the underwater windows, showing the big-ass fish swimming hard against the current to make it upstream, and the smaller Lamprey eels clinging to the glass with a bad-ass mouth full of teeth!

The tour of the power house was equally interesting -- it stretches on seemingly forever, with generator after generator. The tour only takes you out to a balcony overlooking the power house, but the balcony is packed with interesting gear, including the electro-mechanical governor that controlled the pitch of the turbine blades and the angle of the wicket gates that allow water into the turbine. There was also an interesting selection of vintage power gear, which another visitor joked looked just like the equipment he used day to day in Arizona! Best of all, they were updating the turbines and generators and had all the guts spilled out in a bay just beneath the balcony. It was great to see all the fiddly bits.

We got to Bonneville via the cool Columbia Gorge Scenic Highway, stopping off for a few different waterfalls, and the still-pretty-cool-looking Crown Point Vista, which was built in the 1910s. It was pretty cool to be able to check out the amazing cliffs and pinnacles of the Columbia Gorge from the second story.

We drove on from Bonneville to circumnavigate Mt. Hood, stopping off at the Timberline Lodge (the exterior of which was used for The Shining). It's even more strongly built than the typical old-fashioned lodge, with a gigantic hexagonal fireplace in the center. We had some great views of Mt. Jefferson (we think?) and back up the mountain, where folks appeared to still be able to ski. Yow. Definitely a worthwhile stop.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Bainbridge Island and Olympic Peninsula

After hanging out for a couple days with various pals in Seattle, we took the Bainbridge Island Ferry from Seattle over to the island. We had fantastic views of the whole city behind us as we pulled out, and, of course, all the fun of being on a boat on the water. I'd taken the ferry a few times before, but it was still a delight for me, and M. was simply delighted with it as a first-timer.

I don't think I've ever done the car ferry thing, so it was special fun to pull on and get the car settled in and watch the other cars pull in. I mean, I think that once was enough, and it's rather more convenient and fun as a pedestrian, but it was still geeky fun.

I have such fond memories of other ferries -- when I was maybe four, we took a ferry out to North Carolina's Outer Banks, and some nice lady offered me some of those radioactive-orange cheesy crackers with peanut butter. I still love those crackers, while objectively realizing that they're pretty horrifying. Strangely enough, that's about all I remember about the trip, other than a general enthusiasm for the whole thing.

Anyway, we had a great evening with some friends, then drove out the next morning heading for Portland. Since we had some time, we zipped north up past Port Gamble in order to drive US 101 along the Hood Canal (which is not really a canal, it's actually pretty much a fjord).

The whole landscape was totally new to me, especially with all of the green everywhere. Clearly, there's a bit more water available here than I'm used to. We zoomed past what appeared to be a Bald Eagle perching on an old piling, but we eventually managed to pull over and check out the clam and oyster beds and see a seal bopping around in the water. The shoreline was so different, with rocks everywhere and not much sand to be seen at all. Yow.

We were both excited to stop in Shelton for some fried oysters. I hadn't had oysters since I was a kid living in north Florida (well, maybe an oyster slider or two)!

Post-oyster, I could remember why I hadn't eaten any. They tasted pretty gritty, like they still had a bunch of sand in there. I seem to recall that this is just the oyster thing, and that it's not a fault in the preparation. Oh, well, it was fun to try again.

We zipped down the rest of the way to Portland, trying to delay getting on I-5 as long as possible, looking out for features mentioned in the _Roadside Geology of Washington_. I'm not too sure that we spotted many, but it was fun.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Boeing Factory Tour

[In keeping with my previous vow to give up on strict chronological blogging, I'm not going to mention a very pleasant evening spent with my old college buddy in Seattle and his new (to me) wife and new child. Oh, wait...]

I disavow all responsibility for the Boeing Factory Tour. I'm here to say -- I didn't discover that it was offered, I didn't suggest that we go on it, I didn't buy the tickets a couple days in advance. It was all M., and I swear I had nothing to do with it.

I was kind of surprised by her enthusiasm, but I sure wasn't going to complain! Boeing has a nice little Museum of Flight, with a few bits and pieces of aircraft, and models of a bunch of airliners (even non-Boeing airliners) telling the history of commercial flight. There's even a fun little 727 cockpit. It was stuffed with excited kids, but I still got a chance to flick a few switches and marvel at the complexity of even an ancient plane like that when compared to the few little switches and breakers in the little Piper Cherokee that I fly.

The museum is fun, but not that remarkable. Getting a chance to see them putting together 747s and 737s and 787s (the new Dreamliner), though, was pretty darn exciting. I've been to countless places (mostly NASA) that claim to have the largest building in the world, but I'm inclined to believe Boeing. Their plant clearly dwarfed the gigantic 747s that were being assembled, and wandering around in the tunnels and riding the freight elevators was a blast.

It was pretty wild to see complex wing jigs that towered 50 feet above the floor, reminding me of my youthful attempts to build balsa-wood models. Pwhew! Doing it full-scale looks rather harder.

It was wild seeing the Dreamliner assembly line, since Boeing had just announced the day before that the first flight of the aircraft would be postponed by at least a couple months. They had two of the planes built and sitting on the tarmac, and it seemed like there were three of them nearly finished, and a whole bunch more that were coming along. Yow. Hopefully, they can fix their wing-attachment problem in those finished aircraft.

Just about every spot on the factory floor that wasn't taken up with airplane parts was taken up with cubicles for the hundreds of engineers working on the plane. We got to watch a shift change, complete with hotdesking, as engineers left and new engineers came over to take over. I had no idea that it took that much computing power to build a new aircraft, but I presume that there's a fair amount of process involved in putting together a $300 million aircraft that you'd like to last for 50 years.

There was plenty of the corporate cheerleading that you'd expect, but, all in all, it was a pretty fabulous experience!

Sleater-Kinney Road

Let me start out by saying that my all-time favorite band is Sleater-Kinney. It's a riot grrl band founded in the mid-90s, and named after the street in Olympia on which the members had a practice space. I knew that there was an interstate exit for the road, so I was determined to get a picture with the sign.

I had this idea that Olympia was a sleepy little college town, and that I could just step out onto a wide grass swale by the side of the interstate, get a quick shot, and haul ass before anybody was the wiser. Oh, well.

It turned out that the I-5 was eight lanes wide through Olympia, and Sleater-Kinney Road had two exits for east and west, and signs that were suspended 20 feet over busy roads. That quick shot just wasn't going to happen.

M. patiently drove a few blocks down and took a few shots of me with a street sign over my shoulder, as I giggled and tried not to look like the fan-boy I am. Fortunately, M. is pretty good photographer (I can't frame a picture to save my life), and they turned out okay, despite her constant ribbing of me while we were taking them.

Unfortunately, this stop just made us a little later for Seattle, and the 20 minutes that we spent waiting in rush-hour traffic to get back onto the I-5 didn't help. We pretty much had to circle around to a whole different exit, because the exit we used didn't let you re-enter. Argh.

I'm still delighted to have the photos, though!

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Mt. St. Helens

[I'm feeling kind of unsatisfied with the "And then we..." style of blogging, so I'm going to try to blog more about specific events or anecdotes, rather than providing a real strict chronology.]

What kind of Volcano Tour omits the most recently active volcano in the continental US!? It seemed kind of vital to check out Mt. St. Helens, even though we were due in Seattle that night. It's an hour's drive up to the mountain on a twisty two-lane road (goody!) and an hour's drive back (the road pretty much goes to the mountain, and that's it), so we were under some time constraints.

We started off, reasonably enough, at the first visitor's center. It's a pretty big building, with a kind of cheesy, cathedral-like architecture, but we had high hopes of gaining some insight into this whole active volcano thing.

Then we noticed the $3 fee to enter. And the fact that this wasn't a National Park Service visitor's center, but was run by the State of Washington. As a guy who grew up in Florida, a state that is whole-heartedly devoted to separating the tourist from their money, I just couldn't deal with the idea of paying for a visitor's center, let alone a second-string visitor's center (M. is of the same mind, but it may be because she's cheap). We turned on our heels and walked out.

During the trip up, Washington had placed something like three other visitor's centers, some offering glass blowing for the tourist (what that has to do with vulcanism, I'll never know). We skipped 'em all.

We did stop at a few vista points -- after all, ya gotta build that sense of anticipation on the way up, 'cause none of the vistas are going to be interesting after you've been to the top. Unfortunately, M. and I have different philosophies about checking out vistas. I wanted to stop at every one for just a minute or so, then bop on up the road. M. wanted to fuss around with her stuff, get out, take a few pictures, use the binoculars, then skip a bunch of vistas 'cause we were out of time. Sadly, this stylistic difference persisted throughout the trip.

At the penultimate vista point, we did get to see little puffs of steam coming out of the caldera. With the binoculars, we could actually see lots and lots of steam; the caldera certainly looked as busy as anything we saw at Yellowstone last year. Woo hoo.

The final visitor's center on Johnson Ridge, was actually worth it. It was run by the National Park Service, and, while it cost $8[*] apiece, we really appreciate the various videos and seismographs and other toys. Johnson Ridge is the site where vulcanologist David Johnson was engulfed and crushed by debris just a few dozen seconds or so after the beginning of the 1980 eruption; it was amazing to stand there and look at the distant mountain and think about the force of that eruption.

Currently, the geologists are studying the mountain using several-hundred pound instrument packages, "Spiders", which have a big-ass battery, seismograph, camera, and ad hoc wireless networking software. They drop 'em onto the mountain with a helicopter, and gather data as long as the packages survive. A few wind up falling off of growing lava domes, or crushed under rockfall, but that's kind of the point of putting an instrument package up there instead of a geologist.

The fascinating part is that a bunch of folks at my day job work on wireless instrument packages like this, but they use Motes, which are powered by AA batteries, and easily fit into the palm of your hand. It was kind of cool to see the giant motes that could only be lifted by helicopter (or a couple of beefy grad students, I guess). How fun!

In any case, at this point, we had to get outta there and haul ass towards Seattle. It's too bad that the road just stops at Johnson Ridge, and that you have to drive something like 50 miles before you can take off on another road, as it kind of limited our options. :-(

[Although, we actually came back a week later to drive up to the mountain from the south and hike through a lava tube, but I guess that's another story.]

[*] Well, I just bought the interagency pass for $80. I have to pay $30 a year for a pass to go hiking in the Angeles National Forest, and with the $16 for the two of us, and a few other sites we visited on this trip, it came close to paying for itself already. Hopefully I'll hit a few more sites before it expires next year and it'll be worth it. If only we hadn't had the free day at Lassen, it'd've worked out closer! Darn those park service free weekends! Even if it doesn't work out to be a deal, it's still cool that the money goes to the park service.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Yreka To Castle Rock Via Hipsterville

It was kind of a bummer to wake up in California on day three of our Pacific Northwest road trip. We had plans to see friends in Seattle the next evening (day four), and we obviously had to make some good time. So, naturally, we dawdled in Yreka, trying to figure out what to do and work around more lousy Internet connectivity.

We finally just got on the I-5 and hauled ass. We had a quick lunch at the Canyonville Cyber Cafe (Cyber 'cause they had free wireless, not that this mattered, since it was about the only place in town). We grabbed some not-so-fabulous locally-made jerky and hit the road.

Our plan was to skip Portland altogether -- we were going to be back later to spend the weekend with my parents, in town for a conference. M.'s tight buddy G., however, wasn't going to be around later, so we made some last-minute plans to meet her at Biwa, a hipster izakaya with some Korean fusion action. The food was great (fried kimchee cakes!), but G. was tied up, and only met us later at the Doug Fir, a fairly interesting retro lounge around the corner.

Suitably fortified, we hauled ass once more up I-5 to Castle Rock and settled into an okay indy motel with (you guessed it!) lousy wireless. They had live Ethernet in the room, though, so I was able to set up a wireless bridge on my laptop for poor M., whose didn't bring the Ethernet dongle for her Air.

To Lassen And Beyond!

We woke up in Carson City with only limited WiFi. I could get it to work on my NetBSD box when I used dhcpcd instead of dhclient, but M. couldn't get it to work on her MacBook Air at all. So much for Super 8, which had done us so right on last year's trip (and, I guess, there was also the dirty coffee pot and generally lack-luster room, but what really matters is the Internet access).

We decamped to a coffee house, fueled up, and buzzed north past Reno and on to Lassen. I convinced M. that we should take the twistiest, smallest roads possible, and we were amply rewarded along CA 89 with views of streams and amazing railroad bridges curving all over.

Of course, as beautiful as it was, it still took a few hours to get to Lassen. It was amazing to notice the immediate change in the character of the mountains, with much exposed rock and steep walls. It was even more amazing to find that the national park was free for the weekend. Woo hoo! $10 is only a drop in the bucket, but there's a certain pleasure in getting something for free!

We looked around a fairly nice new visitors center and enjoyed two moderately overpriced but filling and reasonably tasty panini sandwiches while looking out on the volcanic landscape. Then we headed off to bug the poor rangers.

I had noticed a Lake Helen on the shoulder of Mt. Lassen, and wondered if it had any relationship to Helen Lake on Shasta. The ranger on the desk had no luck with some quick web searching, and we suggested that we could just try to look it up that evening. As I strolled out of the building, the ranger chased me down and showed me an entry in a history of the area, explaining that Lake Helen was named after Helen Brodt, the first white woman to climb the mountain. [I later found a web site that explains that Helen Lake was named after Helen Wheeler, a different Helen.] What a strange coincidence, and how helpful of the ranger to really dig in on this stuff!

We had a great drive up the mountain on a pleasantly twisty road, past a bunch of volcanic features that would've had me leaping out of the car in wonder a year ago, but which seemed only interesting after seeing Yellowstone. There was still plenty of snow on the mountain, with torrents of water pouring down cascades all over, and flowers coming up just on the edges of the snow.

At the high point on the road, we clambered up the snow a few hundred feet, and watched some dude ride his kayak down the snow a few times. It looked like great fun until his kid fell off on the last run, making a belly flop onto the pavement that probably didn't do any real damage, but sure looked like no fun. It looks like a reasonable hike to the top (once the snow melts), without any particularly technical bits; I'd love to give it a shot sometime.

We zipped down to the final ranger station, forgoing a few interesting short hikes in the interest of getting farther up the road. We did stop at the final visitor center, and yet another friendly ranger identified the California Corn Lillies that we'd seen, and the fascinating Mountain Hemlock, which grows in clusters due to animals caching seeds in clusters and then forgetting them.

By the time we reached the edge of the park, it was pretty late, so we headed up to Shasta, got on the I-5 (neatly avoiding all of the parts of the I-5 that we'd driven before, so this was all new), and staggered up to an okay dinner and another mediocre Super 8 in Yreka.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

The Great 2009 Pacific Northwest Volcano Tour

We're off on our 2009 Pacific Northwest Volcano Tour! Well, M. seems to think that we're just making a nice road trip and seeing some friends in Portland and Seattle, but I know better.

Last year, we had a great two-week road trip through the Mountain Time Zone, hitting Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, South Dakota, Montana, and a little bit of Idaho. We figured we'd give it another shot with some different states, and see a bit more of the west (we'd both spent plenty of time in Portland and Seattle, but hadn't seem much of the rest of Oregon and Washington).

I was intent on seeing Lassen Volcanic National Park on the way up -- it's officially in Northern California, but it's actually the southernmost active volcano in the Cascades range. M. was clever enough to point out that it was about the same distance (not time!) to drive up the Owens Valley on US 395 as it was to bomb up the Central Valley on I-5. If you've driven past the dusty fields and smelly feedlots along I-5 as many times as we have, this isn't much of a choice.

We dawdled out of Southern California after a bit of a party the night before, cruising up into the Mojave around mid-day for a quick Astro Burger at Kramer Junction (next to a huge solar power plant). We screamed past the Sierras, Owens Lake, Manzinar, and Mono Lake and into new territory.

We stopped at the first overlook past Lee Vining, enthralled with the amazing view of Mono Lake, and delighted with the variety of stickers that folks had affixed to the guard rails. I'm not a huge fan of putting stickers on any available surface, but seeing such a variety of stickers for everything from ski equipment to unions to NetBSD (ummm, that mighta been a new one) just seemed wonderful, rather than horrible graffitti defacing those boring guard rails.

We were blown away by the beauty of the Bridgeport Valley, so green after all those miles of barren high desert. It looked like there were some comfortable hotels there, but we needed to get down the road. Our vacation was supposed to be about seeing Oregon and Washington, not California!

We wound up pushing through to Carson City, gawking briefly at the Walker River on the long drive down into Nevada, downing a few really good beers at Red's Old 395 Grill (which was a surprisingly good meal, check it out!), and crashing at an unremarkable Super 8.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Geekin' Out With A New Desktop

[Okay, this post is really just for future reference for me, or for the two or three people who I know who care, or maybe just for folks who are googling for some solutions to issues with the same gear as I have. Oh, wait, that disclaimer applies to almost everything I write on the blog. Doh.]

I recently upgraded my desktop hardware at home. I'd been using a Pentium II system that was on the order of 10 years old. I wanted to do some Android development, which required a faster box with more RAM and more disk space; I wanted to play around with Xen and KVM and other virtualization tools; and, of course, I wanted to play some modern games!

Now, I could most of that on my one-year-old Thinkpad -- I'd already done a bunch of Android development on it. It's painful, though, to reboot your main mail and web surfing box to play a game or do development, then reboot it again to check mail, and then back again. It's just not the way to get things done.

Besides, my desktop drives a couple nice monitors with a decent ergonometric keyboard and all the rest. It can have a really beefy graphics card for games, rather than the light, power-saving graphic card in the laptop. Big-ass disks are cheaper for desktops, and having a separate machine around is often important when things go wrong. And a 10 year old desktop is just wrong on so many levels.

I was mostly aiming at reasonably fast, quiet box, but didn't want to pay a mint. Looking at the available CPUs, I briefly considered going with AMD, but eventually decided that I didn't want to hassle with the million and one chipsets that are deployed for AMD (I run a bunch of open-source OSes, and weird chipsets don't often get supported in the way that the big ones do). Intel introduced a cool new CPU and chipset just six months or so ago, the i7 and X48. This is a big step forward, with a memory controller on the CPU which speeds things up considerably (AMD did this years ago!). Unfortunately, the cheapest i7 is about $300, which requires a $200 motherboard and slightly more expensive memory.

Given that I didn't want to spend a mint for CPU power I wasn't going to use, I went for the older generation, and picked up an E8500 Core 2 Duo. I wanted a fair amount of per-CPU grunt to drive games with weak-ass threading like Flight Simulator X, and I wanted virtualization support (a bunch of the nice cheap CPUs in the E7xxx and E5xxx lines don't have it). At the time, the E8500 came in at the right price point.

I wanted a P45-based board, with the possibility of running more than one GPU, in case I pick up another monitor (I have two, and a 24-incher certainly would be nice!). Since I was going to be running NetBSD and Linux (and who knows what else) on this, I wanted something with well-supported sound hardware and Ethernet. For better or worse, I also wanted Firewire (despite having a perfectly serviceable PCI Firewire card sitting around). I wound up with an Asus P5Q PRO, which is older, but still featureful enough.

I wanted a beefy enough graphics card to play some modern games, along with support for dual monitors (it's hard not to get this support these days, but still). As an open-source guy, I liked the fact that ATI was a bit more open about how to program their hardware than nVidia, and, anyway, the 48xx series was at the top of the heap when I was ready to buy. I picked up a Saphire HD4870, which has nice built-in heat pipes and exhausts directly out of the case, which will help to keep the in-case temperature down.

I'm fairly concerned about noise; who wants to have something in their home office that sounds like a vaccuum cleaner for hours on end!? I went with an Antec Solo case, which has been around for awhile, but seems to provided really amazing sound absorbtion. It's not a really deep case, so it might be that there are some PCI/PCIe cards out there that don't quite fit. This could be a problem with next-generation graphics cards, but I presume that if I buy some amazingly trick-ass graphics card, the cost of a new case will be the least of my problems. :-)

I went with a Corsair 650TX 650W power supply, which was way, way overkill. Again, I thought I might need the ability to put in a second graphics card (hence the need for the fancy motherboard with two graphics slots). I suspect that this was still overkill if I put in a second 4870 card. Oh, well, it's supposed to be a very efficient power supply, so hopefully the overkill isn't wasting too much power.

RAM is getting incredibly cheap, so I went with 8GB of RAM from GSK. Again, this is probably overkill, but it's a pain to upgrade later, and it's nice to never, ever swap.

I topped it off with a 640GB Western Digital Caviar Black drive -- there are larger drives available, but I don't do a whole lot of multimedia stuff, so I didn't really need even this much space. Thinking about upgrades, I'd really be more interested in adding a Solid State Drive for maximal speed, rather than trying for more space. I just threw in an old IDE DVD+/-RW drive from my old box.

This was all relatively easy to put together, in the end. The case was really top-notch and easy to deal with, the motherboard manual was pretty good, and SATA is even easier to route than IDE. I did have some troubles getting the motherboard seated perfectly, with the built-in devices sitting properly against the edge of the case. After unscrewing everything, pressing hard to get the motherboard in the right place, and replacing the screws, it was all fine.

I've been pretty happy with the machine, but I kind of regret not spending $20 on a new DVD writer. The Marvel 61xx IDE chip has been misbehaving from the start, and it's been tough to get good Windows drivers (Linux and NetBSD work pretty well). I'm still struggling with difficulties installing games from DVD. Doh.

The Atheros Ethernet chip caused me a few headaches under Linux and NetBSD, but nothing too onerous. I actually had to fix about 10 lines in the NetBSD driver, with the real difficulty being the FreeBSD and NetBSD versions of m_devget(9) treat the arguments differently.

Other than that, it's been a fine, fine machine, and it's flawlessly run any number of games and let me do some fun development. Woo hoo!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Angeles Crest Reopens

[Apparently, 90% of blogs haven't been updated within the last 120 days. Guess I'd better get on it.]

The Angeles Crest highway just reopened, after nearly five years. Woo hoo!

This is an amazingly twisty 66-mile drive along the crest of the San Gabriel Mountains, climbing up to 7,900 feet on the way. It's less than an hour from LA, but you feel like you're in a different world, with swirling clouds and rocky cliffs and tortured old trees everywhere around you.

This is a classic drive -- it's one of the first things I did when we moved to LA. The motorcyclists definitely know all about it. Unfortunately, that first year in LA saw some amazing precipitation, and the road got washed out.

It was wonderful to have a chance to get up there again. I bopped up I-15, past the towering and wonderful and weird Mormon Rocks, and up 138, and onto CA 2. I zipped through Wrightwood to delightfully light traffic (I'd figured that everybody and their uncle would be taking advantage of the reopened road to haul ass, and had waited a month to let the craziest folks get their yah-yahs out).

The road is totally repaved, so it's a beautiful fresh black ribbon heading up into the mountains. The few cars out were either moving quickly or happily used pullouts, so it was a great drive. Once past the newly reopened section, the road surface wasn't quite as new, but it was still beautifully maintained (especially when compared to the roads in our old Koreatown neighborhood of LA!).

Southern California has been in the middle of June Gloom, with a continuous low overcast, so the mountains were a wild mix of clear blue skies and clouds rolling over peaks and through passes. There were even a few brief sections were there was enough fog to get me to slow down, but they passed quickly.

I paused briefly at Mt. Baden-Powell for a quick hike; it turns out that I'm still out of conditioning, despite hiking the last four weekends. I started kind of late (2:30PM) and was more interested in driving the crest in daylight than in re-bagging this peak, so I wussed out and bopped down the mountain after about an hour of slogging up. Just a half mile or so from the bottom, I managed to take a fall and bang up my leg, for the second time on this peak. No big deal -- it certainly didn't slow down my driving on the way down. What a day!

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Good Pre-Flighting Is Important

I headed out bright and early this morning to the Chino airport for some aviation geekery. The Planes of Fame museum was having their monthly talk, this time on the I-400 class Japanese submarines which were designed to ferry specially-designed aircraft to the Panama Canal for a sneak attack late in the war. The talk was interesting, but had surprisingly little aviation content. Oh, well.

After the talk, I headed over to my favorite FBO to take out a plane for the afternoon. It'd been a month since my last flight, and I needed to get the rust out.

When I got to the plane and did my pre-flight, I noticed that the front tire looked a little low. There were distinctive bulges on the side. Naturally, I asked after it at the FBO -- it'd be nice for the rental aircraft to be in working condition.

It turned out that the FBO's little portable air tank was empty, 'cause it leaked, and I needed to check the pressure on the tire before they'd fill it up. Easier said than done -- the plane has little wheel pants that streamline the gear, but make it nearly impossible to get to the valve on the tire. After much rolling back and forth of the aircraft, I discovered that the tire, which was supposed to be at 24 pounds, was at 7 pounds.

Naturally, the adventure wasn't over. It'd take the FBO 20 minutes to refill their air tank, or I could just pull in my car and use my cigarette lighter air pump to fill the tire. Naturally, I grabbed my car. After 30 minutes of rolling the plane back and forth and cursing, I had it all filled up and was ready to go.

And had a pretty un-eventful hour long practice flight, with a number of inaccurate, but reasonably soft, landings. Hopefully I can get out next week or so and get checked out for Catalina Island. It seems like it'd be a pretty cool destination, since it's such a bother to get to any other way.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

A First and a Worst

Woo hoo -- I took up my first passenger Saturday! I'd been planning to head up to Barstow-Daggett to see the high desert and get in some cross-country time, and my buddy S. decided to tag along. He had fond memories of flying with his dad when he was younger, and disregarded my repeated warnings about how 70% of accidents happened to folks with less than 100 hours in type and that I had about 65 hours, total, in any type at all.

We had a great flight up, although I have to admit that I was hoping that the Cajon Pass would look a little more exciting from the air. ATC put us up a little bit higher than I'd planned (9,500 feet) so that might have been part of the problem. The air was beautifully clear (and surprisingly calm), so we could see practically to the oceans and to the Sierras. It was amazing.

Daggett is an untowered field, so you have to self-announce on the radio as you get close, and sort of figure out where everybody else is and try not to hit anybody. There was nobody around, so it wasn't a big deal, but I haven't done it much, and spent a lot of my time concentrating on doing the right thing on the radio.

As it turned out, a bit too much of my time. On final, I was high and to the right. I turned back to the left, overshot, corrected back, and wound up looking at a touchdown point about a third of the way down the runway. Well, it was a 6,000 foot runway, and plane usually takes around 2,000 feet to land, so that wasn't a big deal, but this was still my worst approach ever. Given the lack of traffic and huge runway, I didn't worry, put it down gently, and had over 1,000 feet of runway left after I got stopped.

Daggett turned out to be a delightfully quiet (as in, you don't even hear birds or insects) and dilapidated old WW-II base, with some cool old peeling wooden hangers and some pleasantly strange guys at the FBO (gas station) who sold us sodas. I'd definitely go back, just to drink in the high-desert funkiness. Woo hoo!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Hacking the Google Phone (G1)

I got pretty excited about Google's new phone, the G1. It's a phone with keyboard, GPS, and WiFi -- plus the software on it is (almost) all open source, including an embedded Linux kernel. What's not to love!?

Well, lousy reception from the provider, T-Mobile, is one thing not to love. I checked even before buying the G1, and several people in the neighborhood assured me that T-Mobile's reception sucked here, and one person claimed that they had to go outside to get any reception at all. I went ahead and bought one anyway, figuring that I could always return it (California mandates a month-long return period) if it didn't work out.

The phone itself proved to be exciting. The interface is a little rough, but if you think of it as a beta (like all Google products), it's not so disturbing. I found that the little phone was fairly robust, and only had to be rebooted a couple times (which is more than I can say for the Treo I've been using).

There are lots of great applications for the phone, and more coming out every day. Unlike the iPhone, there's almost no limit on what you can do on the phone, and no limitations on what software you can load. Woo hoo!

In fact, I promptly dug in and started writing an pilot's calculator for the G1. The development was in Java, which I've somehow managed to skip learning all these years (not much use in writing network protocols or device drivers!). I'd always kind of meant to learn Java and Eclipse (the Java IDE of choice), but never had a good reason.

This proved to be a great reason, and I've had a fantastic time learning a new language, a new development environment, and a new GUI API. This is just so much fun! I've seen other folks comment that Google Android API is far better than the other mobile environments out there; if so -- whoa. It's tough to use, tough to learn, and just much nastier than the various X widget sets I've played with over the years. I guess it is much more robust than the Palm environment, but possibly a bit more complex. It took me far longer than I'd hoped to get even a basic application together, but I keep embracing the complexity, layering on Subversion and every other little tool I'm likely to need to make this work in a professional environment.

All in all, though, the development's been a blast.

Unfortunately, the reception was so bad that I eventually returned the phone. Doh. I'm hoping that AT&T or Verizon will offer the G1 (they both have good reception at home), and I've continued to hack on my little app, just so that I can learn something new. We'll see.

[Yeah, there's a development version of the G1 that I could buy for twice as much, and run on AT&T's network, but then there's no insurance (I wind up getting a new Treo about every 15 months thanks to insurance and my clumsiness). Or I could spend about as much on a cellular repeater, but I've heard mixed reports about whether they work at all, and I don't want to chance it. Or I could get a cheap T-Mobile plan and swap sim cards with a cheap AT&T phone and run it that way, paying quite a bit extra for the privilege.

I think I prefer to just hang loose and wait for more options. My Treo isn't that annoying, and I'd like to have a good phone at a reasonable price with reasonable reception. I suppose that an iPhone would provide most of that, too, but I don't like their "We own your phone, we'll decide what apps you can run," attitude. We'll see.]

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Filming My Flying

When I was spending a bunch of time learning how to be a better driver, I spent some time videotaping events. It was kind of useful to be able to look back over a run, and see where I did well and where I could do better. I've been surprised that more pilots didn't film their flights for later review.

I met someone a few months ago who was filming their flights, so I decided to give it a try. I had to get a tripod, bungie it down to the back seat, and get a special cable to connect the microphone port on the camcorder to the intercom on the plane.

My first try was a bit weak -- I somehow managed to set up the camera so that it caught a bit of the back of my head, a bit of the instrument panel, and a bit of the outside. And the audio was totally overdriven, so I didn't get much of anything intelligible recorded. Still, I was happy with the attempt.

Next time, I'll mount the camera higher, I'll use an attenuating audio cable, and hopefully I'll get some more useful results. As it was, I was just happy to be up after a nearly four-week break. Hopefully, next month there won't be giant fires closing the airspace or sleepless nights that keep me from feeling tip-top to fly. Eh, we'll see.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

BarCamp LA

Yow, I spent Saturday out at BarCamp LA -- what an experience! It was like nothing I'd ever done before, and an all-around terrific experience. It was the perfect expression of the much-maligned idea of the Internet as gift culture.

The BarCamp idea is (apparently) that you can get together a bunch of smart folks with just the minimum amount of organization and let 'em loose to do their best to educate each other and network and have a great time. Folks are anxious to contribute whatever they can to make it a wonderful event. In fact, there is no charge to participate, and the sponsors (folks like Yahoo! and Google and Maholo (who donated their offices to house the event) pay for everything.

There were four tracks of talks, and people just signed up on each of the tracks to give whatever talks they felt like. Titles ranged from "Concurrency for Web Folks" to "My Favorite Expensive Beers", and everything in between. I went to talks on doing IT in Africa, storytelling versus storysharing, how to pitch an idea, the above-mentioned concurrency talk (a waste if you have a degree in CS), and a cool talk on hacking on consumer hardware.

There was plenty of networking (I met some cool UNIX folks from the Inland Empire, out by me, along with some pleasantly strange network hackers), and plenty of decent beer and food and fun. They even gave out free event t-shirts! All in all, I was blown away. I'm still kind of stunned that something like this could ever happen, let alone happen repeatedly, all over the world. Woo hoo!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

A Longer Flight...

This weekend, I headed out to Palm Springs. It was a great day to fly, and a pretty good day for this trip. There's a tight pass between the 10,804 foot Mt. San Jacinto and 11,499 foot Mt. San Gorgonio on the way out to Palm Springs. When it get's windy, that pass can get pretty turbulent. Today, the winds were light and easy.

I planned my flight, got the weather, bopped on down to the airport, and flew out with no problems. I zipped up to 7,500 feet, followed a radial off of the Paradise VOR, zipped through the Banning Pass, managed to get a word in edgewise (this was tough) to Palm Springs Approach controller, zipped in to the airport and made a smooth landing.

The only place to park was a fairly tony fixed base operator (FBO), but they proved to be friendly and helpful. The main reason to head out to Palm Springs was that I had to go to an airport 50 miles away or more for this to count as a cross-country flight (you need 50 hours of cross-country to get an IFR rating). The other reason was to revisit the Palm Springs Air Museum.

I had a brisk half mile walk down the road to the museum. It's a great place, with a rare PBY seaplane (well, rare in a museum, there are still a bunch operating out there) and a bunch of fabulous planes. I had a great talk with a docent, Mark, who seemed to have encyclopedic knowledge of these planes, showing me the redundant control system on a B-25 (who knew?) and explaining why the propeller blades on the Spitfire Mark XIIII were wooden (if they hit the ground on takeoff or landing on a grass airstrip, they'd splinter, rather than destroying the engine like metal blades would).

Alas, I had to bail early to ensure I got back to Chino before the sun set. The fancy FBO didn't charge me the $15 for parking that I had expected (well, they'd assured me on the phone that they wouldn't, since I was there just a couple of hours, but I was still steeled for it), I had a fine takeoff (despite a brisk cross wind), and had no trouble zipping back through the Banning Pass.

Now, it turns out the haze (read: pollution) had in fact crept well west of Chino, despite the assurances of the flight services weather forcaster. Up in the air, everything was great -- I could see for miles. But below about 500 feet, everything was muck. I pulled out my handheld GPS and followed it to within a few miles of Chino, at which point the controller sent me north, and then turned me back west towards the airfield. It turned out that there was a business jet landing at the same time and, no surprise, he actually knew where the airfield was, and the tower wanted me to be out of his way.

After all of the vectoring around, the tower was kind enough to point me at the airfield again, which was a good thing. Even from three miles out, I couldn't spot it in the haze. At the last minute, I finally saw the tower sticking up, got onto final, and dropped down to a somewhat firm landing. Given the hassles of getting there, I felt pretty good about it -- I would've eventually found the place with the help of the GPS, but I was happy to get the directions.

All in all, it was a pretty good day. If I was gonna nitpick (and I generally am) I dropped too much altitude too soon coming into Chino. I was down at 1,400 feet while I was still miles from the airport. I definitely need to remember to keep it up at 2,500 feet until I'm really close, but hopefully that'll come with time.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Those Scalp Wounds Sure Do Bleed...

I keep reading about my nephew and my friends boys (always the boys!) banging the crap out of their heads. I just shudder, remembering my various trips to the emergency room as a kid. I still have an inch-long scar on my forehead from tripping while running up the bleachers in the third grade. Doh.

So I was particularly pleased to prong myself on a towel hanger in the bathroom the other day, bending down quickly to look under the cabinet for my heart rate monitor. I just wasn't thinking, and caught the very top of my forehead on the hook, putting a little dent into my head and tearing the skin in an L-shaped wound.

I hit it hard enough to cause a couple splurts of blood to be thrown down my forehead, but not hard enough to cause a concussion or anything. It bled for awhile, as scalp wounds do, and then seemed okay. I mean, there weren't great gouts of blood on the floor the way there would've been if I'd really nailed it. M. insisted that I didn't need stitches, and she seems to be pretty much right, as it stopped bleeding and seems to be healing up.

But -- just -- doh! I thought I was over all that.

Trying Out A New Airport

I've been anxious to try flying to a new airport without an instructor along. You'd think that flying to an airport would be like driving to a new town -- read the map, make a few turns, and show up, right? Sadly, aviation is a little different. Each airport has characteristic landmarks that you use when you report in on the radio, and airports often have specific procedures that aren't immediately obvious (or documented). You kind of have to fly with someone there to figure out what's going on. (This is known in the literary trade as foreshadowing, I'm told.)

Anyway, I carefully prepared for this flight, driving by El Monte Airport, checking the satellite photos on Google, and even visualizing ("chair flying") the flight. I had no trouble getting the plane, requesting flight following (so the controllers look out for other traffic for me), and boppin' on up into the air. The old Cherokee just zipped up to 4,500 feet, and then, as requested, pretty much fell out of the air right away to get back down to 1,400 feet to land at El Monte.

Unfortunately (as I'd been warned by the Flight Service folks on the phone), there was a bunch of haze in the LA basin that came right up to El Monte. It was beautiful at Chino, but I had trouble seeing even five miles to El Monte as I came up on it. The controller kind of vectored me towards the airport ("southwest of you") and suggested I come in on a "modified straight-in". I naively turned towards the airport and acknowledged I'd come in on the modified straight-in. Fortunately, the controller figured out that I had no idea what he meant by "modified" (I should've said that I was unfamiliar with the airport[*]), set me right, resequenced the guy he was trying to work in front of me (by giving the poor bastard a 360 for spacing) and I made it down with no further problems.

I apologized as I was handed off to ground control, but the tower seemed to think that it was no big deal. That's probably more a testimony to the lame-ass flying that private pilots seem to get away with every day, than because it didn't matter. Argh, hopefully I'll learn from this and do better next time.

I had a great trip back to Chino, did a few touch and goes, and dropped in for an absolute greaser at the end. I'd been trying to remember to keep pulling back on the yoke as I flare (so that I touch down softly and with the nose wheel high), and I finally managed it perfectly, with the tires barely chirping as I set the plane down with nary a bump. Woo hoo!

[*] Reviewing the Pilot's Guide to California Airports at home, ummm, yeah, they listed that modified straight-in, and mentioned that I should've come in over the drainage canal next to the airport. This was totally due to sloppiness on my part. I'll make sure it goes down differently next time. :-(

Finally Back In The Air

Pwhew, it's been awhile since I've been flying, as I was having some troubles getting access to the plane I'd been training in. First of all, it turned out that as soon as I went from student to private pilot, the flight school's insurance didn't cover me any longer, so I had to get some coverage (yow, I should've actually had coverage as a student, just in case!)

Then there were a couple of weeks of hassle as they tried to get the plane in for the inspection required of all rental aircraft after 100 hours of use. They couldn't inspect it until nearly the 100 hours were up, but somebody was going to get that last hour or so, then that failed and the plane sat around for a week unused 'cause nobody thought it was available, et cetera. It's amazing to me that these guys manage to stay in business.

Anyway, I got up Friday morning and spent some time in the pattern. I managed a few decent landings -- nothing I was really proud of, but nothing that was scaring me. Hopefully now I can continue with a series of flights to push the edges of my comfort zone and keep me learning!

Friday, October 17, 2008


When I first thought about learning to fly, I considered joining one of the glider clubs around here. There's a long history of folks learning to fly gliders first, then moving on to powered flight. When you're in a 400 pound aircraft with no engine, you really notice it when you're flying sloppy, as you're falling out of the sky that much quicker.

At the time, I decided not to -- after all, I'd probably be flying on the weekends, with possibly unreliable, volunteer instructors, and it'd just be a bother. Clearly, going with a professional instructor in a powered plane was a better idea. 60 hours and 50 weeks later, I'm not so sure...

In any case, last weekend I headed out to Hemet to hang out with one of the two glider clubs at the field. It was a beautiful (but, considering the 400 miles I already drive a week, long) drive, past lots of funky, rocky, desert peaks.

As soon as I pulled up, a friendly instructor chatted me up, showing me the club's gliders and letting me sit in a couple (in fact, he let me sit in the two fancy, high-performance single-seaters). It was awesome -- after all of these frumpy old trainers I've been in, these were elegant and minimalist machines designed for high-performance flying. You sit beneath a big ol' plexiglass canopy giving you a great view of the sky and everything around you. It was wonderful to check this stuff out!

Unfortunately, the ride itself was kind of a bummer. The friendly guy handed me over to a fairly grumpy instructor who hurried me into the glider. We were well off the ground before I could explain why I was there or what I was interested in or anything else.

Everything happened so fast that it was hard to appreciate it. I loved watching the Piper Pawnee (an ex-cropduster) towing us up to altitude, and I was impressed at how vigorously the instructor was moving the controls to keep us steady. But I only spent a few minutes controlling the glider myself, didn't learn much, and found myself back on the ground after just 22 minutes, despite a day with strong thermals.

And it cost $66 for that 3,000 foot tow[*]! At that rate, I was paying $198 per hour -- for that much I could almost rent a multi-engine plane. Of course, on a good day, you could cruise for hours on the $66 tow, which might even things out.

It's probably not an activity to be undertaken in order to save money, but for it's own sake. I'm still interested (I had a great talk with the first instructor, and thought it all seemed fascinating), but I'm not sure that I'm ready to dive into it right now. If nothing else, that 60 mile drive kind of sucks. I may head up to check out some of the high-desert gliding clubs a little later (I could always fly up) and see if they might be a better match.

[*] Admittedly, I knew ahead of time what it would cost, and that I might well wind up with a 20 minute ride. But it was still kinda quick and not as exciting as it coulda been.

Monday, September 22, 2008

I Am Now A Private Pilot!

To my delight, I managed to pass my private pilot checkride. There were a few ugly moments, but, for the most part, it went okay. My examiner was really relaxed and helpful, from start to finish.

I had hoped to ace the oral exam, but I had some problems with weather questions. I can interpret the funky abbreviations in all sorts of weather reports, and can differentiate between the million and one different sources of weather data, but I had real problems identifying the contents of the various SIGMETs and AIRMETs that the National Weather Service issues. Perhaps this was because I never have to see them; I just look on the computer for the various forcasts. I'm not sure why it was important to the examiner, but he really quizzed me on it (he also gave me a whole bunch of slack answering the questions, but it was still incredibly aggravating to draw a blank).

I was a bit more nervous about the flying, alas. I couldn't get the plane to start, out of the gate, 'cause I forgot to put the key into the ignition (there's a start button, so you don't turn the key to start it). Then I flubbed up my first radio call.

After that, things seemed to smooth out; I managed to fly to the right place, demonstrate some very sloppy steep turns, and did okay with slow flight (which is sort of a demonstration of how you'll do as you approach landing). I then totally flubbed a stall, dropping far too steeply in my recovery. Fortunately, I got another crack at it, and did okay. I did some instrument work, flying around with funky foggles over my eyes, so I couldn't see out the window, and had to just look at the instruments.

Then I buzzed over to Brackett, nearly getting lost in the haze in the process, made a bad landing, went back to Chino, nailed a really short landing which was both short and soft (only to find out that the examiner wanted a soft landing), made a reasonable soft landing (which wasn't as soft as my previous short landing), and then I was done.

I have the ticket now, and I'm ready to go. Woo hoo!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Pwhew, Getting Close

The checkride is tomorrow, so I'm desperately preparing myself. I went up with H. Friday, and did a bunch of touch and goes at Brackett Field, flying over the LA Fair on each circuit of the pattern. He seemed much more pleased with my landings. [M. and I joined a couple of friends at the fair just a few hours later. It was kind of fun to have seen it all from the air, and then stroll through it, eating food on a stick.]

Saturday, H. and I got together to finish up the paperwork for the checkride. We had to use the FAA's new IACRA website to enter our data, which is a total joke. This could've been done by any bozo off the street in no time at all, and made to work on any browser. But the FAA's version only works on Internet Explorer, and Internet Explorer 6 at that (the latest IE is version 7). It was a total pain.

Then we got around to looking at the aircraft maintenance records. I have to prove to the examiner that the plane is legal to fly -- various parts have to be inspected at various intervals, and all of this has to be elaborately documented. I'd asked about this last week, but H. had assured me that it was no problem, that the appropriate portions of the documentation were highlighted and flagged so it was trivial to do this part.

Then he couldn't find the documentation for the plane I fly. After we just about took apart the office, I found the maintanence logs in a plastic bag at the bottom of the drawer with the logs for the rest of the planes. Bonus. Except that the logs weren't highlighted, and, in fact, some of the tach time information was clearly wrong (you have to inspect the planes after 100 hours on the engine, so this is important). They'll have to try to correct this tomorrow morning before the examiner gets there.

Okay, that's bad enough, but it gets worse. H. tells me that the mechanic is an idiot, and he ran into the same problem with a checkride on a different aircraft a couple of weeks ago. Ummm, so why didn't the staff look at all of the maintenance logs at that time and correct them all!? I don't know, but I have to wonder why H. was so relaxed about this last week ("Don't worry about it!") when he already knew that there had been problems with this previously. There's nothing like going into this practical with doubts about the most basic issues of the aircraft, let alone my skills or knowledge.

For all that, flying with H. went just fine Saturday, with some brief practice of steep turns and stalls. I went out today (Sunday) and flew some short-field landings at Riverside and San Bernadino and then flew back. It was a real confidence builder to be able to hop in the plane and, just as I've been trained, fly somewhere. Woo hoo.

I guess I'll find out tomorrow. H. has told me I'm ready, so hopefully I'm ready. Most people pass on the first try, and neither the examiner nor the recommending instructor (H.) want to rack up a bunch of failures. But we'll see -- I've done my best to prepare and hopefully it'll all work out.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Sweating The Practical

I went up last Friday to practice landings in the pattern -- the weather was too lousy to go further -- and then had a lesson with H. on Saturday. Unfortunately, H. didn't seem too happy with my attempts at a short field landing. I kind of wish he'd noticed this a bit sooner, like, say, before we scheduled the checkride. But, hey, I guess I just gotta practice.

When landing, it's important to point the aircraft down enough that you aren't going to run out of speed and drop out of the sky, and up enough that you don't gain too much speed. You want to land at 1.3 times the stall speed, which is around 85 mph for the Cherokee I fly. When flying with H., I'd just been pointing the plane towards the ground and letting it go; as I posted about earlier, on some of my practice sessions, I'd been paying a bit more attention to the speed.

Sunday, I went out and tried to pay attention to the speed, but wound up with a bunch of lousy landings. This morning I went up again, and seem to have gotten a lot closer. I ended up the day with a couple of pretty decent short field landings, so perhaps I can do 'em up right for H. when I fly with him again Friday.

(It was an interesting day, though, between the rookie controller having me do two 360 degree turns for spacing in the same downwind, and nearly nailing a hawk, with the kind of effects on my attempt at landing that you might imagine.)

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Objectives Defined

So, I have a tentative date for my practical test, and I'm just trying to get my flying into shape. Saturday, I went up and did 3/10s of an hour of instrument (for some reason, the Cherokee 180 seems much tougher to fly on instruments than the Warrior), and went out to Riverside for some touch and goes. I continue to have troubles with the short-field landing, but seem to be getting better. Hopefully I'll eventually figure out that I have to pull back pretty hard on the yoke to get the plane to settle softly when it has 40 degrees of flaps out and I'm going slow as the itch!

I'm working on my flight planning for the practical and hoping to get everything just right in the next two weeks, although I want to make sure that I'm relaxed enough that I can deal with it if things are put off due to weather.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Practice Makes Perfect

I headed out today for a bit of solo flying to try to reinforce the lessons from Saturday's tour of small airports. It turned out that there was a bunch of haze over those airports, so I opted to just stay in the flight pattern at Chino and practice landings.

It kind of fun to do something I felt so comfortable with, and I was excited to get a chance to work on maintaining a steady, low speed into my landings. One of the toughest parts of the upcoming practical test is the short field landing, in which you demonstrate that you could put the plane down on at a tiny airfield. You have to come in slow with full flaps, and put the plane right on the ground, right at the start of the runway.

I'd been feeling nervous about my ability to get the plane slowed down and where I wanted, so it was great to have a chance to really work on it, and try out a bunch of different techniques. Plus, it was kind of interesting to see two Cessnas get within a few hundred feet of landing on each other -- the tower kept saying "Turn east, turn east, go around, go around" and finally the clueless guy got the point and pulled up. I kept waiting for the tower to give the guy a number to call (when you really screw up, you have to call the tower and explain yourself after you land), but he seemed to get away with it. Doh.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Yeah, I'm Still Out of Shape

I went to bop up Baldy (the local 10,000 foot mountain) this weekend, and discovered to my dismay that I was really out of conditioning. I actually turned around about a third of the way up, feelin' pretty awful after slowly, laboriously walking up a couple thousand feet. I definitely gotta get out and start running or doing something to improve my cardiovascular health! It's amazing how fast it all disappears now that I'm on the far side of 40. :-(

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Visiting Little Airports

I'm hoping that I'm finally entering the home stretch for this whole private pilot certificate. H. thinks I need two or three more lessons with him, and a few more hours of solo, and I'll be ready. We're looking at scheduling the checkride sometime mid-September.

As part of the preparation, H. and I flew from Chino (I decided that coyly failing to mention actual locations just made it tougher to read this; anonymity seems a bit overrated) out to San Bernadino International Airport. It turns out that KSBD features a beautiful 10,000 foot concrete runway, but it is an uncontrolled airport. There's a tower there, but it's unmanned, so you show up, broadcast on a set frequency to announce your presence, and do what you have to do.

We landed behind a Cirrus who seemed a little lost, did three short-field landings (kinda funny on a 10,000 foot field), and bopped on over to a practice area near Rialto for some S-turns over a road. Finally, we did a couple of quick short-field landings at Rialto with some ugly crosswinds, transitioned through Ontario airspace, and landed back at Chino.

I'm now signed off to fly to San Bernadino and Rialto, so I can practice this in preparation for the test. I can't wait to do this a few times by myself! Woo hoo.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Yet Another Cross Country

My instructor H. wanted me to do one more cross-country solo -- "So it looks good for the FAA examiner when you do the practical test -- you don't want just the minimum number of hours, do you!?" I was convinced that I should go somewhere new -- making the same flight that I'd done four other times (dual, dual night, plus two solos) just wasn't gonna teach me much. Fortunately, J. took me down to a different spot earlier in the year, and that was enough to convince H. that I could go there again.

I put it off for two weeks, once for an all-day home improvement workshop, and once 'cause of illness, and I was anxious to get up there. The weather didn't look great, with a nasty cross-wind and a report of clouds. In addition, one of the the navigation beacons I was planning to use (a VOR) was down. I was feeling pretty iffy about it. H. thought I should just go, that the clouds would burn off, and that I could follow the interstate most of the way, anyway.

Well, whaddya know -- H. was right. Once I took off, ATC had me stay east of the interstate, rather than following the navigation aid as I was planning, and it worked out to be a matter of following the road after all. And, of course, the clouds burned off.

I'd been really concerned, and fired up my little hiking GPS (which was more than sufficient to point me towards the airport), but it turned out that I could see the place from miles away, plus the ATC folks took extra time to point it out me after I mentioned I was a student pilot. All in all, it was another fine flight, although a little anti-climactic. I suppose I oughta trust H a bit more often...

Trying to Finish Up

I'm so close to finishing up that I can almost taste it. I went up twice this week with H., doing instrument flight and slow flight and stalls and short- and soft-field landings, and then I headed out for yet one more cross-country solo. At this point, I've fulfilled the FAA requirements to get a private pilot's certificate, and I just need to make sure that I can pass the practical test.

For the practical test, I need to plan an assigned flight, take an oral exam that covers the flight and pretty much everything else I've learned, and then go up and demonstrate that I can fly a set of required figures with reasonable accuracy. Everybody will tell you that the accuracy requirement for the private pilot's test is pretty forgiving -- pretty much within a 100 feet of altitude, 10 degrees of heading, and 10 knots of airspeed for most maneuvers -- but I'm still working on getting my flying precise enough.

I had no trouble making yet another two-hour flight cross-country, communicating with air traffic control, navigating to a remote field and making a landing there, but I'm still struggling to perform the required figures accurately enough. I'm hoping to do a couple more lessons and couple more solos and get everything up to snuff. Pwhew, no pressure...

(And I'll post a few thoughts on the cross-country next.)

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Finally, A Chance To Work On Landings...

Phwew, I finally got a chance to chat with my instructor about landings, and we settled in and did a bunch of touch-and-goes. Going from the Warrior to the older (and heavier) Cherokee, I was definitely comin' in too low with the Cherokee. It was great to get up there and work on it.

We tried out a number of power-off landings, rehearsing what would happen if the engine totally went out. At one point, we both agreed that it looked like we were high enough to make the runway, so H. pulled the power and let me try to glide it in. Despite the fact that I got the flaps off and promptly put the plane at the best glide speed (84 mph), the prop definitely would've been trimming the weeds at the edge of the runway if we didn't give up the glide and give it a jolt of power.

I gotta learn to keep this new (or old, I guess) plane up higher, so I can get down safely no matter what happens. H. is convinced that this knowledge only comes with actual practice; I'm thinkin' that a little more explanation wouldn't exactly hurt, but that's me.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

More Practice...

Well, after four or five hours of solo flying, I was anxious to do some flying with my instructor, and figure out what bad habits I've picked up. The solo work is important to improve my confidence and highlight areas where I've been leaning on my instructor without noticing, but at some point I have to return to the source to ask questions and improve my skills. For instance, I clearly need some help with go-arounds.

Unfortunately, my instructor canceled on me the other day about 30 minutes before our appointment, on a beautiful day. He'd just noticed that he was signed up to teach about 14 hours of lessons in a day, which didn't seem comfortable or safe. I'm sympathetic -- I'm occasionally flaky in that sort of "Oh, I guess I didn't realize that" kinda way -- but this just seems so unprofessional. I'd signed up for my flight at least a week in advance; the problem was another student's night flight (almost certainly scheduled after I'd set up my lesson) that would last past midnight.

H. claimed that he was confident that I was doing okay, and that he needed to get this out of the way for the other student, but this really puts a crimp in my training. I'm ready for a big push to get the last three or four hours of instruction I need for my certificate, and it is unfortunate to miss a beautiful flying day for no good reason.

I couldn't fit in a lesson Friday or Saturday, and H. doesn't teach Sunday, so I just went up on a short solo flight to keep my skills up. I headed out to the practice area on my own for the first time, although I didn't have much to practice. I had a bunch of questions about what I was doing and how I was doing that I needed answered before I knew what to concentrate on. I didn't want to do more touch and goes until I knew what I was doing wrong with the go-arounds.

It was still good to get up and practice my radio skills (I forgot to say "traffic" rather than "practice area", which another user of the practice area demonstrated to me) and try to remember everything I need to do to fly (I forgot to enrichen the fuel mixture again when I went below 3,000 feet, 'cause I got busy on the radios). I even made a fine landing, but I think that this whole flight was unnecessary. I should've been able to fly with my instructor and work on this stuff, rather than waste 7/10s of an hour messing around in the plane to try to keep from getting rusty.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Ride Along On A Cross-Country To RHV

My buddy from work, T., first gave me a ride in his plane a little over a year ago, convincing me that flying was not just for the rich and crazy. Well, at least, not just for the rich. This weekend, I got a chance to ride along with him on a flight from LA up to the Bay Area (I'm up here all week for a conference -- give me a ring if you haven't heard from me already).

After putting in many hours learning to fly, it was wonderful to get a chance to see someone else fly a light plane, doing all of the stuff I've been studying. I got to listen in on ATC again, and this time I could actually make heads or tails of it, and spot some of the traffic that was pointed out to us.

T. is a careful and serious pilot, and watching him at work reminded me of all of the sloppiness of my own flying, like remembering to turn off the fuel pump once I get high enough to be safe, or sloppily specifying my airplane type as a PA28/A, rather than P28A/A. Plus, he had a few new tricks that I hadn't picked up yet, like turning on the fuel pump briefly whenever switching tanks.

On the last leg of the flight, into Ried Hillview airport in San Jose, ATC vectored us around (straight into the hills) until T. asked 'em to let him resume his own navigation, and then handed us off to approach at the last minute. T. finally raised approach, then had to do a quick 360 because he hadn't contacted the tower yet for permission to enter the airport airspace. Then he slid neatly down into the airport, following a couple other planes.

It didn't end there -- we got some crazy progressive taxi instructions that put us into a totally different part of the airport ("Did she say right?" "Uh, yeah." "This sure doesn't look like transient parking to me!"), and then finally got it all set up.

All in all, it was a wonderful experience. I was so happy to be able to see how somebody besides my instructor flew, and to pick up a few tips. I think that this'll definitely improve my flying. And it was certainly big fun. Seeing how crazy the ATC was coming in to Ried Hillview, I was shocked. It might be that I need some more practice at busy airports, but hopefully I'll get some more soon!

Saturday, July 26, 2008

More Soloing

Argh, I neglected to mention .8 hours of solo last week, in which I yet again had terrifying go-around. As before, I bounced a couple times, then slammed on full throttle. As before, the plane lurched to the left, the wheels squealed, and I barely avoided hitting a runway sign on the side of the runway as I scrambled back into the air.

Fortunately, this time, as I called up Dad to rant about it, it occurred to me that maybe if I was hitting full throttle, I really needed to throw in a bunch of right rudder to avoid that lurch to the left. Plus, really, I don't need full throttle but just more throttle. Hopefully that problem is solved and I won't scare myself any more.

I had a great cross-country flight today. I was a whole lot more comfortable, and it all just seemed to flow. When I taxied out to the run-up area, there was a beautiful WWII T-6 Texan next to me, which promptly took the runway and headed out. I then had to hold at the runway edge for another plane to land, which turned out the be an equally beautiful WWII P-51! Yow, I hate flying outta this place!

I got turned over to a pleasant controller as soon as I got into the air, and zipped along up to 6,500 feet. It seemed like there was a bunch of haze in the air, and I was concerned about cumulous clouds in the distance, but it turned out that the haze wasn't that thick and the clouds were over the ocean. I got smoothly handed off a bunch, lined up on the runway, and neatly landed behind a classic Aircoupe and a Piper Tomahawk (one of the plane I'm interested in buying).

The folks on the ground weren't exactly on the ball, and I had to call up a few times to get set up, but I suspect that like me, the ground controller was a student. And, if I think that flying is hard (after 40 or so hours of training), controlling must be really hard (since it takes about three years to get rated).

I took off again, got flight following from a military controller (who'd earlier been vectoring around "Top Gun Three"), and headed home. Out of habit, I'd claimed I was climbing to 6,500, but the controller was kind enough to gently remind me that I wanted 5,500 (there's a convention that you fly at odd thousand altitudes to the East, and even thousands to the West). Zipping back across LA I heard the controller call me out as traffic for a couple Southwest flight which came impressively close by me (cool!) as they maneuvered to land, and then disappeared into the distance. Woo hoo!

I came in close to my home airport, managed to avoid the Lifeflight helicopter that the controller pointed out, and made a beautiful landing! Woo hoo.

I still need to do one more cross-country -- I need five hours of it, and have 4.6. My instructor convinced me that the examiner will be suspicious if I have exactly the five, and I should go for a bit more. I figure that the point of learning to fly is to fly around, so I'm not complaining about a bit of extra time. Plus, my instructor will sign me off to go someplace else (finally) that I went with J. just before he passed away. This should be fun, and a bit more challenging, and I'm looking forward to it. After all, if I'm going to be able to fly just anywhere as soon as I get my certificate, I oughta be able to make a simple flight down the coast to someplace I've visited before!