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Flying High

Wednesday, November 26, 2008
Like so many stories, this one starts out with "I know this guy..."

The background: In my free time, since I'm unemployed, I've been helping the owner of an awesome local business out by helping him set up and deploy a series of used IBM Point-of-Sale systems that he bought. This is kind of fun because he's a pretty cool guy and I get to learn something new, having never worked with POS systems before.

So I'm spending a few hours there on Tuesday trying to figure out how to make lights flash and receipts print and this guy, who happens to have recently earned his pilot's license, said, "Hey, I'm flying up to the Troutdale Airport tomorrow to run an errand; want to come along?"

Perhaps a little more background is necessary at this point. You see, gentle reader, I've always wanted to fly. I love flying in planes and have on my lifetime "to-do" list a big entry that says, "LEARN TO FLY A PLANE".

Now that you know that tidbit, you can probably guess that I jumped at the chance to ride in his little Cessna. (I'm guessing it's a 172.)

view out of the plane

The trip was awesome. Flying in a small plane like that is cool; we were cruising at about 100 knots at roughly 3500 feet in the air. Compared to a commercial passenger jet which is probably doing closer to 550+ knots at 35,000 feet, the experience was so much more real: the plane would literally jump when a gust of wind came by, and we were still low enough that I could make out cars on the road. Troutdale Airport was especially fun due to the 20+ mph headwind that made taking off and landing a little more bumpy than usual.

view out of the plane

The highlight of the trip - for me, at least - was the part in the middle. Once we had a few thousand feet of air safely between us and the ground, the pilot (sitting 4 inches to my left) simply took his hands off the controls and said, "your turn!". He pointed at Mt. Adams (this was the trip north) and said, "we want to go that way." I took up the co-pilot controls and managed to keep us headed roughly in our intended direction and he clarified all the instruments for me. It was more fun than a person should be allow to have!

The return trip was even better, since I'd had a chance to "get a feel for it" and I was no longer trying to micromanage the flight of the plane and we were consequently no longer bobbing up and down. Of course, he took care of anything complicated like taking off, landing, talking to the tower, taxiing, or anything that had a remote component of danger attached to it. I even enjoyed him showing me what "slipping" is.

I think "learning to fly" just jumped up a few places on that old "to-do" list...

A new theory

Tuesday, November 25, 2008
I'm going to start this post out by saying that I'm pretty good at playing video games. I have, I hate to admit, decades of casually playing games under my belt and I've gotten pretty good at getting pretty good at games. So, it is with these years of experience that I have developed a theory.

My theory is that somewhere, hiding in the depths of a vault, is a tome of video game design knowledge. This book is the one that all game developers secretly have access to and have been forbidden from sharing with the rest of us under penalty of death.

Somewhere in this volume is a chapter dedicated to designing "The Asshole Level™". This level is the one it's nearly impossible to complete without getting every exact motion correct, and the only way to do that is to get it down to muscle memory - and even then it takes luck. This level that I'm talking about is the one that must be played time and time and time again before it can be passed. This is the level designed to take advantage of someone like me, someone who will compulsively conquer this challenge set before him. I hate this level.

All games have this level. Anybody who's played a game with the name "Mario" in the title knows what I'm talking about. The levels where you have to memorize exactly how they work - and you have to do it the hard way - are the bane of my existence. I must complete them. I must pass them! But at what cost...?

Dr. Grant Simmons

I wanted to take a moment to publicly congratulate my brother, who successfully presented his dissertation research last Friday to earn his PhD in human physiology and become "Dr. Grant Simmons."

my brother!

There are not many people in the world who could take a topic like "Cutaneous vasodilation at altitude: impacts on human thermoregulation and vasoconstrictor function" and, even with the word "altitude" under contention, present it in such a way that almost anyone can follow what he's saying. There are even fewer people who can present it in such a way that almost anyone would follow what he's saying. But my brother, of whom I'm so immensely proud, is one of those people.

Over the past 9.5 years that he's been at the University of Oregon, I've watched him grow from a directionless teenager to a respected scientist. The change has been amazing to watch, and the work I've witnessed him undertake has been nothing short of awe-inspiring. My younger brother has become a respected researcher in his field (I can't exactly tell you what that is, but it's true), a loving husband, and - to me - a role model.

Congratulations, Grant!

The Rules

Thursday, November 20, 2008
This post isn't about following the rules. I don't really consider myself a "rule" person. Instead, it's about systems, and why we have them.

don't pass on the right

I'm going to create a hypothetical situation. Let's consider the Salem YMCA. Let's imagine, for a second, that they have an indoor running track. Let's imagine a step further and picture a track that's roughly a 12th of a mile in circumference. Finally, let's imagine that there are myriad signs that say "on odd days of the month, run clockwise; on even days, clockwise."

Now, if you have one person wanting to use this narrow, indoor track, it really doesn't matter whether or not they follow the signs, because no one will know, care, or be inconvenienced. However, if you have two people who don't follow the sign, the odds are even that they'll end up heading toward each other and one person will likely have to move or be otherwise interrupted. If they were to follow the signs, though, and run the same direction, they might never even know the other person was there.

So what happens if there are 20 people using this small track? If they're not paying attention to any of the many signs, it becomes practically unusable. But if they work with the system set in place, everyone can use it and it works quite well. That's why there's a system; so everyone can utilize this track to its fullest extent.

Systems like this are everywhere. Stay to the right on the freeway unless passing - this way the freeway can accommodate everyone's choice of vehicular speed. It's a perfectly reasonable system. Yield seating near the doors on public transportation to the elderly and disabled; the bus will move faster and people will have to wait less. The systems work, they work well, and I support them.

Notice that I'm not saying "follow the rules". I don't care how fast you're driving, how many laps you want to run, or where you're headed on the city bus. Those rules and reasons don't concern me so much. It's simply when your inattention causes me inconvenience that I start to fume...

Leaf Blowers

Monday, November 17, 2008
By an amazing coincidence, it was exactly a year ago today that I ranted about the noise generated by leaf blowers. Yet here I am today, at an unreasonably hour in the morning (at least by unemployed standards), listening to them use an internal combustion engine to turn a fan which then blows air around... and this is what they use to move leaves. (Not, for instance, a rake.)

a RAKE

I love technology. Technology has brought us incredible things: the Internet, special effects in movies that DON'T look terrible, and genetically delicious Life cereal. However, when the line forms for people who think that technology isn't the answer to everything, I'll be at the front. Is it more efficient to use a leaf blower than the rake? Perhaps for the person having to move the leaves. But the net effect of a leaf blower is absolutely negative: consider the noise pollution, the air pollution, the consumption of fossil fuels, the energy used in the construction of the thing, etc. All so someone can save a few minutes waving a magical wand of air movement instead of, for instance, a rake.

One day a committee will be formed for the express purpose of making the world a better place. I hope to be on this committee. I will encourage the use of rakes or, at least, quiet leaf blowers. Why? Because the quiet is good for us all.

Magical Blogger Mood Ring

Friday, November 14, 2008
Mood Color: Gray

I've been looking for a job for so long now that I'm not sure what I would do if I had one. I've watched the economy collapse around me and have been forgotten or ignored by so many companies I couldn't begin to name them all. Being so useless and unwanted is really taking its toll. I'm rapidly running out of savings and hope.

'Tis the season?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008
So it's November 12th, the day after Veteran's Day, and this isn't the first time I've seen a Christmas ad. With 42 days left until Christmas (11.5% of the year), the retailers are out in force, perhaps hoping that we can buy ourselves out of this recession that we're in.

Or maybe not.

I love this time of year for the eggnog, but I really detest the blatant "BUY BUY BUY" commercials. I'm all for gift-giving (and, honestly, gift-getting) but at least leave me with the illusion that the Christmas is about something more than spending my way into happiness.

Of course this won't happen. And every year the retail season will start a little earlier. It used to be Thanksgiving when the ads would come out in full force. Now, it's just after Halloween. At what point will the backlash occur? At what point will the advertising burnout happen? When will it just not matter anymore?

It never rains in Autzen Stadium

Saturday, November 08, 2008
I had the privilege today of watching the Oregon Ducks beat the Stanford Cardinals at Autzen Stadium in Eugene, something I've not done in years.

While I'm not a huge football fan, a game is exciting to go to now and again. The Ducks were beating Stanford by a narrow margin for most of the game, even with all the mistakes they made. Yet Stanford managed to take the lead after the Ducks made a particularly embarassing series of mistakes in the fourth quarter. Watching Oregon score with 6 seconds left in the game to re-take the lead was tremendously exciting, and made standing and sitting the heavy rain worth it.

View of the field

One of the funny things about a Ducks game is that I'm pretty sure it's just about the biggest show in Oregon. With the capability of seating 54,000 spectators at a football game, I can't think of anything in Oregon that draws a larger crowd (other than The Decemberists.) Of course, that many people at a game means that post-game traffic was a nightmare - though the number of "I'm a Ducks fan" license plates that I saw bordered on humorously ridiculous.

I had a ton of fun. Thanks to my hiking buddy for taking me, and it was great to see everyone else there, too. Hopefully I'll get to go again someday!

Yet Another New Blog

Wednesday, November 05, 2008
While I have historically used this site as a sounding board for my thoughts on politics, I've decided to create an entirely separate blog for those now. Starting yesterday, I'll be blogging about politics over at No Jack Kennedy.

My goal for this site, however, isn't just to be about my politics. I'd eventually love to have other people contributing to it as well, so that a mix of views will be represented. That's in the future, though, as I need to find people to write. (If interested, contact me!)

Politics makes me cry

Dreary Days

Monday, November 03, 2008
November has hit here in the Pacific Northwest, and our days of dreariness have started. When combined with the end of daylight savings time, the sun sets before 5:00 PM now and felt like it barely came up. A thick grey cloud hovered overhead today and just poured a constant rain on us that slowly drenched anything it came in contact with. In fact, today is so dreary I couldn't even find an appropriate photo to show the dreariness. Wow.

This always happens, of course. I'm surprised it took until November to kick in; usually it's October. Nonetheless, for some the day will begin and end while they're at work, and for those of us job-hunting in a recession, the day barely registers.

The silver lining, of course, is that a cold rain here means snow in the mountains, which mean snowshoeing, skiing in the winter and decent water levels in the summer. So there's that to look forward to, at least.

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