In my other journal, I've been writing about getting my aviation medical back, the death of my very good friend, and my daughter's struggles with anorexia.
In my other journal, I've been writing about getting my aviation medical back, the death of my very good friend, and my daughter's struggles with anorexia.
My other blog has recent posts about:
And a bunch of other stuff.
When I started journalling, it was an experiment to see if I liked it or not. I do, so now I've installed Movable Type on my home machine and I'm going to start blogging there instead.
I belong to a couple of mailing lists for pilots. One of my favourites unfortunately gets extremely political at times. A lot of pilots are extremely right wing, as you'd expect in a hobby as expensive as flying. You might have gathered that I'm *not* extremely right wing. This has lead to a bunch of blow-ups, to the point where I actually quit the list for several months. But I came back, resolving to avoid political discussions. I also took the precaution of using procmail to filter out any posts by one particular person whose hatred for my politics lead to him attacking, mischaracterizing and outright lying about anything I said, even non political statements. (By the way, Dan, if you're reading this, I'm still waiting for your apology for all the personal attacks because I said that the administration had not proven a connection between the September 11th attacks and Iraq - it appears that recently even George W Bush has had to admit that this is the case)
Anyway, a month or so ago, one of the nicer guys on the list had his plane partner and best friend die in a plane crash in their shared plane. Randy wasn't in the plane, but the loss of his friend hit him pretty hard. One of the bigger idiots on the line started mouthing off about what a terrible and reckless pilot his friend must have been to do an instrument approach in such conditions, and it was all his fault. Never mind the fact that the NTSB hadn't even published a preliminary report, never mind a little thing called tact, he just went on and on with his attacks. Randy left the list because he didn't want to be reading this stuff while he was still burying his friend and dealing with the grief. Most people were pretty mad at Greg for being such a tactless jerk.
A few weeks later, Randy came back. Somebody made some joking remark about how nothing much had changed, but that Greg had learned his lesson. Evidently Greg treated that as a personal attack, and immediately started talking about what a terrible person Randy's partner had been for killing his passengers like that. I told him to shut the fuck up. He emailed me another justification for his actions off the list. I wrote him back telling him that he's a tactless jerk, and why doesn't he just shut up? A few days later, he emailed me and said "So, do we have to do this on the list?".
It took a few back and forths before I figured out what he was getting at. It appears that he didn't get my response, and so he was "calling me out". Yes, evidently if you insult this bozo, he has to strap on his six shooter and spurs, and walk down the main street yelling for me to come out and face him like a man. And if you don't come out and face him, he'll make sure the whole community knows that you're a yellow bellied coward.
I haven't seen Michael Moore's "Bowling for Columbine", but I understand that his take on the gun problem in the US is due to this cowboy mentality. After watching Greg in action, I can believe it.
Fortunately, I'm strong enough to eventually realize that an argument is not worth engaging in, because neither side is going to learn anything, so it's time to just let it go. Let the other guy think he's scored his points, but don't read his final emails because they'll just made you mad. Who cares if he's being a jerk, annoying or outright lying? Anybody worth caring about will spot the flaws in his arguments without you having to point them all out.
Things that are making me angry right this second:
Things I'm extremely happy about:
Ok, hurricane Isabel has come and gone, and we got nothing more than a bit of rain. Last night we went to bed wondering if we should move the birds away from the picture window and/or tape up the windows. This morning I woke up wondering where it went. It obviously hadn't rained or even blown hard. The aviation forecast predicted surface winds hitting a maximum of 17 knots gusting to 24. Heck, I've landed in a 45 degree cross wind in worse winds than that.
Ok, we dodged a bullet. A hurricane is a nasty thing with loss of life and property damage and just plain inconvenience. Intellectually, I know we're way better off without it. But all my life I've listened to people talk about Hurricane Hazel, which caused massive flooding and loss of life in Toronto and Southern Ontario in 1954. I was almost looking forward to having our own hurricane to tell stories about.
Ok, they've just opened up the repository to start work on versions 3.1 and 3.2 of our product. I've had bugger all to do for the last couple of weeks, which is one reason why I started this journal. But now I've got a bunch of things to do. How grossly unfair that they actually will want to me to work on them during my work hours.
This job has been a source of great joy and great stress to me. For one thing, it came along just as my step daughter was about to start college at one of the Seven Sisters, which as you can imagine are hideously expensive. The guy who hired me knew me from a previous job, and when I interviewed he basically said "name your price". I named a price that I expected him to bargain me down from, and he took it. So now I'm earning nearly double what I was earning two years ago, especially when you consider this job (on contract) pays time and a half after 40 hours a week, and during busy periods I was cranking out over 60 hours a week.
Vicki, my darling wife, got a pretty good promotion and raise at the same time, so we're sitting pretty. I've never felt this sort of financial freedom in my life, and it's wonderful. No credit card debt, money in savings, giving money to charity and the church, money going into 401(k)s, two reasonably new cars nearly paid off, flying lots and buying furniture. It's all good.
But at the same time, my natural pessimism says that this is too good to last. With all the outsourcing going on, I have to wonder what's going to happen when this contract ends. Will I ever be able to work on high tech again? Will we be able to survive on Vicki's salary alone? I'm not cut out to be a stay-at-home house husband.
Oh well, live for today, because tomorrow you'll probably get hit by a bus. That's my motto.
Yesterday a friend asked me if I get the same feelings from flying that I did from cross country skiing, orienteering, mountain biking and other activities that I had to give up because of my pain problems. There isn't an easy answer to that question. Or there is an easy answer, but that answer is "yes and no", so it isn't too helpful.
It would be hard to enumerate the feelings I got from skiing and the other things, equally hard to enumerate the feelings I get from flying, and pointless to compare the two lists with each other. So that's basically what I'm going to do.
The most overwhelming feeling I got from cross country skiing is a sense of being the centre of the universe. I don't know how else to put it. I was a drinking in a firehose of hyper-sensory perceptions. I'd filter all these perceptions, from the feel of my skis on the snow and the sun and wind on my cheek to the rise and fall of the trail, the look of the snow, the anticipation of what's to come, and a million times a second compute the variables and make decisions to optimize my animal machine body. Maybe I need to kick here instead of there, maybe I could get away with a short rest, or maybe I need to use my arms more. Maybe it's time to take the temporary loss of time for a gain later and stop to rewax. And meanwhile you've got spare cycles for appreciating the woods around you and the animal tracks beside the course and the look of the sun filtering through the trees. When it all worked, it was glorious. In orienteering, it was much the same, except there it was also route choice, reading the map and matching it with the ground, trying to anticipate what you were going to see next, decide if the rustle in the woods over there is a deer or a competitor, and if you can mislead them by looking confident when you're not or looking lost when you're confident. And all this complexity happened alone in the woods, you against your competition, but mostly you against yourself. A good day wasn't the day you won, but the day you did better than you expected or better than you usually do - a day when it all fit together for the whole course, and nothing interrupted your hyper-alertness and feeling of flow and belonging.
I remember my best orienteering meet ever. I was in the mens 19-20 year old category, so I was on the same course as the elite women (including most of the national team) and the men 35-50 year olds (including two former members of the national team). I was absolutely flying that day - even though the course was not easy, it just all clicked that day. At one control there were two people taking pictures for a magazine article, and afterwards, one of the photographers (another former national team member) said that I was the only person who came into and out of that control without even the slightest hesitation. The whole race was like that - I knew exactly where I was going, where I was, and the best way to get from here to there.
Flying feels sort-of like that, but not as much. For one thing, there are other planes, other voices on the radio, unlike skiing or orienteering where you are alone most of the time and unaware of the other people out there except peripherally. But there is the same need for intense concentration, but in this case it's not just to get the peak performance out of yourself, but a very real feeling that if you don't concentrate, you could very well end up killing yourself or far worse, killing somebody else. (I think every pilot knows that if it comes down to it, saving your life is far, far less important than saving the lives of people on the ground or passengers in your plane.)
One thing I got out of skiing that is irreplacable is the feeling of physical accomplishment. At the time I took up skiing, I was a fat nerd. After a year or two of skiing, I suddenly realized that while my high school peers probably wouldn't think of it as such (because it was skiing, not football or hockey), I was an athlete. Ok, an athletic nerd. Now that I'm a fat nerd again, I have an awful sense of loss.
Another thing about skiing, and especially orienteering, was the sense of community. We'd all go out into the woods and do our individual thing, but afterwards we'd all swap stories and go out for pizza and beer. You'd travel all around the country and meet the same people. In orienteering, there just aren't that many people who did it, but in ski racing you'd have the real feeling that there are a million people who had a pair of cross country skis in their basement, but the racers were an elite subgroup. I had a very real feeling that I was a first name basis with all the people in the province, and most of the people in the country who are better at it than I was. There aren't as many pilots as cross country skiers, but since I'm not in one of the elite sub-groups like aerobatic or race pilots, I don't feel like I know everybody. Although at Oshkosh, I felt almost that way. At Oshkosh, we were all pilots together, and we all felt extremely priviledged to be there.
One of the things I like about flying is swooping through the air, not going anywhere in particular, but enjoying the feeling of g-force and motion. I used to do the same thing on skis and on a mountain bike. I wish I had the stomach for aerobatics.
Another thing about flying is the promise of freedom to move. As a skier, orienteer, mountain biker, backpacker, canoer, I travelled a lot of miles in areas that few people are priviledged to see. I like to say I put a lot more work into each mile, but I got a lot more enjoyment out of it than somebody who rode in a motorized vehicle. But now as a flyer, I go to places I've never been before, sometimes just picking out the name of an airport I've never been to before and flying there for the fun of it. So I'm going a lot more miles, but maybe not getting as much enjoyment per miles as my human powered days.
My dream is to get a seaplane license, and find somebody who would rent me a seaplane (there aren't very many - insurance is a bitch) so I can go off and find lonely lakes and get back some of what I used to get out of backpacking and canoeing.
I was going to write this as a comment in Sloppy's journal, and then thought what the hell, it's too much of a digression. Sloppy was writing about how he just didn't "get" non-representational photographic art (like some of Ansel Adams abstract landscapes), and I wrote a comment about how they evoke the feel or trigger a memory.
One of the pictures he linked to was a very low sun picking out details of one aspen tree while leaving others in the dark. To me, that evokes two memories, both involving trees in the early morning sun covered in frost. I don't know if Adams' picture had frost or not, but mine did. There was the "waking up as the sun hit the tent" memory that I talked about in that comment. And there is the Canadian Ski Marathon memory.
The Canadian Ski Marathon (CSM) memory is more bitter sweet, because of all the things I've had to give up because of the pain, cross country skiing remains the one that is the hardest to give up.
Anyway, a couple of times in the CSM, I did the Courier du Bois (CdB), which involves skiing 168km over two days. There are three categories of CdB, Bronze, Silver and Gold. Bronze just means you are attempting to finish the distance, Silver means you're attempting to finish with a 5kg pack on your back, and Gold means you're going to camp out overnight, with just the clothes and food in your pack (although the campground has a communal fire and bales of straw to sit and lie on). You had to have completed the previous level before you could attempt the next. I completed my Bronze and Silver, but was never crazy enough to attempt the Gold.
The CdB skiers start very early in the morning, 6am, long before the sun comes up. At first, there are lanterns and road flares guide the way as you leave the village of La Chute Quebec, but very shortly after the start you're winding your way through the trees in almost complete blackness. Some of the skiers have headlamps, but mostly you're in dark or at best pre-dawn near-light. The skiers are quiet, because it's cold and they know they've got a long long day ahead of them. Besides the occassional clinking and creaking from their packs and the swish-clunk of the skis and poles, it was eerily silent. The skiers around you are just half seen forms ahead and behind you. It's almost impossible to believe there are a thousand of you out there in the woods.
After an hour or so, the sun starts to come up. Parts of the trail go through farm land, and you can see farm houses coming awake, lights coming on, farmers heading out to do their chores. Some wave at you. Sometimes we wave back. Mostly we keep chugging along. You can start to resolve the details of the skiers around you, maybe recognize what colour clothing their wearing or what brand of skis they're using. Maybe you chuckle to yourself at the guy ahead of you with the Blackfeather ski poles, because you know these poles are extremely light, extremely expensive, but also extremely fragile, not the sort of thing you'd want in the middle of the bush with the dreaded "Bobsled Run" coming up in a few hours (plus, you've coveted Blackfeathers for your normal racing, but haven't saved up enough money for them yet). Maybe you think that next year you're going to bring a headlamp as you nearly catch your ski in a sapling beside the trail.
As the sun comes up, you go through some fields where the ridge line to the east means that the sun has hit your head but not your feet. You wish it would come up faster because you're cold, and you know that the magic time when the sun hits your feet will make it all better. You're cold because you dressed for high exertion, and for the temperatures you're expecting for the majority of the day. Sure, later in the afternoon you're going to be skiing with your ski suit zipper wide open and your hat tucked into your backpack, but you didn't want to wear something warm enough for now because you'll be carrying it all day. So for now you just shiver a bit and wish the guy ahead of you would ski a bit faster. There aren't too many opportunities to pass on this stretch. Later on, there are lakes that you cross - plenty of opportunity to pass there, if you've got the energy for it.
By the first feed stop, it's quite light out. People are a little warmer, a little more relaxed, and they start talking to each other. Unlike a normal race where feeding stations are grab and go affairs, the CSM is an all day affair, so you actually stop, drink the drinks they have on offer, maybe grab an orange slice or two, maybe shove a few oranges in your pack for later, stop for a pee. The snow is getting warmer, so you stop and rewax your skis. In the light, you sometimes are startled to recognize somebody you know from races back in your home area or from a non-skiing activity like Orienteering.
The next highlight of the day is the "Bobsled Run". You think about it for an hour before you get there. Is the snow going to be well groomed, is it going to be icy, will somebody fall and take you out as they go? Then the climb starts. You climb and climb and climb. I think officially the ridge that is the pinnacle of the Bobsled Run is 4,000 feet above the ground before and after it. You climb it in about 10km, and it's pretty hard going. Maybe you stop and rewax along the way to get more grip. But mostly you slog along and think about the downhill to follow. That 4,000 feet is lost in about 3km. It's steep, it's twisty, it's narrow. One year there had been a big thaw just before the weeked of the race, and natural springs had covered parts of the run with water which had then frozen into ice dams. That year, I saw a woman being carried out a stretcher. I walked. A large group of us were walking down, congratulating ourselves on a wise safe decision as we picked our way over another ice dam when somebody came careening by. He looked just on the edge of control, but definitely in control. Then we noticed that he only had one arm. None of us thought to ask if he'd had two when he started.
Even in good years, the Bobsled Run looms large in our memories. It was on one of the good years when I found myself in a tight group snowplowing and dragging our poles, going just about as fast as I've ever gone on skis. We were also too close together. I was sure that even if the guy behind me fell, he'd take us all down in a big pile of skis and legs and arms. I found what I thought was a safe landing spot and cut out of the line, but unfortunately it was softer than it looked and I ended up falling, but at least I didn't take anybody else out. At the feeding station at the bottom of the Bobsled Run, I noticed that the guy with the Blackfeathers actually had a collapsable spare pole that he'd made himself sticking out of his pack. Maybe he's smarter than I gave him credit for.
The rest of the first day was pretty much just another day skiing. There were a couple of unofficial feeding stations set up by people whose property the course crossed. There were lakes, where people passed you and you passed others, only to have the order reestablish itself at the next uphill. There was the inevitable encounter with the Siren Ski Team. I think they're from Montreal. These guys start at 8am, when the non-CdBs start, and they still manage to finish the course. They come roaring past just when you think maybe you should slow down a bit if you're going to make it the next day. Ok, forget that idea - if they can go fast, so can I.
One year on the way to the last feeding station I got caught up by a guy from the Ottawa University ski team who slowed down to chat. His team was trying to catch the Siren Ski Team, and he was despairing that he wasn't going to make the last feeding station before the cut-off, because non-CdB have to get to the station by 2pm or they can't ski the last leg. I told him that I was pretty sure I was going to get there by 2pm, and so he took heart and skied off again.
The first day finishes in Montebello Quebec, and while it's not quite as restful as just getting into the shuttle bus to the area accomodation, I always loved picking up my skis and walking into the Chateau Montebello. Such a beautiful resort, and far too posh for me to be there any other time. We walk past the sign that says "Gentlemen are requested to wear suits and ties in the Dining Lounge" in our sweaty ski clothes, and crash in the chairs around the stone fire place that is the center piece of the massive main hall. The pictures on the wall show Trudeau, Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and other heads of state arriving for G7 summits and other important functions, but this weekend the place goes a little downscale with people drying out their ski suits around the fire. The CSM banquet that night is a huge affair, and approximately 2,000 of the 4,000 CSM particpants eat there. One year I was so wiped by the skiing that I fell asleep with a forkful of roast beef in my hand.
The next day, you get out of bed at 5am, and hobble to breakfast. You think to yourself "if I can't even walk to breakfast, how am I supposed to ski the 86km into Ottawa?" After breakfast, you wax your skis, prepare your pack, and head out into the darkness to the start line. You put on your skis, and take a tentative shuffle, and realize that while walking hurts, standing around hurts, but skiing actually doesn't hurt. So you ski. The second morning is pretty much like the first, except the second day is much flatter, more open, and is the real fun day of the two.
One year it started off really cold in the morning, probably around -15C or colder, but by the height of the afternoon it was +2C. Hard waxing, but I skiied along in the brilliant sunshine with my ski suit top down around my waist and my hat in my pack, I was thinking what a beautiful day. I was even doing a double pole with a kick, which is a less efficient but faster propulsion method, such was my confidence in my abilities and stamina. I passed a couple of skiers who exclaimed "Un beau, eh?" as I passed. I even managed to get out "tres beau", thus exhausting 2/5ths of my French vocabulary.
One year, toward the end of the second day, I got caught in what I still think of as a death trudge. There was a line of skiers ahead of me, and they were all skiing very slowly. So slowly that it was inefficient for me, and probably inefficient for most of the people in the line. After trudging along with them for a while, I realized that I would never make it if I had to ski at this speed, so I marshalled some reserve of energy and passed them in a very narrow space. It was hard work, but it was worth it when I got past them and could ski at my normal pace again. It was like a rest just being able to stretch out. I noticed that about a dozen people followed my lead and passed the death trudge line. I even let a few of them past me because their natural pace was faster than mine. One of the people was a guy I knew from Orienteering, and although he sped ahead, I eventually passed him later. One of us wasn't pacing well, and I think it was him.
Before the end of the CSM in Ottawa, you have to pass through Hull. Hull isn't the nicest looking town at the best of times, and in order to find us snow to ski on they routed us through some grimy industrial land and the back of a paper mill. The snow was full of grit and hard to ski on. But you're soon down to the river and across. One year we crossed on the ice, but usually they shovelled snow onto a bridge. The year we crossed on the ice, I had a severe "bonk" climbing up the hill beside the canal locks. I grabbed some gorp and an orange out of my pack, and ate it, and just as I was about to resume my skiing, Ron Lowry of the Canadian Orienteering Team came skiing by. Evidently he'd hit the last checkpoint with so much time to spare that he'd stopped for a nap. I have no idea why he did that instead of just finishing, but there you have it. I skied with him for a bit. Coming down along the canal, you get a bit of a second wind seeing all those people out skating on the canal, and the smell from the concession stands, and the music from the speakers out on the ice. Then it's into Lansdowne Park and collapse. Come to think of it, there's no comfortable seating or warm place to relax in Lansdowne Park, so maybe that's why Ron had a nap at the previous feeding station.
Skiing the CSM is an incredible feeling. You ski from pain to triumph, and afterwards you feel like you've seen the limits of your body, and they're pretty far out there. And those little bronze and silver badges that you put on your ski hat afterwards, you know that most people who see them won't know what they're for, but you do. And that's all that matters.
A few days ago I wrote about how I didn't want this computer upgrade, but I took it because it was supposed to come with a monitor upgrade, and then the monitor upgrade didn't happen.
Well, I whinged a bit more about the monitor to my sysadmin, and he dug out an SGI 21" monitor that had just come back as a warranty replacement, and was sitting on a shelf as a spare. I stuck it on, and it was fine for a few days, but one day I came back from lunch and found I couldn't get it out of screen save mode. Even plugging it into a different computer didn't help. Neither did hitting the on screen menu buttons, or power cycling, or anything. So I took it back to the sysadmin, and he and I went to look at the spares shelf. And what should my eyes light upon, but a 24" SGI monitor (a Sony GDM-90W11 in disguise). Cinema aspect ratio, 1920x1200@73Hz. Sweeeeeet.
So while I can't get any work done on the new computer yet (still waiting for the Clear Case admin to install Clear Case on it), the new display looks really nice on my old computer.
My wife and I spent a weekend at a bed and breakfast. It was great to spend some time away from computers and TiVo and kids. We laughed together like we hardly ever get a chance to do these days. I think we've got to do more of that.
I was looking at the AOPA web site to see if there were any drugs I could take for my chronic pain that wouldn't disqualify me from flying, when I saw the following little bit of bad news.
Of the seven doctors at the FAA's Aeromedical branch who review special issuance medicals (like mine), three of them are reservists who were activated for the Iraq war. So the current backlog is causing them to take 12-14 weeks to get around to review applications. So even if they don't decide they need more information or further tests, I'm grounded until almost Christmas. Dammit.
I went to see Steve Wozniak give a talk about his live at the local Apple CIDER user group.
He's had an interesting life, and been extremely lucky to be at the right place and the right time, but man, he's NOT an interesting speaker. He rambled along for two hours, and never even got to the interesting stuff that he's doing now in education.
Still, I saw a tiny bit of myself in him. Maybe if I'd been born 10 years earlier, in Silicon Valley, the son of an electrical engineer....
Last night I was in a meeting of the officers of my flying club. There are 5 of us. Twice during that meeting, somebody mentioned either not getting an email, or getting it late because of their spam filters.
This makes me fucking angry. Spammers have reduced the utility of this wonder tool we've build to the point where it's nearly gone from being the best way of communicating with people to nearly the worst way.
I know I'm more "out there" on the net than most people - I own several domains, run several web sites, have several thousand posts with my current email archived on Google, am quoted on numerous web sites, use my own email address when contacting companies and ordering on-line, etc. Oh, and my kids took a while to get weened off of the "electronic greeting card" scam. So I expect a lot of spam. And the spammers don't disappoint - I average 600-900 spams a day caught in my three levels of spam filter.
But these people talking are NOT way out there on the net. Just a couple of anonymous pilots who don't even post to Usenet. And they are losing mail because they've had to filter so agressively in order to get *any* utility from their email.
That sucks. And something has to be done. The first thing that needs to be done is that spam merchants need to be visited by Narn Bat Squads. Second is that "legit" companies that spam have to be told how much business they are losing, so they aren't tempted to do it. Third is that email has to be replaced or supplemented with a protocol that is tracable and unforgeable. That would help the Narn Bat Squads find the spammers.
Last night I decided that since my hips got sore while I was lying on the bed watching TV that I wouldn't do that. So I sat in my "good chair", the office chair that I bought from a company's "going out of business" sale about 15 years ago. Usually sitting in that chair helps my hips (but hurts my knees a bit). But the same god-damned thing happened! Over the course of the evening, I could feel the hips getting worse, in spite of doing the stretches. By bed time, it was unbearable and I ended up trying to find a comfortable position in bed, on the couch, sitting up on the couch, on the floor, standing, etc until finally around 1am I was tired enough that I could sleep through it.
I don't know how much longer I can take this. I'm just about at the end of my rope. Fortunately I know that these episodes of massive hip pain usually only last a week at most, although that time has been getting longer and longer over time.
Hopefully in a few days the pain will be down to its usual dull roar and I'll be able to sleep through it.