After nearly two weeks with the brat, I’ve come to see him as existing in only one of two states:

  • cute: when he is sleeping, fidgeting with himself: generally being quiet
  • funny: when he’s yelling (hungry), screaming (dirty), enraged (being bathed), crying in the style of a machine-gun or goat (an extension of the prior techniques): generally being noisy

You might think that such an artificially positive view is merely a result of my sleep deprivation, and you might be right, except that you forget that otherwise:

  • one might go a little nuts trying to calm down a little annoying screaming thing that seems not to appreciate any of the standard reliefs (diaper changing, feeding, burping, cuddling)
  • all the extra coffee dosages I take to try to be productive would reinforce anxiousness rather than aloof gaiety

I know what you’re thinking. You can’t help but see the image of me standing over Eric, giggling as he shakes with righteous anger, as perhaps a little mean. But I call it a temporary coping strategy. If I see a parent on the street with a baby, and I uncharacteristically remark how cute he is, and she says “Oh yes, and sometimes he’s funny too!”, I’ll say “I know exactly what you mean.” and walk away.

Posted Wed Dec 1 20:34:00 2004 Tags:

This past week, yours truly captained his third and fourth Hope Air missions, this time to catch then to release a fine gentleman from Chapleau in northern Ontario, who had a medical appointment in Toronto. Winter having arrived, this trip featured entirely too much ice.

When flying, ice is of concern several ways. The standard boogaboo that student pilots are scared with is the type of ice that an airplane can pick up from cold wet clouds. This type of ice builds up on the wings and on other sensitive systems, and can bring an unequipped little airplane crashing down. While we did take a little of this kind of ice, the airplane shedded it as its deice equipment worked, so it was not the problem.

No, the problem was something drivers and other ground-dwellers know too well: ice on the ground. Even at larger airports, a good snow blizzard can suspend operations for a while, as the snow is shoveled off of runways and such. But a blizzard that occurs in ambient temperatures that fluctuate above and below freezing point causes a worse situation, since the snow can melt and refreeze, producing a hard coating of ice. Repeated over a few hours, the ice can become thick, and without chemicals or extra sunshine, impossible to remove. This was the situation of our first visit to Chapleau last week. After a day of wet snowfall, and a night of cooling, both runways were covered with “70% black ice, 20% wet snow, 10% bare”.

While airplanes don’t drive their wheels for propulsion like cars do, the wheels are expected to provide some resistence to sideways movement, so that once the airplane’s aerodynamic control surfaces don’t work any more (because we’re moving too slowly), the vehicle keeps rolling straight ahead. Most landing accidents that occur tend to be because of loss of control during this very rolling phase, even when stiff crosswinds substitute for runway ice as a malevolent influence.

Hope Air flights are all supposed to be non-emergency charity trips, in that there is no risk to life if a volunteer pilot cancels the flight at the last minute. In fact, the Hope Air pilot manuals make it clear that flights are totally at the discretion of the pilots, and that the patients know that these little planes might have to cancel their flights even at the last minute. On the other hand, I’ve heard that sometimes medical appointments may take weeks or months to reschedule in case a Hope Air flight is aborted. The main reason that I joined the Hope Air organization was to be exposed to flying conditions where there is a strong incentive to complete a trip, even when conditions are adverse. It’s a great way to combine experience-building and fellow-human-helping.

With all these factors in mind, my co-pilots and I set out on the trips mindful both of the poor conditions at CYLD and of need to make it anyway. When we first arrived at Chapleau after a 2h30m flight, we found out about the black ice, negative air temperature, and the absence of chemical ice melters, plus some extra winds to make it even more uninviting. We circled around for a few minutes discussing the situation with each other and over the radio with a helpful fellow at the airport. We decided to give landing a try, ready to “go around” at the slightest problem, willing to abort the mission even after we’ve come so far. We lined up for the longest and widest runway, touched down at minimum speed, and used no brakes at all for a while. The large momentum of the airplane helped keep us centered during the rolling part of the landing, though we could feel that the wheels might have been just slipping instead of rolling. Throughout the maneuver, I used differential power (modulating left vs. right engine thrust) to help the steering, and this was just about enough to gently slow us down and keep us under control.

Only at one point during the first landing was I concerned, as I locked up the brakes during a sharp turn onto an intersecting runway. Even though we were moving at a very fat old lazy snail’s pace, the airplane still veered toward the edges, until I listened to my co-pilot, released the brakes, and with wheel rolling restored, could gently steer it back on track. Whew. After what seemed like an eternity, we shut down in front of the terminal building, I jumped off the airplane in relieved elation, and nearly slipped & fell. It would have been poetic justice to injure myself such a silly way, I suppose.

For the next hour or two, with the patient having arrived for the flight, we just stared at the apron not quite believing what we had done, worrying about how we’ll get out again. Somehow fortune was smiling in our general direction, for the local weather observation fellow noted how rapidly ground temperatures were climbing: it went from -4C to +0.2C. Eventually we decided to give it a try, now starting to see some bare wet black asphalt islands among the seas of wet ice and snow. We packed up, rolled very gently to the upwind end of a runway, turned around, and started our take-off. The first three seconds were good, but were followed by an insistent lurch off to the right. This sort of thing happens normally in the twin as the two engines spool up to full power at slightly different rates, and is easily controlled on a dry surface with nosewheel steering. However, this time we had no effective nosewheel steering, requiring aggressive differential thrust to get back onto the centre line. Over the next fifteen seconds or so, the airplane accelerated despite my continuous thrust modulation, until we could lift off and let off a little cheer. The first flight home was wonderfully uneventful.

Fast forward a few days, to return delivery day. The patient has completed his appointment, and done some extra christmas shopping to defeat (in his words) Chapleau cabin fever, and was ready to go home. Conditions at CYLD were reportedly better, in that despite snow over the intervening days, the air was very cold (-20C). Cold snow is good snow: not too slippery. After a gusty Toronto take-off, and a smooth long flight, my new co-pilot and I decided to land without much ado. Though it was much better than a few days before, we still had to play with differential power to complete the taxiing process. We dropped off our grateful patient, topped up the fuel tanks, ate some snacks, and proceeded to a thankfully uneventful takeoff and eye-candy filled return flight. Only back in the Toronto area did we encounter complications from some turbulence and light airborne ice of the bugaboo kind, but a few minutes later the Hope Air missions came to a completely successful closure. I wonder what’s next.

Posted Sat Dec 4 20:42:00 2004 Tags:

Every now and then, I realize that I might starve if I could not do the white-collar work I’ve become used to.

The most recent occurrence was last night, while I was cooking a tasty yellow dinner. (Yellow? yes: grilled salmon steaks coloured yellow from butter, snow peas with cheese sauce, yellow mashed potatoes, and some other crunchy veggie in yellow/brown sauce, yellow grapefuit juice) The trigger for my today’s weblog entry was the prepation of the snow peas.

Other than a quick washing en masse, getting snow peas ready for consumption involves taking each individual pod, and ripping off the two thread-like fibres that seal their long edges. These threads feel weird in the mouth, and must therefore go. The ripping movements take about five seconds per pod, and require a only a bit of finger dexterity. However, the sheer number of pods needed for a meal can be make this task utterly maddening: probably thirty or forty per person!

While a factory worker from the 1800s might have been happy doing the exact same movement hundreds of times a day, there is a sense of disturbance, of building tension, whenever I work on snow peas. After the first few dozen, my neck muscles tighten, I get a cold paralytic chill running down to my hands, and an irrational anger starts to build, as my body starts to refuse to do the same thing over and over and over and over again …. and over. It’s a spectacular sensation that I can’t seem to control consciously.

But finally I figured out a way, something I’m sure those old factory workers have too, to introduce artificial variation in a fundamentally repetitive task. I switched hands! I exchanged my holding & ripping hands, and the task suddenly became a small challenge. The brain stopped rebelling for quite some time. Each time I started tensing up, I switched hands or positions, and the work could continue.

I periodically go through a phase wanting to train a bit of ambidextrousness into myself, operating door knobs, toothbrushes, performing ordinary habitual motions with the “wrong” hand. It turns the mundane into munderful. Or something. Try it, next time you’re bored.

UPDATE: Knitting yarn must be saturated with some sort of gas to block the immobilizing intellectual pain inherent in its similar repetitive-motion assembly.

Posted Tue Dec 7 21:50:00 2004 Tags:

During a bout of midnight hunger yelping, I realized that this signaling method of little humans is an evolutionary disaster. Unless constantly encircled by big smelly adults, a little screamer would foghornly identify itself a tasty target for nearby carnivores, every time it wanted a food-tank top-up or a bottom cleaning. There is an excellent chance that modern crying behavior could be curbed over time, if we permitted the unfashionable sport of baby hunting. Back-of-the-envelope calculations suggest that by the year 3500, babies might become relatively quiet (again?), if the human gene pool is subjected to the forces of such evolutionary progress. Let’s move bravely into the future!

Posted Sun Dec 12 20:23:00 2004 Tags:

The machine hosting suffered a hard drive crash sometime the early morning of 2004-12-20. Being the computer-savvy individual I am, of course I did not have very recent backups.

The “/” and “/home” partitions were lost, with only a snapshot dated 2004-11-07 that luckily was kept around on a disembodied, formerly resident hard drive, but I did not realize that during the first day. We are lucky to have lost only six weeks’ worth of email, weblogs, photographs.

The machine was getting old and crusty anyhow, so I finally bought a newer model. For just around a k$, Alpha Plus Computers was willing to put together a new box on very short notice. It’s not quite up to the quad-Opteron dream box, but should do just fine for a few years. It features mirrored hard drives, which along with a portable external one I use for backups, should keep such a future accident from being quite so painful.

I would appreciate receiving copies from anyone having archived copies of email sent to or from me, or of photographs, from the memory-hole time period. I owe some gratitude to Microsoft’s new search engine, which squirreled away copies of all but one of my weblog entries, and to my parents who of course saved some pictures of Eric.

Posted Wed Dec 22 21:32:00 2004 Tags:

Almost to the day of the very last loan payment on Big Yellow Car, GMAC (General Motors’ credit arm) sent us an offer to buy another new car. How tempting … or not.

It sounds like desparation on the part of GMAC, thinking that someone will actually bite on their “loan pre-approval” incentive, when that person is just finishing paying off a car loan. Do they want customers to think that a three-year-old vehicle is not good enough? Or that the old 0% interest rate promotion is still attractive enough to commit new acts of financial insanity? I decline.

Posted Thu Dec 23 08:39:00 2004 Tags:

Belmont Club blog is worth a daily read: a deep analysis of world political issues from a conservative American point of view. Their articles are hundreds to thousands of words long, but are disproportionately full of gems like this one.

politics very often consists of promising the impossible to the ignorant

Posted Fri Dec 24 08:49:00 2004 Tags:

British comedies are an old staple at the household.

Monty Python and Blackadder are tops, and I’m starting to expose Juimiin to lesser programs also beamed here via BBC or PBS. The sardonic humor expressed in some of the writing is echoed today by Dennis Miller’s monologue metaphors. I delude myself that rarely I’m funny, but my words are ghastly pale compared to lines like:

blessed as you are with a head that is emptier than a hermit’s address book

go out and buy a turkey so large you’d think its mother had been rogered by an omnibus

he is as likely to be caught as fox being chased by a pack of one-legged hunting tortoises

Next time you use an adjective, and can excuse a slight delay, think of some way of giving a full imaginative experience of your idea. For example, when describing the posture of a sleepy kid, after only 20 seconds’ thought I came up with:

he’s as limp as a well-molested mop

The world deserves better, and more.

Posted Sat Dec 25 00:29:00 2004 Tags:

There is a school of thought that feeding a child’s sense of wonder is a good thing, even if the content of these fanciful ideas are nonsensical. I’m no expert, but I’m skeptical.

Examples of the unreal-wonder mentality are everywhere: mythincal icons like Santa Claus, superhero cartoons and lunch boxes, christmas emotionalism. They are certainly right about the ends, but I don’t like the means.

I would rather help activate a young person’s mind by pointing out the genuinely wonderful aspects of reality. If one knows where to look, one can take in a smorgasbord of arousing experience without having to shut one’s mind as a mystic. The world has so many beautiful sights, big and small: nebulae, ice crystals, plants, thunder clouds, eyes, economics, locomotives. They exude an approachable complexity, invite an intelligent mind to ponder just how they work, how they came to be.

If somehow an educated educator could guide the “tabula rasa” that is a young person toward a wonder of the real rather than the imaginary, maybe it would innoculate the young against later plagues of weak minds such as superstition, religion, communism, relativism. Well, at least one can dream.

Posted Sat Dec 25 18:09:00 2004 Tags:

A few days ago, a company executive quoted someone who exclaimed that “Red Hat is the Bell Labs of the 21st century”. Does this image survive contact with the enemy, er, reality?

Now, given that most current business commentators, and most of our executives, have not actually worked at any place like Bell Labs, impressions of comparibility might be excused. After all, this place also somehow grinds inspiration from the memory of Mohandas Gandhi.

Let’s compare some facts about the organizations as they are now. According to Bell Labs history and to various public information bits about Red Hat, one can draw some rather lopsided parallels:

|aspect|Bell Labs|Red Hat| |established|1925|1994| |staff | tens of thousands | less than a thousand| |research staff | thousands | dozens [1] | |major activity | research| software packaging & support| |major contributions|“several”: | RPM|

But perhaps that’s not fair, after all the initial quote was talking about the future. Perhaps over the next 75 years, Red Hat will find a funding well as deep as Bell System’s telephone monopoly was. Maybe we will hire enough Ph.D.‘s or other intellgent folks to light a torch of big ambition and real accomplishment. I hope that over time that flame will also singe some of our self-promotional excesses.

1 R&D at the company, for investor relations purposes, might encompass anyone doing anything with the software. With a tip of the hat to greater specificity, the number of people actually building something new is much smaller.

Posted Mon Dec 27 01:32:00 2004 Tags:

Sometimes it looks like the mainstream media have just given up, and have turned into a farce. Gleaning actual information from news sources has become less effective than running for office in a sperm whale suit.

There are examples everywhere:

  • amidst all the woe and whiny bleat, CNN teasing an upcoming report about a supermodel tsunami survivor by running older clips of said supermodel cahorting around in a bikini
  • each talking head performing rhythmic demented head-bobbing during teleprompter reading: this in order to keep the visual image more interesting than the intellect-drowning hemorrhage of trivia on the audio track
  • amazing feat of squeezing news into ever-shrinking snippets for attention spans put to shame even by cranky toddlers
  • AP, AFP, WP, NYT making shit up just to bug conservatives
  • wild-eyed regurgitation of garbage Drudge himself already covered and debunked three days ago
  • slavish spewing of press releases from industry or government, as if they were reliable sources
  • serious coverage of controversial issues simply by inviting two opposing speaker-gladiators to duke it out, thus confusing “equal time” with “objective” and “spectacle” with “education”
  • infantile oversimplification of any technical subject, reinforcing mistaken impressions of the ignorant and aggrevating the knowledgeable
  • proclamations of own importance, reliability, honesty, thereby providing evidence of the opposite

Look there only for a brain-lull masquerading as stimulation. A big sweet candy that goes down easy but leaves behind only rot. Tonight at 11, I’ll be watching, and so will you.

Posted Wed Dec 29 18:09:00 2004 Tags: