Tag Archives: news

More overdramatized news: the sleeping air traffic controller

If you haven’t heard, last night, the sole controller at Reagan National airport was apparently asleep while two planes tried to land. As bad as that sounds, the local news here is way overdramatizing the danger to the airplanes and passengers, in my opinion. They are interviewing people at the airport who are saying they are now afraid to fly into airports for fear of no one being around in the control tower. So, as a former (private) pilot, let me make a few clarifications so that you can understand why this overdramatic reporting is annoying me:

  1. Most airports in the U.S. are either uncontrolled (meaning they don’t have a control tower) or their towers operate only part time. The point here being that planes lands safely without a control tower every day.
  2. All pilots are trained in procedures for airports without a control tower, or when the tower is closed. Typically, this means tuning the radio to the tower frequency and reporting your speed, altitude and position to other aircraft in the area, while they do the same.

On my first solo flight to another airport, I left an airport with control tower and flew to an airport without a control tower. I was testing on these procedures during a written exam, oral exam, and practical test. It is not any more dangerous than flying into an uncontrolled airport. When the tower cannot be contacted it essentially is an uncontrolled airport.

There is one exception that I can think of: at busy, major airports, it might be hard to tell from the air whether there are crews on the ground who might be working on the runway. This is the pilot’s call, and if the pilot is not comfortable landing, he or she should not land, and ask ATC for a diversion to another local airport.

That a controller fell asleep is a separate issue and that certainly needs to be dealt with. Many controllers are overworked and many airports are underfunded so that something like this was bound to happen, I supposed.

The local news makes it seem like the people on the two planes that landed (and a third plane that diverted) were in some kind of danger. I don’t believe this to be the case at all. Traffic was at a minimum, two pilots deemed it safe to land, and a third decided he wasn’t sure and diverted. This is standard operating procedure that all pilots train for.

Why the heck can’t the news report that?

Safe landing

Pretty incredible landing yesterday by the US Airways pilot after the bird strike.  It was great to see everyone get off the plane safely with only minor injuries.  I’m not sure the media is getting across just how great a job the pilot, Chesley B. "Sully" Sullenberger III, did in getting the plane down and getting his passengers out safely.  As a private pilot myself, I know the kind of training you go through for emergencies.  Private pilots flying small planes are trained to always have an emergency landing spot in mind.  If you are ever flying with a private pilot, at any time during the flight if you asked where they’d put the plane down in an emergency, they’d be able to tell you.

But it’s more than that.  There’s something called aeronautical decision-making (often abbreviated ADM) that pilots are trained in.  This is essentially making fast decisions with the information at hand, and committing to those decisions.  Often times, accidents happen because pilots don’t decide fast enough, or don’t commit to their decisions.  Yesterday, we saw a pilot make an instant decision and commit to it.  The result was a safe ditching of the aircraft, followed by the safe debarking of everyone off the plane.

And give credit to the ferries and other watercraft that sped to the rescue of the passengers as well.

This is an example of equipment working correctly, crew working correctly, passengers doing the right thing, and rescuers making a quick response and I don’t doubt that it will be taken as a text book model of executing an emergency water landing in the future.  Simply a magnificent job by everyone.

Yes, the Rainbow Room Grill is closing, I know…

Three people have told me that the Rainbow Room Grill is closing and I wanted to assure anyone else that I am now well aware of this fact.  The reason it is significant is that on my birthday for each of the last three years, I have taken a group of friends to dinner at the Rainbow Room Grill as a kind of celebration.  We all get dressed up, drink, eat good food, and general have a splendid time.  Last year, there were something like 12 of us and it was a blast.  Looks like we got in just in the nick of time.

Thanks to all those who have kept me in the loop.

My favorite news anchor

Charles Osgood.  Hands down.  Kelly and I have been spending a relaxing 90 minutes each Sunday morning watching Charles Osgood’s Sunday Morning program on CBS.  I think it’s probably the best news program out there, and for my money, the only one worth watching.

When I lived in L.A., I used to listen to The Osgood File on the radio driving into work.  It was Charles Osgood’s recitation of Walt Whitman’s "When I Heard the Learned Astronomer" that ultimately lead me to write my first professional science fiction story, "When I Kissed the Learned Astronomer".

Watching Charles Osgood makes Sunday mornings that much more pleasant.  He’s a good news anchor; he seems genuine.  He has wit and humor and charm.  He is a model for other news anchors to imitate.

Blood, sweat and tears (not necessarily in that order)

Up at 4:20 AM after getting to sleep after 10 PM. When I woke up, I was in no mood to go to the gym, but I ate breakfast, got ready, and headed into the office. By the time I got to the office, my mood was better and I went to the gym.

25 minutes of cardio today, abbreviated mainly because I became famished while on the elliptical. Even though I ate breakfast, I was still hungry and the feeling was growing more intense with each step. So I made it to 25 minutes and called it quits. When I got back to the office, I had my “second” breakfast (toasted peanut butter and banana sandwich). I feel much better.

You’d think the big news this morning would have been that Obama won North Carolina and nearly split Indiana, all of which was good news for Obama (it would have been better if he had decisively won both, of course). But no. The top story this morning (while I was at the gym) was the fact that northern Virgina area experienced a whopping 1.5 magnitude earthquake.

You didn’t read that wrong: 1.5.

For those of us who lived in Southern California, a 1.5 magnitude earthquake making top story in the news would be the equivalent of a 1.5 cm snow storm making top-story of the news in Boston in the middle of winter. Of course, this isn’t Socal, but still, a 1.5 earthquake is what happens when a truck passed by on the street.

I may be biased here. I lived through numerous quakes, including the deadly Northridge quake in 1994–in fact, my family lived in Northridge at the time, and had to relocate for a few months while damage to our house was repaired. It got to the point, eventually, where I didn’t even get out of bed for anything less than a 5.0 magnitude earthquake, mostly because I am a heavy sleeper and I simply slept through them.

I’m donating blood this morning. The Red Cross is here at my office taking donations and I signed up a while back. I have a 9:30 appointment. This will be my second time donating. The first time, my blood type was identified as O positive and since then, I get at least 1 call a week from the Red Cross, asking me to donate blood. This, despite the fact that you can only donate once every 45 days or so. If ever the term “vampire” applied…

We’re cheating on video games now?

This has probably been going on for quite some time, right under my nose, but my attention was drawn to it by this Yahoo!Tech article I saw this morning. Apparently, cheating at video games has been steadily on the rise and has become enough of a problem that cheaters are being punished.

Set aside the fact that I find it incredible that a person would feel the need to cheat at a video game. What impresses me most about this is that it seems that the video game industry is stepping into to actually do something about this, which is more than can be said for, oh, I don’t know, major league baseball, to pick one random example. (I know, I know, baseball did do something about it but it seems too little, too late.)

I don’t know why I find it amusing that someone would cheat at a video game. It somehow seems to me to be a particularly sinister form of cheating although I cannot say why this is. I guess it’s because I tend to associate a kind of laziness with video games (they are played while sitting on a couch), and that cheating is the lazy-person’s attempt at winning, and the combination of a lazy game and cheating at a lazy game seems to me to have a Milton-esque irony to it. But then again, I’ve never been able to understand cheating at any game. What’s the point really? The cheater knows that they didn’t win by any legitimate means. Any bragging rights associated with the cheat are built on a self-delusional house of cards.

I think it says something about society that we have to spend so much time and effort dealing with cheating in various forms. And what it says can’t be very good.

Study links drop in test scores to decline in time spent reading

Duh! See the New York Times article. Via SF Signal.

You shouldn’t read this

I’m a pretty mellow, easy-going guy. It takes a lot to get me really agitated and even more to get me down right pissed off. One thing that almost always does the trick are stories of censorship.

Apparently, a school board in West Virginia is trying to ban Pat Conroy’s books so that high school students can’t read them. (For those of you who don’t know, Pat Conroy wrote Prince of Tides, among other books.)

Fair warning: the rest of this entry is pure anger talking.

At first, I was mildly surprised by the article. I hadn’t been aware that West Virginians over the age of 18 could read. I don’t mean to single out West Virginians here; if this vile act had taken place in, say, California or New York, I would have been equally surprised at West Virginians’ literacy. Yes, I am denigrating the intelligence of those who would ban books. But only because banning books is one of the most stupid, backward, and ignorant things a person can do. I’m just reading the landscape people.

Pat Conroy called people who would ban his books “idiots”, which is succinct, but greatly understated. There are few words that come to mind right now to describe these morons, but then again, I only have the English language at my disposal. When the school board backed down from outright banning the book, they suggested labeling the book with a warning. I do have a word that describes that brave move: meretricious.

What’s the big deal? I suppose the argument can be made that a school is requiring students to read a book. The students have no choice if they want to get a passing grade. Parents who object to the subject matter (and it is always the people who would never read the book in the first place that seem to object to it) then argue that they can’t teach their own values if they can’t keep their children away from such filth.

Bullshit!

It seems to me that one of the best way to highlight one’s values is by comparing them to what else is out there. Parents who teach high moral standards to their children need only reinforce those standards by letting the children read about people who don’t meet such high standards. If you ask me, some of the characters in Pat Conroy’s books go through quite a bit of hell. It’s enough to turn rotten kid sweet. And they can gain this knowledge without actually having to stoop to the low moral level these books seems to parade.

But that’s just reason talking.

Banning a book (or a TV show or a song) is about the worst thing a parent, school board or government can do. First of all, it reinforces ignorance. Second, it teaches cowardice. Third, it instantly makes the banned object desirable. Students will begin to lust for it, wondering what could possibly be so bad that their school won’t allow them to read it. (It doesn’t hurt book sales either, I suppose.)

People speak in great tones about our freedoms and how we must defend them at all costs. Our freedom to read, to learn, to grow, is among the most precious of all and we must defend that freedom at all costs. Banning books is a cowardly, shameful act. In case that wasn’t clear to the members of the Kanawha County Board of Education: Yes, I’m calling you a bunch of cowards. And you should be ashamed of yourselves. You are cowards because you took what you felt was the easy and “expedient” way out, rather than defend the most precious of freedoms that we can pass down to our children, that of free-thought. What level of Hell is reserved for cowards? I can’t remember. I suspect that in cases where banning a book is successful, the cowardice and ignorance is ultimately passed down to the students. They learn that such behavior is acceptable. Perhaps without intending it, these school boards and parents hurt their children far more than the banned books ever would have hurt them.

If I were a senior at George Washington High School where some of this book banning is taking place, I’d remember this day. And from now into the future, when asked about what I learned in school, I’d say as loudly and widely as I could that my precious high school taught me that it was okay to be a coward, that it was acceptable to hide behind a veil of ignorance, and that it was never worth it to fight the good fight.

And I’d throw it in their faces as often as I could manage.

A nation of cowards?

Yes, I am referring to our nation. Anyone who says that our freedoms are not shrinking daily is either deranged or so completely out of touch with reality that they might as well be deranged. It’s always the little things that bug me the most because they are insipid. When seemingly harmless activities are banned, you know big trouble is just around the corner.

Take for example, the ban on hugging at an Illinois middle school.

Yes, you read that right. A ban on hugging.

Why? Two reasons are given: (1) hug lines were forming outside hallways and students were late to class; (2) hugging students are sometimes too close to one another and it can be deemed inappropriate.

So it seems that we really are a nation of cowards, when something as innocuous as 6th graders hugging scares us so badly that we ban it. Consider what’s been banned from schools since I was in middle school: many schools have uniforms because teachers and parents are afraid of students whose clothing stands outs. Schools have banned baseball caps because they are afraid of gang affiliations. Schools have banned cell phone use because, like China and Myanmar, they are afraid of what might happen to students if they are influenced by the outside world. Some schools still ban books because they are afraid of what students might read. I say this without any hyperbole: schools will soon be banning thought.

There is a solution to all of this and that is to teach. Teach students about appropriate behavior and where to draw the line. Teach students about respect for others. Teach students why some books are deemed more risque than others. Teach students about sex and take the mystery away. Teach students about drugs and why they are bad. Teach, teach, teach. There is a reason why teaching is one of the noblest professions. Teachers who teach are brave.

But we live in a nation of cowards. Cowardly principals, cowardly school boards, cowardly parents, and yes, cowardly students.

And it damn near breaks my heart.

Some good news, for a change

I’ve grown to hate network TV news broadcasts and hate news reported in newspapers almost equally as much. It all focuses on depressing topics. We could do better.

But today, finally, some good news!

62nd anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima

Today, August 6, marks the 62nd anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. I have read 3 books on the history of the atomic bomb, those involved in building it, and those involved in trying to prevent its proliferation thereafter. It gives me a bit of hope that in the 62 years since Hiroshima and Nagasaki, governments have been smart enough not to use them in anger again. And while no one can say for sure that they won’t be used again (whether by sovereign nation or terrorist group), restraint seems much the way it would be in a 12-step program. You take it one day at a time, steadily building a history and before you know it, you’ve got 62 years sober.

A good excuse to be disillusioned

As my Grandpa would say, Oh boy!