October 09, 2012
Earlier, I was daydreaming about 'building' a skateboard on ccs.com.
Em crawled up next to me and was 'helping' me pick out components;
She: "You should get that skateboard. You should get these wheels. You should get that one. Wait, what is it?"
Me: "It's grip tape. It's the gritty stuff on top so your feet don't slide off."
I get to the page of bearings.
She: "Wait, go back up. You should get these. *points*"
Me: "You don't even know what those are!"
She: "Yeah, I do. I forget what they're called, but they're the things that go inside the wheels to make them spin
I love my kid.
September 20, 2012
She fears, it seems,
That staring at it too long,
Like a faint star
Or a hint of aurora,
Will chase it away.
She refuses to believe
Until she feels safe to
But until then,
Until that time,
We can glance at it, but
We must not look at it.
We must not stare.
And we certainly must not
Until it is finally so real
In our ears.
September 13, 2012
Diary of a Mid-Life Skater
I just missed the skate scene back in the late '80s because, honestly I was intimidated by the Tefft Jr. High skaters and a lot of the skaters I knew were kind of dicks. I didn't 'get' punk yet and wasn't at all about anarchy or torn up clothes. I was also fairly small/close-minded to think that any of those things mattered, but so be it.
My best friend had a halfway decent department store deck one summer and that's what I learned to do kick turns, tick-tacks, tail slides, etc. on, but I never got airborne and the closest thing to a ramp we saw was his driveway. It was a flat board with a single kicktail - kind of like the Powell spoon-nose re-issues out now, but much less cool. It was mostly white and had blue rail guards and skid plate.
We had many idiot adventures on that old board. We would tie a length of ski tow rope to my buddies 10-speed and I would slalom down the street (he was too big for me to pull and wasn't that good on the board - probably why he had no hesitation in eventually destroying it). We got really good at doing opposing turns at the end of the street without me getting yanked off the board.
Unfortunately, though our street was not very busy, the ones we turned in were and one day my dad was coming home from work just as we came flying off of our quiet little street. He was not amused and that might have been the last time I performed that maneuver.
Eventually my friend and his brother took the trucks off and did burnouts on the deck with their car, and that was the end of my skate career, as it were. I'd dink around on one from time to time, but when I bought one two weeks ago, it was the first time I'd spent more than 3 minutes on a board in about 24 years. Now I regret having wasted 24 years.
August 31, 2012
On my hot, frustrating, ride in to work today*, I was thinking about the similarities between motorcycling and flying, which I often do. Both require attention to detail, good traffic scanning and knucklehead-anticipation skills, decent manual dexterity, good decision-making, and the list goes on. Both, also, are so inherently enjoyable, that it's easy to get complacent and let your guard down. For some reason, this lead me to think it would be a good idea to write a 'safety article' on the topic. I guess even if no one else reads this or gets anything from it, it's a good exercise for me, so here goes.
Granted, I haven't flown in almost 5 years, but after going for the ride with Em on her birthday, the bug has bitten again, and the venom is strong. I'm ramping up to get back into it, so a lot of the concepts are running through my head as I review regulations, airplane characteristics, route planning, risk management, etc.
For this particular think session, I was mulling over the IM SAFE mnemonic intended as a pilot's pre-flight self-checklist. Before conducting a flight (or motorcycle ride, or really anything remotely hazardous) a pilot should evaluate for:
Most of those are pretty self-explanatory, but I'll run through them. Regarding Illness, a pilot's medical certificate is only as valid as his or her health at that given moment, so any illness which would disqualify you on the day of your exam also disqualifies you today. And I don't personally ride my motorcycle if my head is funky-ill. It's just not worth it. And yes, the standards are a little lower to drive a car, but I'll pull the plug there, too, in extreme cases.
Medication is similar to illness. In the case of flying, some medications (OTC or prescription) are head-wigging no-nos in the eyes of the FAA. And if I can't fly a plane on it, I won't ride a bike on it.
Stress is a major distraction and also clouds judgement - this is not news. In the words of Groundhog Day Bill Murray, "Don't drive angry!" This is a bit of a tricky one, because in many cases a good flight, ride, drive, etc., can actually help reduce stress, but you need to think it through first and if that's your goal, make sure to plan a flight/ride route/etc. with less traffic, workload, rules, and higher odds of fun. If you find yourself yelling "JACKASS!" to people who can't hear you and/or don't care, it might be a better call to turn around and go for a run, hit a punching bag, or blow some stuff up on a video game instead.
Alcohol is obvious but needs saying. The FAA limit is 0.04 B.A.C and NO consumption in the previous 8 hours. When I got my license, I called my wife and she headed out to the airport to help celebrate - I was going to take her for a ride. It was a Saturday and it happened to be one of the days the cozy, friendly Campbell Airport regulars were hanging out in the main hangar with potluck food, games, and, yes, beer. Someone offered me a congratulatory beer, and without thinking, I took the first sip and immediately realized I was grounded for the day. When the missus and the dog showed up for their ride, I had to break the bad news to them. Though the legal limits with regard to riding a motorcycle are considerably less stringent, my personal limits are very similar (and have been even before I started flying). Generally, 99.9% of the time, I don't drink AT ALL if I'm going to be riding. The 0.1% of the time covers cases where I've had drinks a few hours earlier, but am damned certain I'm beyond the "one drink per hour" common guideline for a body processing alcohol. I should be just as stringent when it comes to driving a car, and I have raised my standards quite a bit since Emily has come along, but I'd be lying if I said I was.
Fatigue, similar to stress, can be a tough one to self-assess, but the ill-effects can be just as dangerous as any of the other hazards. There's the phenomenon of "Get-there-itis," in flying, riding, driving, etc., which makes us take stupid risks in order to get to the fun or get home to our own beds just THAT MUCH SOONER. Is it better to push through and get a good night's sleep at home, or wait it out in an airport/rest stop/barn getting crappy sleep now? As a (once and future?) marathoner, I'm keenly aware of my idiot ability to push my body beyond any sense of 'reasonable expectations.' That's not intended as a brag, but as a confession. Older and hopefully wiser, I feel no shame in pulling over for a 20 minute cat-nap on the long, frequent drives to my folks. Luckily I haven't been in many flying situations where I felt compelled to "get there" when tired, but it needs to be assessed every time. Similarly, if I've had a really crappy night's sleep, I'll keep the bike parked at home. I'll still have to drive to work, but again, every activity has its own levels of acceptable risk. In this case, again, the bar is set lower when I'm surrounded by a steel cage - whether it should be or not is another matter.
The "E" is really the thing I was hung up thinking about this morning. When I learned the mnemonic, I learned it as "Everything Else," and took it as a bit of a cop-out to just fill out the acronym. What I realized this morning, though, is that "E" needs more consideration and respect. "E" could stand for "Eyes." Do I have my contacts in or glasses on? If I've driven to the airport, the odds are exceptionally high, but, do I have spares? What if I rub my eye and lose a contact in flight? Do I have my glasses as backup and/or an extra set of contacts? Do I have sunglasses in case glare gets obnoxious? Or am I simply having a "bad eye day?" It may be tied to Illness, Medication, Alcohol, or Fatigue, but it happens, and even in the lower-bar case of the bike, I've skipped a ride 'just because' my eyes were 'tired.'
A google search for "IM SAFE" turned up another thing "E" could stand for, "Eating." I don't know about others, but when I haven't eaten, I get CRABBY. And anxious. And focused on little else besides food. Whether seen as an Illness, Stress, Fatigue, or entirely its own thing, this is a real concern. It's not as much of a risk on the bike as in the air, but it's a good call to pack a Snickers, granola bar, etc. on any but the most local trips.
"E" could also stand for "E.S.P." Strictly speaking, I don't believe in premonition, but I DO believe in self-fulfilling prophecies. I try to listen and at least chalk it up as one Strike** if something in the back of my mind is asking me "Are you sure you should be doing this?"
Edit: Marty Burian chimed in with "Emotion," which I'd heard before but forgotten. Similar to Stress and yet still its own animal. Good call.
I'm sure there are other things "E" could/should stand for. I'm open to suggestions. We all have to set our own limits with regard to the activities we undertake, this is just a glimpse at the things I try to keep in mind every time I buckle in, swing a leg over, strap on a snowboard, step into the water skis, etc.
* This lead me to come up with Mark Murphy's Laws of Motorcycling: If it's above 90F, you will catch all red lights, trains, and construction and will not even be detected by traffic sensors. Corollary: If you have one of those magical 'all-green-lights' days, it's probably below 40F and you wouldn't mind an occasional stop.
** In my flight training, a few instructors and articles have mentioned the 3 Strikes "rule." I though I'd written about it before, but I can't find anything on it. Maybe it was a podcast. Basically, if you have 3 minor things go 'wrong' in your pre-flight/ride/whatever, you should strongly consider calling it a day. This could be as simple as a) leaving your headset in the car b) hitting your head on the wing, and then c) blanking on a commonly used radio frequency. In the case of a motorcycle ride, especially a commute, it could be things like a) running late b) having to go back in the house for something, and c) realizing your'e on fumes and need to stop for gas right away. The idea is less about superstition, and more about your head not being in the right place if these 'little things' are creeping in. Though a 'bad feeling' isn't tangible, I count it as a strike and double-check that my head is cob-web free.
August 22, 2012
Emily's 6th Birthday
A.K.A. "A brief (heh) description of the 6th birthday of the luckiest kid (and dad) ever."
I woke up briefly to Amy saying goodbye as she had to leave wicked early (5:30-ish) for an odd day at work. She was reminding me to kiss Em and say happy birthday for her, call her later, etc. I fell back asleep.
I woke up about 45 minutes later, still well ahead of my alarm, to the rustling of the kid snuggling in next to me. She was kissing my face a lot. I said, "Hey!" faking annoyed. When she stopped and said, "What?!?!?" I smiled and said, "Happy Birthday!" That was the start of our 15.5 hour day together.
We both settled back in to 'sleep' some more, but not long after she very casually said, "Um, who are these presents for?" Though she'd gotten her major haul on Sunday before her party, Mom had kept a couple in reserve for her actual birthday and had set them on her pillows. I said, "Who says they're presents?" "They're WRAPPED." The "Duh!" was implied. She inspected them for name tags. There were none. "Oh," I said, "Well, I don't know who they're for," and I rolled over and snuggled back in. After another couple moments she asked, "Do you think they're for me?" I let her off the hook by saying she should unwrap them and find out. Before she did, she asked one more time, "Really?"
She played with her Create-a-Monster Monster High doll kit for a bit, but it wasn't long before she asked, "When are we going flying?" I had wanted to surprise her on her birthday by taking her to the airport and going flying for her first time in a small airplane. But since Mommy couldn't be there, she wanted to tell her the night before, which we did. Now we had about two hours of anticipation to kill before we even left the house. She said a couple times that, though she was excited, she was a little scared. I told her it was OK to be a little scared but that it was safe and fun and reminded her how much she loves roller coasters, which can also be scary.
After getting dressed in a new pretty dress (her, not me), having a very light breakfast (didn't want a lot of potential puke fuel), taking care of the pets, and checking a few last minute things regarding the flying portion of the day, we headed out, still about a half hour earlier than I had planned to. Did I mention she was excited? I was too. For some dumb reason(s), it's been nearly 5 years since I've last flown. Don't ask.
We had a slow but pretty uneventful drive to Westosha Airport (5K6). To demonstrate her concept of time, when Em asked how long it would take to get there and I said about half an hour, she complained, "THAT'S LONGER THAN TO GET TO GRANDMA AND PAPA'S!!!" My folks are six hours away. Once we got there, she did let me know that it hadn't taken quite as long as she expected.
As we walked up to the clubhouse (she liked that it was a club and asked if she could join when she's older), she told me again that she was a little scared and I could tell in the car that she was a little nervous. I reminded her that we wouldn't be doing it if it wasn't safe and that at any time she could say she wanted to land and we'd be all done. That seemed good enough. We had a lot of time to kill, so we checked out the clubhouse and she was quite interested in the flight simulator setup.
We eventually walked out to the plane, a Cessna 172P, and as she checked out the various seats, I did one of the most thorough, checklist-in-hand, pre-flight evaluations I've ever done - maybe second only to my PPL checkride. As she sat in the pilot's seat and watched the yoke move around, I showed her how the elevator and ailerons moved in relation and told her what they did.
She eventually got out and I warned her about the propeller, showed her how you climb up on the wing to check/add gas, and checked out the control surfaces from outside.
We hung out a little bit more as one of the club's 152s came around and landed. I had a hunch that's where our CFI, Greg was. We looked at the plane a little more as the 152 refueled and taxied back to the clubhouse and eventually we ambled back there as well.
Greg had indeed been in the 152 with what appeared to be a new club member getting checked out. I kept Em quiet and out of the way as they wrapped up their debrief. Once they were done, Greg came over and I introduced him and Emily. We had a good pre-flight talk where we discussed our goals. MY goal, despite really wanting some stick time myself, was to have Emily up front, interested, and happy. I worried that if I were up front, trying to pay attention to flying the plane and getting instruction after a five year break, she would get bored in back. I also was dubious about my ability to judge her state of mind were she back there. Greg agreed and we had a discussion of how we would handle emergency egress should we need to do that - unpleasant but necessary to think about.
We then talked about what we wanted to see. I suggested we fly over my workplace. It's a large community near another local airport, Campbell (C81), so it's easy to find/see and Em's been there enough to have some connection to it. Greg thought that sounded pretty good and also suggested a large local corn maze that happens to be Girl Scout themed this year. I discarded the idea of flying over our house since it is out of the way, would be hard to point out to her, and is also in the controlled airspace around Waukegan Regional (UGN). That wouldn't preclude us from asking permission or flying over the top, but really, I wanted to keep this first flight simple and short enough that Em wouldn't get bored.
We got out to the plane a little ahead of Greg and I got Em set up and buckled in. I then got the headsets plugged in and set up, which Em wanted to put on right away despite the intercom not even being powered up yet. Greg and I removed the gust lock, tie downs, and cowl and pitot tube covers as I did one more cursory walk-around. After a tricky stuck seat which I feared was going to ground the flight, I was loaded in back (for the first time ever!), buckled and jacked in with the video camera rolling.
One thing I didn't properly brief Em on was how long the pre-flight checks and taxiing can seem to take, so from the moment Greg buckled in, she was ready for us to leap off the ground. Another thing I HAD briefed her about, but she had a hard time controlling, was not talking too much, especially during take-off and landing. When she heard her own voice over the intercom headset, she immediately went into singing diva mode. It was pretty darn cute.
Finally, after back-taxiing and the run-up check, Greg asked for thumbs-up all around, Em reached back for my hand, we turned down Runway 21 into a calm and direct headwind, and rolled on the speed. About a third of the way down the runway, we were airborne. I asked Em how she was doing and she was so busy taking in the view of the ground falling away out the window that she could barely answer. But I could see enough of the smile on her face to know she was loving it. She had her face pressed to the window the whole time and I pointed out big things she could recognize like the Wilmot ski hill, the 'Tonka Trucks' in the quarries below us, and off in the distance, "The Big Smoke/Cloud Factory," our names for the smokestack at the Pleasant Prairie coal power station, and another dubious landmark, the Zion Nuclear Power Station right by Mommy's train stop. On the way south-south-east to Campbell, we flew over the Fox River/Chain O'Lakes and I pointed out a couple boats that were stirring up wakes.
Soon enough, we were over my workplace and Greg turned a couple slow orbits while I snapped pictures, narrated a brief history of the place, pointed out landmarks like my office, the "SBF" lettered in the hedges on a hillside, and the lake path that Em and I had walked a couple weeks ago when she had joined me at work.
One piloting habit which I had noticed was still alive and well after my 5 year hiatus was looking out for traffic. Even as I was playing tour guide, I found myself taking time to scan the sky for potential collisions. However, despite being a perfectly beautiful day, we never did see another plane. Speaking of the weather, we did hit a few convective bumps in the sky but we'd prepared Em for them and she didn't seem nervous about them at all.
After a second pass of my work, we headed off generally back towards Westosha and I tried to spot other things to point out to Em, but there's not a lot distinctive out that way. I thought about overflying my aunt and uncle's house, which she's been to a lot, but again, I didn't want to push the first flight too long - got to leave 'em wanting more. I did spot a few choice locations were people had cut pretty good motocross/ATV trails in the woods, but sadly I didn't have a GPS in hand to mark them for investigation on my WR250R. :D
Before long, we were orbiting the Richardson's corn maze commemorating The Girl Scouts this year. Em thought it was cool, but I could tell her interest was waning. Luckily, the maze it pretty much on the 45 for pattern entry for Runway 21, so soon enough, we were descending into the pattern. I pointed out the airport to her and then reminded her to be quiet from that point until we were back on the ground. I reached for her hand again and she gently squeezed mine back.
As we were lined up on final, I had her scooch up as much as she could in her seat to see the runway over the dash of the plane. As Greg flared for landing, though, she turned back to her side window and watched the main left tire kiss the ground. We rolled out onto the taxiway and I asked what she thought. I think words were beyond her at that point.
After we parked and tied down the plane, unloaded ALL of our stuff, and I paid Greg for his time, we were walking back to the car when I told Em that I don't think she has ANY clue how lucky of a kid she is. Seriously. She took umbrage with that. As much umbrage as a 6 year old can take. She smiled and hit me as she might a boy she had a crush on.
Since it was her birthday, I went out of my way to find a McDonald's with a playland for lunch as requested (we were both pretty hungry by the time we landed). The kid who hardly eats at all ate all 6 of her McNuggets - flying really takes it out of you. She met another 6 year old on the playground and they had fun together. She mentioned it was her birthday. To everyone. Eventually we headed off to my very awesome/flexible job. After getting a birthday McFlurry, of course. She got more birthday wishes and even a card at my office. She was good and watched cartoons and rode her scooter in the parking lot as I worked for the afternoon - this was really the only time we were apart all day - still within 100' of each other.
Eventually, we headed for home by way of a park, some shopping, and dinner. We stopped at Gurnee Mills to hit up Sports Authority for shin guards, socks, and soccer cleats - All pink, of course. She starts U6 in a couple weeks. Damn, we should have rolled this in with her birthday gifts. Again, lucky kid. Then we drove to the other end of the mall (!?) and caught a free (the Club card actually does pay for itself) dinner at Rainforest Cafe (after initially wanting to go to Applebee's ???). She told EVERYONE it was her birthday again, so we got prime seating by one of the aquariums and of course they brought her a sundae with a candle and sang to her. And again, she ate a TON.
Since I'd gotten her soccer stuff, I was a bit of a grump and didn't let her get anything from the gift shop, but we did cross the hall and she got a little rubber ball from the Serpent Safari shop. We looked at the lizards, scorpions, and a tarantula which was chewing on a cricket and we pet the large tortoise (they didn't have any of the pythons out) before heading to the car. We had one more quick stop at PetsMart for waxworms for Toadero (where the clerk also sang Happy Birthday to her) before heading home to our very patient and wonderful dogs.
When we got home, I let Em watch two episodes of Jumanji (which she still loves after having watched them ALL at least 3 times) and Birthday Girl FINALLY went to bed around 9:30. As I tucked her in, she did NOT want to let me go. To cap off that we'd spent the WHOLE DAY together, I went to bed then, too. I was so wiped, I never even heard Amy come home. Birthdays are HARD WORK!
Have I ever mentioned how much I love that kid? I do. TONS.