Thursday, May 29, 2008

Neat plane pix

Working in the tower at the nation's fourth busiest airport gives me plenty of opportunity to see special paint schemes. Southwest has a number of specials, many with state flag themes. I haven't managed to catch all of them with the camera yet.

They told me that this coat of arms scheme is Maryland. I had to google it to be sure.

I caught this corporate looking Southwest shortly after they got it from Ford - I think it's been repainted by now.

Arizona - shot through the tower window and shades (sorry)

One of my favorites, also shot through the shades.

Silver Anniversary

American's retro scheme

I've managed to catch some of Alaska's specials. This is one of their several Disney-themed paint schemes.

And here's another: the Tinkerbell jet.

Horizon flies CRJ's and Dash 8's for Alaska, in the same way that Skywest does for United and Delta. This Horizon CRJ is one of several that have college logos.

Memories of a bygone era . . . the DC-3 at the Flight Path museum on the south ramp

Not a particularly special paint job - I guess you could call it 'generic airliner'.

America West also had some state- or team-themed paint jobs, mostly on 757's. These are beginning to disappear as the merger with USAir progresses. A few of the schemes have reappeared on the Airbuses like this one, also shot through the shades.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Idle Thoughts

I'm running the box office at the theater this evening ( ), which gives me an hour or so before intermission to while away (we're sold out tonight, so no empty seats, and no standing in the aisle with all the entrances and exits in this show). Time enough for a random collection of idle wonderings.

Firstly, why is it that most battery chargers have no on/off switch? I have three different battery chargers in the hangar, and none of them has a power switch - the only way to turn any of them off is to pull the plug. I did a casual survey of the chargers in the Wallyworld automotive department, and none of theirs had power switches either. It seems to me that pulling the plug is likely to cause an arc or spark, which in the average garage or shop has got to be a bad thing with all the various possible vapor sources. To be fair, I did find a charger equipped with an on/off switch at the local NAPA store - for $459.

Next, what's with this extended warranty craze that seems to have overtaken retailers of almost anything and everything. I suppose it started as service contracts for things like televisions, which in the olden days of yore had about a hundred vacuum tubes and probably nearly as many adjustments. I can remember my grandmother maintaining a service contract on her big RCA console TV, which was nearly as big as my current car, and seemed to weigh as much. Extended warranties have been a big seller for new car dealers too, even in this day of three, four, and five-year manufacturer's warranties. The trend spread to electronics, and on laptop computers it's most likely a good investment - my iBook's logic board went out right after Christmas, just two weeks before the Applecare ran out on it. That $149 turned out to be a good call, as the part alone was about $500. (By the way, the editors of Consumer Reports, who are not at all fans of extended warranties, do say that the AppleCare plan is an exception to their usual recommendation.) But now it's stretched to the point of the cashier asking me if I want the extended warranty on a steam iron that sells for $25. The topper, though, was this last week when I went into Fry's Electronics looking for something that it turned out they didn't have. On the way out, I grabbed a Diet Coke out of the cooler. The kid at the register asked if I'd like the extended protection plan! He did have the good sense to be embarrassed about half a second after he asked. Apparently it's store policy that they ask each and every customer. And no wonder - it's a great deal for the retailer. I bet they end up paying out on less than ten percent of their extended warranties - the rest is pure profit. It's like life insurance: You're betting the product will break, and they're betting that it won't.

And now a quick personal update: I seem to be caught up in a perpetual game of 'Hurry up and wait." As I've previously mentioned, my current living arrangements are optimistically described as 'temporary.' The housing market right now is great if you're in position to be a buyer (and able to get a mortgage). However, I'm waiting to see if I'm going to get another chance to move. A couple of months ago, I bid on a couple of jobs in the Dallas area, and last I heard, I'm still in the running for one of them. If selected, I might be able to leave LAX as soon as early 2010 - less than two years from now. If so, it wouldn't really be worthwhile to buy a house that I'll just have to turn around and sell - I've already done that bit, and as I haven't finished paying for it yet, I'm not anxious to do it again. The question arises, though: How long do I wait? I've spent a good part of my FAA career trying to be somewhere else. At Monroe (MLU), my first facility, an old hand told me that it gets harder every time. I didn't believe him at the time, but it's true. The training process at each new facility is more draining than the previous one, even though the overall experience level is greater. At this point, I think I've got one more move left in me, and this one needs to be long-term. What that means, essentially, is Texas. And I don't mean El Paso, either. Nor someplace that's just closer than where I am now - I've done that bit too, with less than complete success.

Cool bumper sticker: "Frodo failed: Bush has the ring"

Uh-oh - the tech booth just missed a critical music cue; I guess they're gonna have to ad-lib some Euripides. This oughta be interesting. Thank goodness the reviewers came last week!

Monday, May 12, 2008

Recent Travels and Travails

After a month's hiatus, I'm back. Assembling and editing this occasional missive tends to be more time consuming than I had expected or intended, which contributes to the sporacity of updates. I'm not sure "sporacity' was a word until the last sentence, but it is now. Perhaps that's to be my contribution to the accumulated knowledge of the human race; I better get started on a copyright or get a registered trademark. So much for posterity. ("Hello, Posterity!" - thank you, Flanders & Swann).

Since my last entry, I've been to Memphis, by way of Houston. The big accomplishment of this trip was that I have finally managed to move all my household stuff out of the T-hangar at the West Memphis airport, where it's all been sitting since I moved out of the Memphis house about thirteen months ago. Here are before and after photos, taken almost exactly 24 hours apart:

Given that short period of time, you'll not be surprised to learn that I didn't move it very far: About 100 yards, actually, to the mini storage place just outside the airport fence. While not nearly so voluminous, it's also a good deal cheaper, as well as being better sealed against mice (about a half-dozen of which I found during the moving-out process). The best part is that I don't have to worry about the airport getting upset that there's no airplane in the hangar, a minor stipulation of the lease agreement.

The original intent was to just get the tug out of the hangar, since it was the one thing in there that couldn't be put in a rental truck. That would allow me to manage everything else on a subsequent trip by flying straight into Memphis and then getting a U-haul. The main problems have been (and still are) time and distance. The plan was to haul the Jetta to Houston with the truck and trailer and leave it on the folks' farm, and then continue up to Memphis to retrieve the tug. Along the way, I hoped to pass through Monroe to visit my friend Mark. After leaving the truck and trailer (with the tug) on the farm, I meant to head up to Dallas to visit friends there and politic for a job before returning to California.

Prior to leaving California, I spent several days off getting the white pickup ready for the trip by replacing the
injector pump, along with replacing the timing chain with a new gearset. Various other odd bits and pieces were attended to as well; here's a shot of most of the parts on the cart in the hangar:

I know, it doesn't look all that impressive. However, after all the work, the truck started up easier and ran better than it ever has in the five years that I've had it. The drive to Texas was uneventful, with the exceptions that the fuel burn was awful, even considering the trailer, and the engine never seemed to come up to temperature.

These considerations caused me to borrow my mom's brown truck for the run up to Memphis and back, with the expectation that there would be less cause for concern. That lasted for about two hours, until my first fuel stop in Cleveland (TX); when it was time to go, the truck wouldn't start. I had noticed that it cranked slowly when I started in on the farm, but attributed it to the truck having been sitting for a week or so. Now, after nearly a hundred miles of highway driving, the starter barely turned it at all.
Fortunately, the station where I had stopped was adjacent to the Walmart. The kid working the auto service counter said that they could check the batteries; all I had to do was bring the truck in. I thought about the futility of explaining that if I could bring the truck in, I wouldn't need to check the batteries, but decided to skip it. Naturally, the tools that I needed were in . . . the white truck. One tool set later, I pulled both batteries so I could carry them back over to the service area (did I mention that I was about as far away from the auto service department as it was possible to be while still in the same parking lot?) Here you can see both batteries in the shopping cart:

One of the batteries tested bad right away, while the other one just seemed to need charging. It got put on the charger while I purchased a replacement for the other. After installing the new battery, I went back for the one on the charger. Except that it wouldn't take a charge. So it got replaced as well. After I finished all this, I brought the truck over so that they could check the charging system and make sure there wasn't a deeper problem lurking. And there wasn't - the alternator was doing just fine. So I continued northwards.

A couple of hours later, now north of Nacogdoches, I heard a loud thump and the truck started pulling strongly to the right. In the mirror, I saw a long strip of rubber fly out behind the trailer and guessed that I had lost a tire. Once on the shoulder, I did a walk-around and found that the left front tire had delaminated and completely shed its tread, but was still inflated:

I decided to keep going on the shoulder until I got to someplace more conducive to jacking the truck and changing the tire. This location finally appeared about five miles later:

You can see by the length of my shadow that it's now getting pretty late in the day; the gas station where I stopped was already closed. The spare, although pretty weathered, had plenty of air in it so I went ahead and changed the tire. Here, for the benefit of my mom's tire shop, is another picture of the old tire, along with the spare:

Those steel belts sure are shiny! While I was changing the tire, a DPS trooper pulled into the parking lot. Not to offer to help, but to set up a speed trap. Nice. He did at least give me directions to the Walmart in Carthage, the next town up the road. By now, it was beginning to get dark, and I figured that the Walmart was the only place in a small town that I'd be able to do anything about tires after 5 PM.

The Walmart in Carthage, Texas, may be the only Walmart in the world that doesn't have tires; it's certainly the only one I've ever seen that didn't. I was, however, able to get a large can of fix-a-flat, after verifying with one of the ladies who worked there that there was no where in town that I could get any tire service before seven the next morning. "Oh no, honey" she said, "there ain't nobody can sell you a tire til in the mornin."

My original plan called for me to be around Little Rock by this time, so I opted to press on, with the can of fix-a-flat just in case. Sunrise found me in the parking lot of the Walmart in West Memphis, which assuredly does have tires. Two new tires later, it was time to get some work done.

Since the original schedule was by now completely shot anyway, I decided to move out of the hangar if at all possible. It would require arranging for a storage facility and finding a helper to deal with the larger furniture items. All of this turned out to be easier than expected; one of the linemen at the airport was just going off duty when I came in, and was happy to spend the rest of the afternoon lugging stuff around - especially at his boss's suggestion. He definitely came in handy; I know I couldn't have gotten it done without his help. As part of his compensation, I gave him the lawnmower and the engine hoist, both of which take up a fair amount of space and neither of which I could foresee needing again anytime soon. Here's a shot of him hauling away some of his booty:

And here's one of the truck, trailer, and tug, all ready for departure:

After that, the trip home was thankfully anticlimatic. A day of shuffling trailers around on the farm and a few other chores, and then it was on the road again for LA. In the Jetta this time, which I had hauled to Texas on the trailer for the return trip and because it needed to get inspected anyway. This was the easiest leg, of course: In the truck, with the trailer, it took about 30 hours eastbound; in the car, the westbound trip took only about 24.

Apologies are in order to Mike & Dave, Mark, and Harvey, all of whom I had hoped to visit on this trip. Or maybe I should say congratulations: you escaped again!

Meanwhile, it's back to the six-day work weeks with no end in sight. Fortunately, my trainee is showing improvement. Unfortunately, we just got three or four more: the fun never ends!

The iBook's battery is dying, so I'll have to wrap it up here. 'Till next time, when I'll talk about credit card fraud and identity theft - the other exciting element of this trip.