Sunday, August 24, 2008

Trivial thoughts

It's been over a week since my last missive, so I feel like it's time to say something - even if I don't feel like there's anything important to say. So I'll throw out assorted trivial thoughts:

Now that the Olympics are wrapping up, brace yourself for an onslaught of political 'news'. First the Democratic, and then the Republican national conventions. Uggh. Too bad they can't run them concurrently.
Oh my cow - Parrots for Obama!

And speaking of the Olympics, I guess by now you've heard about the fakery perpetrated in the televised version of the opening ceremony: the fireworks were digitally enhanced, and the singer wasn't actually singing. See here:

Oh, and apparently some of the Chinese competitors may have been underage (fake ID's, anyone? And I thought this was just of concern with tobacco and alcohol sales). Meanwhile, in Japan, where cigarettes are still sold in vending machines, they're working to cut down on sales to underage buyers - by installing video cameras in the vending machines:

Something else interesting I heard recently: TV chef Julia Child served in the OSS (predecessor to the CIA) during WWII. While now best known for cooking up goodies in her studio kitchen, she apparently helped come up with a recipe for shark repellent:,0,5754614.story

And here's a celebrity chef recipe to avoid: Henbane in your salad:

In a previous post, I mentioned an Australian suggestion that kangaroos replace cattle for meat production. Now there's another idea, this time from Cuba, that miniat
ure cows may be a better source for dairy production:

This idea is not limited to Cuba; just like purse poodles and pot belly pigs, there are now US breeders working on mini cows:

As both of my loyal readers know, I'm a fan of NPR's Car Talk ( This summer, PBS has been running a Car Talk-inspired cartoon series,
Click & Clack's As the Wrench Turns. My local PBS station has chosen to run this weekly at ten p.m., which is dangerously close to my bedtime. As such, I have yet to make it through an entire half-hour episode. Nevertheless, the bits that I have seen are enough for me to pan it. Basically, take the radio show and strip out the actual useful information, thus leaving just the stupid bits; then combine with today's cheesy cartoon animation, and this TV show is the result. If they can't bother to continue Wired Science (, there's certainly no excuse for this show to endure - and I hope it doesn't. Sorry Tom and Ray, but stick to the radio!

And on the subject of cars in general, the hot topic of late seems to be the hybrid. Toyota's Prius is definitely the best known and best selling example of the genera. All others on the market right now are hybrid versions of existing models: Honda Civic, Ford Escape, Toyota Camry and Highlander, along with a few from Lexus and maybe Nissan; Chevy's gotten into the game in a limited way with hybrid Tahoes and Malibus - both of which are in such limited supply that they're almost imaginary. As far as I know, Chrysler has no offering in this market at all. Here are a couple of existing cars that I think would be very successful as hybrids: the Honda Element and the Mini Cooper. Honda and BMW, are you listening?

I've just got time for one gratuitous airplane picture:

While at first glance it looks like they parked it on the wrong side of town, this is reportedly the largest piece of artwork in the world!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Sick Leave

Here it is Monday in my world, and I've called in sick. A dangerous thing to do, as it immediately runs up red flags about three-day weekends and sick leave abuse. Calling in sick on your Friday is just as bad. During my FAA career, I've known of probably a dozen people who've received letters of reprimand for suspected sick leave abuse, and the most prevalent eye raiser is taking sick leave in conjunction with weekends or annual leave.

Nonetheless, I made the call at about ten this morning for a four o-clock shift. I'd known since about six this morning that I was going to have to do it, and there didn't seem any point in waiting until the last minute. The sooner they know about it, the sooner they can make arrangements to work around it, which is particularly necessary for this particular shift. Most likely, someone on an earlier shift will be held over for the tail end of my shift. I doubt they'll call in somebody extra unless they were already short-handed, and even then they don't always.

I don't actually feel all that bad, but as it's the early stages of a cold, it doesn't seem quite nice to go on in anyway - as I understand it, the early stages of a cold tend to be the period when you're most contagious. As two of my crew members are a husband and wife who are expecting a daughter in about three weeks, sharing it seems especially lacking in consideration. At least for them, anyway - there are a couple of others whom I'd love to share it with, but I doubt I could be so lucky. Besides, I've got nearly five months' worth of sick leave in the bank, and in my mind this is what it's for. That's the FAA's official position too - "We don't want you here if you're sick" say they. Of course, there's the inevitable dispute over what 'sick' really means; the working definition is generally assumed to be 'unfit for duty'. I suppose I could go in anyway and save the eight or sixteen hours, and force all my corkers to use theirs instead - and before you laugh, know that this happens more often than it should - especially after school starts; we'll have people working in just the same condition that I'm in now, and it's easy to watch the cold work its way through the tower, easily lasting a month. I've heard that the Navy has to deal with this sort of thing on any of its ships when they leave on a cruise: Everybody brings their various germs and infections onboard with them, and it takes a month or so for everything to work its way through the crew - after which everything is pretty stable until the next port call, whereupon it starts all over again.

I owe it all to taking a friend out to lunch on Tuesday. He was having occasional coughing spells, but attributed it to having just had his house fumigated over the weekend. I felt fine all day yesterday, and went out for lunch with another friend whom I've probably unknowingly infected. The first signs were late last evening, when I started getting that sore throat feeling from sinus drainage. By about midnight, I was pretty sure about it, and dosed myself with some Emergen-C ( and slept fitfully. The cats were unusually attentive, which might mean something - and then again, it might not. They could just as well have been concerned because their feeders went off at a different time or because they're used to having the bed to themselves after six a.m.

So anyway, just a few idle thoughts:

Roo burgers, anyone? An Australian scientist suggests that switching from beef to kangaroo in burgers and such would reduce green house gas emissions from cattle. I suppose you'd have to be quick about it though, before it hopped off your plate! See this link for the new item:

Is it just me, or does the current Russia/Georgia tiff seem eerily parallel to Germany and its neighbors in the late 1930's?

Slightly related to that, a bumper sticker I saw today: Make coffee, not war! (Probably put out by a Starbucks-Folgers coalition)

How do you get rid of pigeons? I've got an on-going problem with pigeons roosting on the top of my hangar doors. While they're not getting into the hangar, their feathers and nesting materials are - and the poop is messing up the lock on the door. My first thought was to invest in a new pellet gun, as the burglars got my previous one a couple of years ago; but I don't particularly want to kill them, I just want them to go away. One of my hangar neighbors has one of those plastic owls above his hangar door, and it's covered in pigeon poop - not a sterling recommendation, I shouldn't think. The other option I'm considering is installing some of those bird spikes that you seen on public buildings and other places where they want to discourage birds. A casual search on the web revealed that those things are not cheap: enough to do my hangar door would be two or three hundred bucks - I could equip an army of kids with BB-guns for that kind of money!

The iBook's battery is dying fast, so I'm going to have to cut it off here for now. Have a good weekend!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

What's in a name

One of my brother Roger's favorite authors was Roger Welsch, whose books on old tractor restoration - Busted Tractors and Rusty Knuckles was the first of several - make entertaining reading. It's been a number of years since I read any of these, but as I recall, one of his chapters addresses the topic of naming one's tractor(s). The naming of one's tractor (or car, plane, bike, blender, etc.) has several levels, which I will attempt to paraphrase: The first is simply referring to it as 'the tractor'. One step up is using the name of the manufacturer, i.e. 'the Ford'. More devoted owners tend to be found at the next level, where you use the tractor's model name: 'the Dexta'. Since many tractors simply have alpha or numerical model designations (4000, WD, D-8, etc.), this could be pushing tractor geekdom. The final, highest (or lowest, depending upon your point of view) level is where the tractor becomes a named member of the family: 'Old Bess'.

What brought all this to mind was a recent observation that several of the carriers at LAX have named their aircraft. I suspect that this originally goes back to aviation's nautical heritage: I don't think I've ever seen a boat bigger than a bath tub that didn't have a name of some sort; even my grandfather's Boston Whaler had a name: 'Hunky Dory'. Many of the air carriers have named their aircraft after cities they serve: KLM brought in City of Jakarta and City of Orlando last week. Likewise, Air New Zealand's 747's have names such as Wellington, Bay of Islands, Kaikoura, and Christchurch. Curiously, only the 747's seem to have names; I haven't observed monikers on New Zealand's 767's or 777's. Hawaiian's 767's have names too: Noio and Koa'e 'ula are a couple. I have no idea how to pronounce them, nor if these are towns, islands, or Hawaiian words for 'big noisy bird'. Meanwhile the iBook's spellcheck is about to have a meltdown!

In contrast to these fairly mundane names, the Virgin aircraft have much more imaginative names. Virgin America has contents may be under pressure, virgin & tonic, tubular belle, jane (as in plane jane), and fog cutter. Others include: unicorn chaser, runway angel, mach daddy, an airplane named desire, jefferson airplane, and my favorite: my other ride's a spaceship (a reference to Virgin Galactic, one of the supporters and now the owner of the Scaled Composites White Knight / Spaceship One project, which won the X-Prize competition for the first reusable spacecraft, and intends to offer space tourism flights starting at a very reasonable $200K).

Virgin Atlantic's aircraft also have fun names, but they've taken it a step further with vanity registrations: 'Cover Girl' has G-VOGE; 'Virgin Girl' G-VGAS; 'Lady Luck' G-VWIN; 'Scarlet Lady' G-VRED; 'Surfer Girl' G-VWEB; and 'Madam Butterfly ' is G-VSHY. Each of these also has some nose art:


While many of the pictures are too small to read the names clearly, if you click on the picture you'll get a much larger version to look at; using the 'Back' button on your browser should return you here.

For a more comprehensive listing of Roger Welsch's books, try this link to Amazon:

The noio is an indigenous Hawaiian seabird better known as the Noddy Tern or Black Noddy. See this link: final CWCS/Chapters/Terrestrial Fact Sheets/Seabirds/Black Noddy NAAT final !.pdf

For more about Virgin Galactic, go here:

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

My day off

It's my one day off this week, and yet here I am at the tower. It's like one of those recurring bad dreams - even when I'm not at work, I'm at work. Except that it's intentional this time, and I really do have a purpose.

As I mentioned last month, LAX has been anticipating the commencement of service by Emirates Airlines, from the U.A.E. Scheduled service is to start next month, but yesterday they brought in an Airbus A380 on a promotional tour. This was the first A380 to appear at LAX in an airline paint scheme since the original first visit, which I believe was in Singapore colors. Come to think of it, this was the first A380 we've had here all year - the last visit was in November of last year, and that aircraft was in Airbus factory colors. Singapore was the launch customer for the A380, and they've been flying the first production aircraft for nearly a year now, I believe.

I wasn't in the tower yesterday when the Airbus arrived, as the information about it's arrival had not filtered up to the tower cab by the time I left on Monday. So, by the time I got to work, it was already on the ground and parked with its tail pointed right at the tower - not any airplane's best angle. Apparently the arrival was a spectacle, although not just because of the A380 itself. There were news crews and helicopters on site in preparation for the arrival, and they got the scoop of the day when an American 757 which had departed for Hawaii declared an emergency due to fumes and smoke in the cabin. The 757 landed on runway 7 left, which happens to be opposite direction - basically shutting down the entire airport. Even after the landing, the south side remained shut down to accommodate the evacuating passengers and emergency crews. The captain stopped the plane on the runway and ordered an emergency evacuation - with all the news cameras rolling. On live TV could be seen the chutes deploying and passengers then sliding down them to the ground and the awaiting rescue crews. Here are a couple of links for video clips of the evacuation:

While looking for those clips, I also found this one, which has both the American and then the A380's landing:

This morning's trip to the tower was to catch the A380's departure, which was managed without fanfare. Besides the sheer size of the thing, the other thing that is striking is how quiet it is - El Segundo has no basis for complaint about this airplane's noise. Even at takeoff power, it was amazing quiet - much less noise than the other jets that departed before and after. The sneaky thing about this promotional flight is that Emirates' regular scheduled service at LAX will be in B777's - not the A380. Our first scheduled service is to be
later this year with Qantas, who ran full-page newspaper ads over a month ago. Anyway, on to the photo spread:
The tower view of the parked A380, with a Frontier A319 in the foreground
A Qantas B747-400 exits 25 Left
Fedex DC-10 departs
The A380 pushing back onto taxiway A as an American MD83 arrives.
You can see the museum's DC-3 in the background.
Another shot showing the DC-3. Now there's a size comparison!
Another indicator of the size of the Airbus: look at the police cars!
A Skywest CRJ-700 departs. That's Chevron's El Segundo refinery in the background.
It produces a lot of the jet fuel used at LAX - there's a pipeline
from the refinery to the airport fuel facility.
Here's a Skywest E-120 Brasilia on the new center taxiway.
Another Airbus 319 - this one in the new Spirit Wings scheme.An American B767 lifts off as the A380 taxis out
Yet another A319 - this one in Mexicana colors
Up, up, and . . .Away they go!

Monday, August 4, 2008

One of those days

You ever have one of those days when everything you touch seems to go wrong? Okay, so maybe not everything went wrong today - work was actually pretty uneventful (other than the two hours on clearance delivery, where I was busier than a one-legged man in a butt-kicking contest). It was after work that the shenanigans began.

I needed to print out a couple of packing slips for stuff I was sending out, and I had promised that it would ship today. My printer at home has been problematic for some time, and today it finally refused to work at all. Annoying, but not truly unexpected - I'd already picked up another one to take its place. So I extricated the old printer from its home in the overhead cupboard and pulled the replacement out of the box and put it in its place. Another couple of minutes were needed to hook up power and USB cables, install the new print cartridges, and load the paper. Whereupon nothing happened - the replacement printer didn't work either! This was, as you might imagine, a bit more annoying. After pulling the replacement out and stuffing it back into its box, I went to the local WallyWorld and bought a new replacement printer. By this time, I'm becoming more aware of the passage of time, as rush hour starts early in L.A. Arriving home, I did the out-of-the-box-and-into-the-cupboard routine again with the brand-spanking new printer, and . . . you guessed it, this one didn't work either! Jimminy Freakin' Christmas! So I got to repeat the out-of-the-cupboard-and-back-into-the-box routine again, and returned to the WallyWorld to find that their computers can't handle a customer returning an item less than an hour after purchase - a manager override is required. We all know what that means: everyone standing around, waiting for the Customer Service Manager ('CSM' - so next time you hear that over the loudspeakers, you know somebody's having a fun day) to make their way to the returns desk and use their special key in the register. Meanwhile, everyone in line behind you is dreaming up incredibly imaginative and cruel ways of orchestrating your demise. When the manager finally showed up, he wanted to have a conversation about my credit card (which has - surprise, surprise - a picture of an airplane on it), telling me that he was going to flight school, etc. Now I'm the one dreaming of his immediate, if not sooner, demise, while looking at the clock over his head and wondering what time is the last pick up at the post office. Eventually, having talked for more time than I suspect he has actually logged in an airplane, the manager had to answer someone else's call for a CSM, and I was able to make my escape back to the printer aisle to choose the replacement for the replacement for the replacement. Darned if, on my way out of the store, I didn't encounter the same CSM - who looked as if he wanted to relive his first cross-country all over again with me - minute by minute, in real time. I swear I'm gonna replace that credit card the first chance I get!

The rest of the story is anticlimatic: This fourth printer actually worked, despite the cats' helping. I made it to the post office with 15 minutes to spare, so all worked out in the end. But for a while there . . . !

A couple of notes:

First, having at one time worked for WallyWorld, I can empathize with the poor guy wanting to talk about something he was obviously interested in - I may well have been the highlight of his day, in which case it's really a shame that I truly needed to be
elsewhere and doing something else.

Secondly, the remark about reliving a student cross-country in real time reminded me of a guy I used to know, who would set up his home computer flight simulator for a many-hundred mile flight in a single-engine trainer, and then spend hours 'flying' the entire route in real time (straight-and-level, VFR, 100 knots). This would have almost made sense if he had been preparing for an actual flight; but to my knowledge, he never went anywhere near an actual airplane.

Sunday, August 3, 2008


Today's entry is about nothing in particular - mainly a bit of catching up and adherence to my self-imposed rule of at least one blog entry approximately every week. I'll hold off on more airliner pictures until next time.


Yesterday was my trainee's last day at LAX; he starts at Santa Monica tower on Monday. I wish him well (and hope that he doesn't show up with an attitude about 'how we did things at LAX').

The farm back home lost the most senior of the pig population, and the next senior is reportedly off her feed as well. As they're both over ten years old (and more importantly - mom's pets), I don't think there's any bacon in the offing.
Not her best side, but one of the few shots I've got!
And here's the other one!

After several weeks of looking, I've managed not to buy a Jeep. I don't need one, but that's never stopped me before. As I alluded to in an earlier posting, I suspected my sudden desire for a Jeep to be the harbinger of some sort of mid-life crisis. If so, either the crisis is past, or it's beyond the stage of getting a completely impractical car (of course, I've already got the Rover, but I don't think a car you've already got counts).

Close, but didn't happen!

Possibly related, possibly not: Yesterday, having a 30-percent off coupon, I went into Borders and, after at least an hour of browsing, walked out empty-handed. Definitely not normal. On the other hand, there wasn't anything I particularly went in to get, but usually I can't even come close to a bookstore without finding something. Maybe it's because I've read everything by the authors I'm familiar with, and the cost of books these days, even with a discount, is significant enough that I'm not willing to get something on mere speculation (i.e., on the basis of its cover).

After a year of inactivity, the Baron's annual inspection has come due. As I'm still recovering from the debacle of the last annual, I'm planning to do this one myself, or as much as feasible. Annoyingly, the battery operated towbar has chosen this moment to fail. This is not a serious impediment, as I do have the Clarkat. However, the hangar door is only about a foot wider than the Baron's wingspan, making entry and exit a tedious operation; using a 3000 pound tug (and that's the small one) doesn't make it as much easier as you might expect. Here are a few shots of it when I pulled it out for a bath:
As you can see, it's a tight fit!

Here's the view from the tug operators position: not much help!

My experiment with the roses is not going quite as expected: instead of having them bloom in rotation, they all seemed to bloom at once. For the last week or two, it's looked like a rose garden around my place - to the extent that one of the neighbors commented on it. The downside is that now I've got two dozen plants that need deadheading.

I just got my bike back from the bike shop. About a week and a half ago, I went out on it and had a flat on the front tire about a mile from home. No biggie, I just got my exercise by pushing the bike instead of riding it. Anyway, this was enough for me to go ahead and have both tire tubes replaced. Why both, you ask? Because this bike was blessed with those funky Presta valves, which require a funky inflator tool. Which I don't have and didn't want - everything else uses normal Schrader valves, including my other bicycle; why should this be any different? The bike shop wasn't overly enthusiastic about the change, as it requires modifying the rims to accept the Schraders' larger valve stem. But they relented when I threatened to go buy tubes at Walmart and do it myself.

Topics for upcoming episodes: The new camera and Airplane Names. Stay tuned!