Archive for October, 2012

How You Can Tell You’re In Your Home Airspace

Sunday, October 21st, 2012

Today was cloudy in Southern California, which means it’s a great day to fly.  Chances to get real time in real clouds are rare, so I took the time to bop off to Oxnard and Camarillo and play in the clouds on the way there and back.  These were instrument flight plans, so, “play in the clouds” really meant “fly where air traffic control (ATC) tells you to fly and hope there are clouds there,” but I had pretty good luck.  I had some lunch at Camarillo and was flying back to Santa Monica when I got to do a little visualization.

One of the things about instrument flying is that you have to learn to visualize where you are with only a little bit of information.  It can be the angle and distance your aircraft is from known locations, or other fairly arcane bits of info.  When I was learning to fly on instruments I spent a lot of time learning to decide where I was based on those kind of deductions, but these days I have a moving map that’s telling me where I am all the time.  It makes flying much safer, but it’s nice to flex those visualization muscles.

Here’s how I got to do that today.  Take a look at my route here (image from FlightAware):

Flight route

I’m flying from KCMA on the left to KSMO on the right.  The green line is my flight path.  The extra northward (upward)  line at the end of the flight is a data error of some kind – I landed at Santa Monica.  The visualization happened at the little loop halfway along.

I’m in and out of the clouds along that part of the flight – exactly what I was hoping for – and I’m practicing some control under instruments and the distractions of coming in and out of clouds.  I’m listening to the radio, too, because (1) I’m listening for instructions and (2) I want to hear what else is going on.  It’s that second part that was interesting today.  As I’m cruising along I hear the controller issue landing instructions to a Southwest 737 inbound to Burbank.  If you’re playing along on the map, that’s the grey ‘>’ near the right side of the map.  The 737 is west of the field, being told to fly to SILEX intersection at 4000′.

That’s pretty much where I’m going to be shortly.  Of course, I’m also going to be in a cloud shortly.  And I say to myself “Is there something you’d like to share, Mr. Controller?”  Sure enough, I get a message to turn more than 90 degrees to my left.  And, I’m not sure, but it may have been a different controller – meaning that an instructor decided to make sure Southwest and I were far enough apart to be legal.

While I make my circle, the much faster jet goes into Burbank and I’m back on my way about 2 minutes later.  If I didn’t visualize the jet’s route, this would have been a fairly unfathomable circle to make.  But since I know this airspace well, I knew exactly what was going on.

As an aside, we were certainly never close enough to be dangerous.  There are a couple other layers of safety systems that would have activated if we were actually close together.  I should also point out that, strictly speaking, I don’t need to know why I’m making that circle.  But understanding what’s going on gives that extra layer of comfort.

Other Cool Stuff

While I was at Camarillo, I saw a Diamond DA20 two-seat trainer.  I know they’re out there, but this is the first one I’d seen.  When I was covering my plane after the flight, I got to see two what I think were Chinook helicopters overhead.  Even with a cell phone, I think the pics are pretty good.

Review: Hello Goodbye Hello

Thursday, October 4th, 2012

Hello Goodbye Hello is a unique bit of fun by Craig Brown.  The idea is simple and intriguing: start with the unlikely meeting of two well known people and tell that story, then follow one of them to another meeting and describe that, then follow the new one to another meeting, and so on.  And make a circle.  It feels like a party game, and reading Hello Goodbye Hello gives that feeling of improvisation and fun.

Brown makes a couple choices that make the whole thing more compelling.  He keeps each anecdote short, which keeps the players from wearing out their welcome.  He also allows himself a fair amount of leeway.  Some of the stories are about famous people in their youth who are literally dumbstruck by encountering someone more famous.  It’s to his credit that Brown can usually make even these glancing collisions interesting.

Of course not all of these meetings are interesting.  Over the course of the book he spans English nobility, Russian composers, American movie idols, and Mark Twain. It’s a lot of ground to cover, and there were some dry stretches for me.  It doesn’t help that Brown is British, and some of the folks he includes were completely unknown to me, though from context well known in Britain.

Overall, the book keeps the feel of an interesting dinner party where everyone seems to have an interesting story to tell.  Even the tales that are about people you’ve never heard of are told with style.  There are plenty of new things to hear, even if they’re not all about the stars of the anecdotes.


Review: How To Teach Physics To Your Dog

Monday, October 1st, 2012

A good title can sell a book, no question, and this title is instantly charming to me.  I like dogs; I like physics; what could go wrong?

Plenty could go wrong, of course.  I generally like popular science books, but I have been disappointed as well. While I like the title, I don’t know if I’m going to be able to take a couple hundred pages of the conceit. To his credit, Chad Orzel carries the physics and the dog characterization off well.

The science isn’t the easy stuff, either.  Orzel’s peddling quantum physics, not that easy Newtonian stuff.  Quantum physics is bizarre  and counter-intuitive, so having it explained at a dog’s level can be helpful.  It helped me.  I have heard the basics of quantum physics many times, and I consider it a success when I figure something new out from a fresh explanation.  This was successful.

Now, about the dog part: the book is structured as a series of conversations between Orzel and his dog.  Who talks.  And that works out pretty well.  Orzel does a nice job using the conversation to pace the material.  The discussions help the material flow naturally and conversationally.  It’s easy not to notice when topics are being reviewed or emphasized when they’re wrapped in the rhythms of a man-to-dog heart-to-heart.

Orzel takes a goofy idea and uses it to wrap up a lot of good science explanation that holds a sense of wonder.  He does an equally nice job of supporting the theoretical explanation with experimental evidence.  All that solid science is wrapped in charming prose.

Strongly Recommended.

Review: Battleborn

Monday, October 1st, 2012

Battleborn collects a bunch of short stories from Claire Vaya Watkins, who I’d not read before.  The stories are mostly set in the Pacific Southwest, which is to say in an enormous desert.  When I first came to live out here, I thought that the desert was barren and monolithic.  I’ve learned that it is spartan and demanding, adjectives that can be applied equally well to Watkins’s prose.

All these stories show an economy that seems to come not from the human editing process, but from an erosion and cleansing by the elements.  The stories seem not honed by a writer, but formed by the elements. Now, of course, no natural forces created these stories, but at their best they capture that simultaneous sense of timelessness and history.

Strongly Recommended.