Archive for March, 2016

Review: Satin Island

Friday, March 18th, 2016

Tom MacCarthy’s Satin Island is a very beautiful and evocative work.  His prose captures images, ideas, interactions – many powerful moments one encounters in moving through our interconnected world – with clarity and dynamism.  Reading Satin Island is a tour of the time from an engaged guide.

What Satin Island didn’t give me was enough of a structure for those moments to cohere into something that MacCarthy wanted to tell me about.  Of course that undersells the work.  By his selection and juxtaposition of images and incidents, MacCarthy forms a whole.  I’m sure Joyceans will enjoy pulling on threads of subtext to get any message that MacCarthy is sending.

I’m not much of a Joycean.  I do like rich works of literature, but I do prefer a more explicit literary structure around it.  Many of the moments are thought provoking or plain breathtaking, so Island may be worth a trip.  But don’t tell them I sent you.

Another Day, Another ASRS

Friday, March 18th, 2016

I could probably skip this post and just mail Marc Zorn directly, but in case someone else wants to hear an aviation confession, here it is.

I filed a NASA ASRS form today. NASA is responsible for both space flight and for aeronautics – aviation – and one of the best ways that they address that part of their responsibilities is ASRS (pronounced a-sars), the Aviation Safety and Reporting System.  It’s a system for collecting and analyzing data about incidents in which unsafe things happen in aviation with the intent of improving overall safety. The data is largely self-reported by pilots, air traffic controllers, and other aviation professionals.  In order to get people to admit when they screw up, filing an ASRS indemnifies the reporter against FAA punishment when (loosely speaking) the incident was a genuine accident and the infraction did not result in significant damage or danger.  I had one of these today.

I took a long-ish trip this morning to work with some of Sleipnir‘s en-route systems and get some brunch at Fresno’s Chandler Executive Airport.  Slippy has a dazzling array of features to help a poor pilot cope with her complexities, and most of my time to date in her had been working practicing landing, taking off, and other activities that happen at the ends of flights.  So today I went further and spent some time on the middle phases. I practiced using the autopilot, leaning with the engine monitor, flying an IFR flight plan and some other things.

That was all interesting and fun and enlightening.  It was also apparently distracting enough that I took my feet off the rudder pedals.

Actually, now that I think about it, I know exactly when I took them off.  I was looking for a landmark and was adjusting my position relative to the higher cowling position.  Hurm.

In any case, the upshot is that when I landed, I had one foot on a steering pedal and one off.  On the ground, one generally steers an aircraft with one’s feet.  Left pedal turns left, right pedal turns right.  If a pilot has one foot on a the left pedal, and none on the right, it means they can only turn left.  This is the situation I found myself in, though I didn’t know it at the time.

Slippy lands pretty fast – touchdown is in the 80 mph range – and the runway I was landing on was one of the more narrow I’ve attempted.  So, I get her on the ground, and suddenly she jerks hard left.  And doesn’t stop doing that.  It feels like I’m countering it, but I’m not, because I haven’t realized my right foot is pushing on the floor, not the pedal.  Runway edge markings are not happy things to see when you’re not expecting them.  When they’re approaching at 80 mph, discretion is the better part of valor.

My go-around technique is not beautiful yet, but it is good enough to recover from a near-loss-of-control on the runway.  In other news, Slippy’s engine is quite powerful.

Unfortunately, I did pass through Fresno’s Class C airspace before I finished cleaning up.  That’s what I filed the ASRS about, though the controller indicated that I hadn’t caused any problem.

I did think it was bad form to go back to Fresno after basically buzzing the place. The trip to Porterville gave me enough time to work out what I’d done, and I had a great lunch.

Review: Under the Skin

Tuesday, March 8th, 2016

Reading Michael Faber’s Under the Skin right on the heels of Distraction highlights the range of storytelling in the SF genre.  Distraction is a high velocity romp through big ideas. Under the Skin is an almost meditative exploration of humanity.

Faber (no relation) hangs his exploration on an SF conceit that superficially is more suited for a Twilight Zone episode than a literary novel.  While I intend no disrespect to the Zone, its allegories and allusions are not often subtle.  Under the Skin starts from a premise that is right on the nose and then proceeds to challenge, undermine, and reinforce the themes opened by the trope.

He does this by committing completely to the (ludicrous) premise and constructing a flawed, damaged, unbowed, believable character and putting her through the wringer.  He keeps the action mostly centered on his main character by circumscribing her role using plot twists born of genre convention.  That effectively keeps us inside the head of his perfect outsider as she confronts our world and her own ideas.

The whole narrative hangs on his characterization, and he carries it off completely.

I’m being deliberatively vague about the particular hoary SF in question since there are mild spoilers getting to it.