Tests.

So this week I am taking the first of my three required tests to become a licensed Private Pilot in the United States. Admittedly, I should have probably taken this test a few weeks ago, but I didn’t feel pumped and ready for this particular phase of my flight training. So I postponed taking the test until this week. You see, this week’s test is the written test, and this makes me a little nervous. I don’t feel like I test well, especially with a written test. It’s kind of like when I’m sitting in the doctor’s office and he’s checking my blood pressure. My blood pressure can be 110/80 at home and then I get in the doctor’s office and bells and whistles start to blow, people get nervous and I get antsy. I have high blood pressure because when they take my blood pressure in a doctor’s office, it’s high. It’s never high elsewhere. I can check it here and there and I’m a healthy guy, but get in a doctor’s office and zoom, there it goes.

I just don’t feel like I test well.

I can fly the airplane, I can land the airplane, I can even land the airplane when the instructor pulls the power (gliding is fun!), but because I like to analyze the hell out of everything, I obsess over the multiple choice answers and occasionally confuse myself. When I was a youngster I had the habit of whipping through a test as quickly as possible because I figured if I didn’t know the answer at warp speed, I wasn’t going to know the answer at idle, so why waste the time idling. Later in life I recognized this approach as being unwieldy at best, so I tried to keep it at bay.

I guess what’s making me a little nervous is the fact that I don’t feel like facts stick well in my brain anymore. I can tell you, right to your face, that two different actresses portrayed the older daughter in the sitcom “Hello, Larry” (Donna Wilkes and Krista Erikkson, and yes, I know that’s frightening that I didn’t even look that up) but I have to chant repeatedly “craft class man cat” to remember that an airplane is an Aircraft Classification but an Airmen Category designation. Getting old sucks.

Luckily, there is some excellent exam prep software out there and I have been going crazy with practice tests since Friday (and I had been doing them here and there before then). Yesterday alone I spent eight solid hours just going through the databank of questions that should appear somewhere on the 60 question test and honestly, I think I’m going to do fine but I’m still nervous about it.

I figure the worst thing that can happen is that people will make fun of me and I’ll have to take the test again after some remedial training (the wings go on either side of the airplane), so that’s not particularly awful, but since I’m finally doing something I’ve wanted to do all my life, I want to make sure that I do it right.

How Can We Forget.

I’ve been pondering this blog entry all morning. I’ve been trying to decide if I really wanted to share my thoughts but then I figured that it’s my blog and in the spirit of honesty, it would be dishonest to not share my thoughts.

As we all know, today is September 11 and today is the 13th anniversary of the 9-11 attacks in New York, Washington, D.C. and Shanksville, Pa. Like most other Americans, I vividly remember that day. I know where I was, I know what I saw and I know how I felt.

I remember thinking, as the first tower collapsed, right there on television “the world is never going to be the same again”. Admittedly, I remember thinking, “things are going to get bad.” Actually, my thought was, “well this country is going to go down the shitter.”

9-11 was a horrific day. When I go to memorials, or hear tributes, I still shed a tear or feel a lump in my throat, even though it’s been 13 years since that awful day. I mourn the loss of life that day. I think of those left behind.

Right on cue, Twitter and other social media outlets are streaming the memories from folks from that day. The hash tag “#NeverForget” is quite popular. I have no desire to relive a play-by-play through someone’s Twitter stream; I have unfollowed quite a few people that are bombarding their stream with a minute-by-minute account of where they were and what they were doing. There’s a fine line between sharing a memory and being prideful of the fact that you were on the periphery of the rubble.

The truth of the matter is, how could we forget? As a citizen of the United States I am bombarded by the fact that 9-11 actually happened on a constant basis and that we should be fearful of everyday life because of this. Our government, the media, hell, everyday life constantly reminds us of 9-11 and the existence terrorism. I bet you can’t go a month, or maybe even a week, without hearing a specific mention of 9-11 somewhere. Somewhere someone is going to utter the phrase “9-11″ and the importance of modifying (actually degrading) our freedom in the name of preventing another “9-11″ from happening again. Terror threat levels. Stock up on plastic wrap. Get duct tape. ISIS. ISIL. Whatever the hell they’re called. Al Qaeda. The theme of the United States is now a constant drumbeat of war and that we should all be fearful, fearful, fearful. We must protect the “homeland”. If the goal of a terrorist is to inflict terror on a target, then I’d say the terrorists met their goal. I’ve seen many that act terrorized at the very smallest thing. Just last week there was a power failure in a small town nearby and the newspaper article mentioning it included the sentence, “terrorism has been ruled out.” Really? 500 people in East Bumfuck, New York lose their electrical service and they have to mention terrorism? Did they really think that terrorism was involved with the loss of power for a community of less than 500 people? The folks in the “homeland” have lost their minds.

God how I hate the word “homeland”, especially when it’s used by government officials. It’s a jingoistic word steeped in propaganda. It’s meant to stir up national pride and I think it’s a cheap shot. It works well though for people with an IQ hovering around the speed limit. The naming of the “Department of Homeland Security” has grated on my last nerve since George W Bush came up with that idea back in the mid 00s, and now President Obama is throwing around the word “homeland” just as much as his predecessor did. Why the sudden use of “homeland”, outside of referring to the DHS, again? What happened to that hope and change we were promised? Yeah. Call it our country, call it the United States, call it home, but “homeland”? It sounds like a line from Nazi Germany or at the very least an early episode of Wonder Woman.

I get that there are evil people out there. And I understand that we need to protect our citizens, but please don’t tell me to “never forget”. How can anyone forget? We’re damn near raped by minimum wage workers before we get onto an airplane, we have a whole assortment of wars to serve as a reminder and our liberties that we tout as the gold, shiny ring of why we’re awesome are being eroded away on an hourly basis, all in the name of safety because 9-11 happened. Again, 9-11 was awful, and my heart aches when I think of that day and all the lives that were lost. But trust me, we will never forget, and sadly, the propaganda machine will make sure that we will never forget.

Mix It Up.

I’m at work in the middle of the week for the first time in many, many months. I usually make the trek on a Monday, every couple of weeks or whenever the mood strikes me. I know that I’m a lucky man in that I have this sort of flexibility in my employment opportunity. I’m not complaining in any way.

A co-worker remarked that he was surprised to see me at work and I told him that the only reason I came to work today was because I was a little behind on the office lottery pool payments. He giggled at my joke. I guess the joke is in actuality I came to work only because I’m behind on the office lottery pool payments. I tend to work harder and longer from home than I do at the office. All that being said, the commute was enjoyable this morning as I was able to wave at some Amish men for the first time in a long while. One of them even waved back.

The seagulls have vacated my favorite parking area, probably due to the construction going on. Progress is marching along on the new Taco Bell they’re building where the old Burger King used to stand. The workers on the structure are all gathered underneath the shade tree that I usually park near. I’m not bitter about this as there is a nice late-summer breeze blowing through the Jeep at the moment and this is helping my mood stay sunny.

I was awoken this morning in the middle of a very sexy dream. Perhaps this is why my mood is sunny. I wasn’t hot nor bothered when I woke up, but I know that I woke up with a smile and because I have a knack for this sort of thing, I am able to recall the details of the dream in a most vivid manner. This increases the intensity of the smile on my face.

I have decided that I need to start carrying my real DSLR camera around with me again. The camera on my iPhone 5 is adequate, but there’s still something great about pointing a camera at something, doing some photography magic with dials and lenses and such and snapping a photo. A commentator online recently remarked that when he’s at Fenway Park, he notices that most of the fans are taking selfies instead of photos of the ball game, the park or any of their surroundings. Quite frankly, I don’t think the world needs that many duck lipped photos. I have never made duck lips in a photo and I don’t intend on continuing to do so. Instead, I shall just mock those that choose to make the ridiculous face.

Perhaps I’ll take a photo of them with my DSLR.

Autumn.

It’s only the 8th of September but Autumn knows when it needs to be in these parts and Mother Nature is starting to show her colors. The greens of the fields are starting to be replaced golds and purples. The air is starting to get a little crisper and the nights have more of a chill.

This is my favorite time of the year and I’m doing my best to enjoy every moment of it.

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Morning Ramp Up.

Many people start their workday with copious amounts of coffee or other caffeinated beverages. Others go through a regimented routine involving gyms, sweat and bouts with traffic snarl ups. Some are bleary-eyed, unable to put together cohesive sentence for the first 60 or so minutes of the day. And then there’s us that need a gentle yet distinct schedule to get ourselves together for the day.

I fall into that latter category.

When I get situated at my desk for the day, with a big glass of water in one hand and my iPhone in the other, the first thing I do is put on my headphones and listen to a specific music playlist. The contents of the playlist change once in a great while, but I never shuffle the songs or listen to them out of order in anyway once I have decided on the flow of this important playlist.

Right now, my morning playlist consists of the following tracks:

“I’ll Be Around”, The Spinners
“Could It Be I’m Falling In Love”, The Spinners
“Heartbreaker”, Dionne Warwick
“Lotta Love”, Nicolette Larson
“(Your Love Has Lifted Me) Higher and Higher”, Rita Coolidge
“Shout To The Top”, The Style Council
“Breakout”, Swing Out Sister
“It’s A Miracle”, Barry Manilow
“It’s My Life”, Talk Talk
“Time (Clock of the Heart)”, Culture Club
“New Day For You”, Basia
“Crystal Blue Persuasion”, Tommy James and the Shondells
“Yes”, Merry Clayton
“Romantic”, Karyn White
“Save Me”, Lisa Fischer
“I Want You”, Shana

I have to admit that typing that list out just now made me realize that I have really eclectic tastes when it comes to the selection of these tracks. The inclusion of a song on this list is usually because of the musicality of the song. For example, I’m not particularly a fan of Dionne Warick’s but I do love the production that Barry Gibb used on “Heartbreaker”. Many of these tracks take my head to a specific happy place that helps motivate me for the day.

Sometimes it takes just a little thing like this to make the day exceed its potential.

All Night Long.

I have been working all night. It’s not like the nightmare of my old on-call days; this was a scheduled server maintenance that had to be done. Corporate growth and all that. The “maintenance window”, as we call it in the biz, is until 7 a.m. Right now the folks that are migrating data are at 70% complete. If it’s not done by 6:30 a.m., all will be aborted and I get to schedule another all-nighter.

I live such an exhilarating life.

I am looking forward to going to sleep in a couple of hours. I took a 90 minute nap yesterday evening. I had planned on four hours with the hopes that it would be enough to get me through the night but my body only wants to sleep when it wants to sleep and that’s all there is to it. Luckily, I’m doing pretty good right now.

I started writing some code while waiting for the server to do its thing but when I couldn’t make heads or tails of what I had just written 30 minutes prior to any given moment, I decided that it wouldn’t be a good idea for me to write code for an application that is considered “mission critical”. I decided to just get organized and do “busy work” until I got the “all clear” signal from the team that gives those sorts of signals.

I seemed to use more quotation marks than normal in that last paragraph.

So I am sitting here with bated breath waiting for that quoted “all clear” signal so I can finish doing my portion of this server migration.

I’m really looking forward to sleeping in a little bit. I hope to have pleasant dreams. Actually, I hope to be dreaming about flying, because there is no way that I would past the “F” (fatigue) in the IMSAFE self assessment I do for piloting an airplane.

I know my limits.

Connection.

Last night I was working my volunteer shift at Oshkosh AirVenture 2014. I was stationed at register 78 at the South Admissions Gate. I had an hour training and since the associated systems are geared toward volunteers, I was processing entry tickets and wristbands and the like like a pro. I have to admit that it felt good to give back to the aviation community this way. Next year I am going to work a couple shifts instead of just one.

One of the things that made me feel at ease was the friendliness of everyone: the EAA staff, the volunteers, even 99% of the customers were all very pleasant. People were smiling. My shyness was immediately disarmed. It was great to be around so many folks in the General Aviation community.

While at my station, three gentlemen walked up. After a few moments of conversation, it was determined that it was a grandad, dad and son. They had flown in from Tennessee and had flown into Oshkosh in their Cessna 172 for the day. Aside from a tent that they kept in their airplane, they were not prepared to spend the night, however, Flight Service was recommending against departure to wherever they were going due to stormy weather in the area. Their 172 was parked in a “no camping zone” on the grounds and they had no way to get anywhere. They were looking for a ride to one of the many massive camping areas at AirVenture. They were going to pitch the tent and just sleep in it; no sleeping bags, no change of clothes, no toothbrush.

The conversation involved more and more people as it went on. Options were discussed, predicaments were rehashed. Finally, a volunteer that lives locally chimed in.

“Why don’t the three of you stay at our house tonight.”

Now, she’d never met these gentlemen before. She just knew that fellow aviators needed a little help and she simply offered them a place to stay. The guys resisted in a very southern-gentlemenly type way. She insisted, so they thanked her and offered her the same if she ever got to Nashville, where they lived. It turns out she had never been to Nashville before but she would love to visit some time, it had just been out of her budget. She was delighted.

As a kid I had seen that type of exchange before with other pilot clubs and while I’m most certain that this type of generosity is not confined to the likes of aviators, it was her gesture that reminded me of just how wonderful to General Aviation community can be to one another.

Speaking To The Past.

While I was on one of my daily bike rides the other day, I came to the realization that with the passing of my 46th birthday, I have been legally driving a vehicle for 30 years. I found this a little hard to believe, because I never feel like I’ve been in this life for that long, and the idea of three decades passing since taking that written test for my learner’s permit was slightly startling. Because cycling puts me in a “zen” mode, these thoughts led to the pondering of what I would say to my 16-year old self; what nuggets of life experience would I say to my younger self if I had the opportunity to.

1. Try not to care about what others think. Now I know that’s not easy for a 16 year old boy that’s trying to navigate his way to his life path, a path that you know is different from many of those around you, but caring about what others think is going to hold you back. It has taken me a really long time to figure that out.

2. Dad loves you more than you’ll ever realize. He doesn’t say it that much but he shows it in his way, even though you don’t always see these gestures. He’s proud of you for being just the man you’re going to be and that’s something you’ll realize later on.

3. The music teacher thing is just a diversion. I know you’re going to try for that degree because that’s what you feel you’re suppose to do, but it’s just a diversion. Go with it, but mark my words, you’ll learn a lot more about life than about music when you go to college. You’ll end up doing what you really want to do.

4. Maintain that inquisitive nature when you’re around computers. Keep doing what you’re doing with that Commodore VIC-20. All of that knowledge and skill that you don’t realize you’re developing is going to help you in the long run. Big time.

5. I know you don’t think you’re going to master the art of driving a stick, and yes, I still remember the time we stalled the tractor behind the barn and the dump truck up at the lumber yard, but you’re going to love driving a stick and you’re going to insist that all of your vehicles are a manual transmission. And not only will you be able to drive a stick, you’ll eventually get airborne in those airplanes you dream about.

6. There are millions of people just like you, even though you feel like you’re the only one in our hometown. It’ll get worse before it gets better, but it’s going to be awesome in the long run. And besides, you’re more honest about yourself than others around you. Remember that. Others will appreciate you for being yourself, even the ones that you don’t think would ever understand.

7. The teacher that was kind of a dick to you that one day in class? Yeah, he was a dick through and through.

8. You’re surrounded with a great group of friends. Even the classmates that scare you and that you’re afraid to talk to… you end up having great conversations with them at the high school reunion.

9. Don’t worry, you’re not going to have to put out at the prom. There will be hints about it and maybe some pressure at the senior prom, but you don’t do anything that doesn’t feel right. Enjoy the evening for what it is.

10. Jenn is on your side all the time. And Mom is mom and she stays mom and it’s all good.

11. Don’t be afraid to explore your surroundings and then keep reaching out farther and farther. Folks think we’re crazy for some of the road trips we’ve gone on, but the truth of the matter is, they’re probably jealous.

12. Life turns out to be awesome. Folks probably will think you’re all pollyanna, but remember, you don’t really care what people think when you get to my age, so it’s OK to say that life is awesome, because it really is. You’ll get through the hard parts just fine.

Brain Power.

I live by the philosophy that I should be always striving to improve myself in some way. Whether it’s listening to political radio or reading up on some random topic or even try adjusting my eating and exercise habits to find what works best for me at the particular moment, I always try to better myself.

Some of this is inspired by a secret desire to become some sort of superhero, I suppose. There’s always that kid in me that hopes that someday I’ll be struck by a lightning bolt and be turned into something beyond the ordinary. Other inspirations include movies such as “Limitless” or the movie coming out this weekend, “Lucy”. While I have no desire to be a ScarJo, the idea of unlocking secrets of the universe with an enhanced mind is compelling to me. And yes, I know that the “humans use only 10% of their brain” thing is an urban myth (as opposed to a rural myth?) but nevertheless the concepts in these two movies are, well, thought provoking.

Enter Lumosity. Now I routinely listen to Binaural Beats to relax or to nap or to better focus my attention while working, and these exercises work for me, but I haven’t found a way to improve my short term memory and the like. Lumosity is designed to help one exercise their brain. The brain is basically thought of as a muscle and with the proper workouts, it’ll function better, and Lumosity helps one reach that goal.

Now, usually I would jump into the full-blown, paid up plan offered by software such as this, but I’ve decided that I’m going to use the free version of Lumosity starting today and through the end of August. If I find that I’m satisfied with my progress using the software, I may invest in the paid version, which helps exercise your brain in more ways.

I’m interested to see how this experiment goes.

Crazy?

So yesterday I was passing through one of the large aircraft hangers to make my way to the bathroom when I casually remarked to a fully uniformed soldier, whom I had never met, “the sound of AVgas flowing always makes me have to take a piss.” He looked at me with a slightly surprised look and said, “enjoy, buddy.”

I have always lived on the assumption that if people knew what I was really thinking that it would ultimately end up with me in an orange jumpsuit, sitting in a padded room, making rag rugs with blunt scissors for the rest of my life. As a kid that was a recurring nightmare of mine, getting locked up for being “different” which was translated to “crazy”.

Many people don’t care about these things, especially after age 40. I decided to join that line of thinking at age 46 and honestly, I don’t care anymore. And frankly, not caring what other people thinking about me, crazy or not, is a refreshing feeling.

The world is much more screwed up than I will ever be.