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Frozen Moments

This last Saturday, Abby and I flew to Charlotte. Uncle Steve and Pop-Pop (who arrived the night before) drove down from Raleigh to pick us up and drive us to River’s Edge, a lovely Airbnb about 8 miles south of Brevard, NC and a couple miles from DuPont State Forest. The journey took a long time – with 3 hours in the car. I only supported one side of road pee stop, but there was maybe a little bit of whining. No more than an hour or two.

Saturday night, Abby and some combination of all of us waded down Little River (which ran through the backyard). Stephen grilled T-Bones, and heated up a huge tin of Mac and Cheese that he made. We ate out on the porch, as the temperatures were about 13 degrees cooler than in Charlotte. Soon, the weekly concert at the country store next door started. It was the America that people are trying to save. Wholesome. Wild. Country-rock, with some nice young men from this county and the next. Pleases, thank yous, all in long drawls. Some ice cream all around.

A tight game of spades, then bed.

On Sunday, Stephen and I got out early for a ~10 mile run on the South side of DuPont State Forest; gentle trails, forest access roads, long gradual hills. Then eggs from the gorgeous chicken coup down the dirt road, bacon, cheese. We finally made it out the door after 10 and went to DuPont to hike to Triple Falls and High Falls – over three miles of walking, which Abby handled well, alternately sprinting down the trail (whipping past dozens of amused but impressed fellow hikers) and dragging piteously. We went to the river a number of times.
She got bolder in her bouldering at each successive swimming hole, leaping barefoot from one rock to the next, daring the slime slicked rocks to crack her skull and pull her over the falls. But she was no worse for the wear. We got to feed the chickens, walk around the property, visit the huge field at the top of the hill (where many would try to watch the next day).

Another tight game of spades and bed.

Monday was the day of the eclipse, with totality coming around 2:38 PM.

We started slowly, with a late wake up and an easy breakfast. We visited the chickens a few times and got some gas. The older lady at the counter commented on what a handsome young man I was – something which only happens to me in the country. Steve went on a run while Abby and I slogged down the Little River to the rope swing by the Country Store. Pop-Pop chatted up one of the guys in the band, as they were prepping for their big eclipse party. We planned to stay at River’s Edge, our beautiful, homey spot. Our hosts had an extra pair of eclipse googles, bringing our stash to 4 ISO certified ones (and a bunch of rip-offs). There was a spirit about this place, the folks were friendly and kind, the house beautiful, the land amazing. Skies were clear, we ate some lunch, took baths and showers, packed the car, and waited…as the clouds built.

By 1:10 and the start of the partial eclipse, the clouds had just begun to lap up against the sun. We saw the wedge taken out of the top left of the sun. And this on the radar (us around the white dot, with the sun generally in the south):

A small storm on the ridgeline, typical of a warm summer day. That could linger for a while, especially the cloud cover. We watched it evolve for almost a half hour, then decided at 1:45 (less than an hour until totality) to roll the dice. We jumped in the car and ripped south, with Stephen slamming us into the corkscrew turns of Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area in South Carolina. 25 minutes or so later, we cleared the mountain and started seeing holes in the clouds. We picked a point a few miles south of Cleveland – close to our egress (to beat the traffic), but a bit below the cloud line.

Now, you can’t predict what an individual cloud will do. In hindsight, three more miles down the road might have been better. No matter. It was within 15 minutes of totality, Pop-Pop was getting antsy, the sun was a thin fingernail, and there was an abandoned gas station in a sunny hole. An extended family with welder’s glass was watching there – Abby dove right in and made friends. Clouds got closer, occasionally obscuring the view. It got dimmer, yellower, dimmer, the sun having lost its sting in the South Carolina summer afternoon. It was gone, almost gone, then the flash of the diamond ring (just a second), then totality. A gap in the clouds; you could see it. I only looked for a few seconds, primarily concerned that Abby see it. It was dark, dark enough for street lights, darker than a heavy thunderstorm dark (though the clouds weren’t right). It was about as dark as a half hour after sunset. Light enough to run on a road, but not in a trail. The clouds were vaguely illuminated in all directions. We saw Jupiter in a gap. It was…different. Amazing. Different. Your mind doesn’t exactly know what to do with it. It’s incongruous. 36 years of life told me that this doesn’t work, that something was awry. The sun, a dim glow outgassing from all sides of a black, black hole punched into its center. It wasn’t long, apparently under 90 seconds where we were, then a sliver, a diamond ring flash, this time shrouded by enough clouds to see without the glasses. Then the sun came back, brilliant, bright.

Totality
[Note: The camera adjusts for the light too much, not at all doing justice to the real lighting. I also just wanted the camera on for the time, I wasn’t paying much attention to it. I was generally overstimulated by the whole experience, as you can hear and now also read.]

They say that the difference between totality and almost totality is immense. It was. Almost totality was strange and characterized by an orangey yellow glow. Totality was from a different universe. Any sliver of the sun provides brilliant light, but during totality it was cool, it was eerie. It was awe inspiring.

Abby got some glow sticks from the family nearby. Pop-Pop chatted up some folks who had chased eclipses before. Folks who found the same abandoned gas station south of Cleveland. As we drove in, there were dozens of clusters of people, each waiting for the moon to blot out the sun. It was like being in Boston after the Red Sox won or in Chicago after the Cubs. Everyone was happy. Everyone was glad to see you. You were all part of something together.

The fingernail sun was lost hopelessly behind the clouds by 2:50. We had a potential traffic disaster in front of us and a flight to catch. We, as we had for the rest of the day, made good navigational decisions, riding the chest of the traffic and only losing 20 minutes from a normal drive to Charlotte. Abby fell asleep in the car and hardly whined at all, though Pop-Pop may have whined about her 30 minute long song about nothing. We got Chic Fil A. We said goodbye to Pop-Pop and Steve and Abby and I played in the airport for a while. She befriended a burly tough-guy father of young girls who was traveling alone and willing to entertain an energetic 4 year old. People were cheerful.

My big girl and I made it home shortly after 10. She said she wasn’t tired but slept until after 8. I was giddy, I just wanted to talk to someone who saw it, just to talk about anything. I don’t want to forget the feeling of it, the thrill of the chase, the camaraderie of a spectacular and unique experience. I shared it with my father, brother, and daughter. I might think of it on my deathbed, for all I know. It is of that caliber experience. We are already talking about doing it again in 2024, this time with everyone. Wow.

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You should subscribe to exactly what I listen to, and then we can talk about them all the time. Though I tend to not remember the specifics of what I hear for more than 5 minutes after I hear them.

Top Tier: I listen to every episode of these podcasts, flushing other ones to make time as needed.
Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History: At the top of the list because when he drops a 5 hour episode, I stop listening to everything else until it’s done. Yes, he’s over the top. Yes, he focuses on gore and yes, he can get repetitive. Yes, it takes an hour for you to figure out what the topic is, then the next two hours feels like introduction, then you’re done. But it’s still high quality, well presented, good production value, always informative.
Revolutions: From the creator of my old favorite “History of Rome” podcast, Michael Duncan does a great job summarizing (with some impressive depth) events surrounding some of the world’s great revolutions. There was a time when this was the only podcast I listened to at 1.0x speed, just because I didn’t want to miss details.
Reply All: Always intriguing. Light, funny, well done.
Radiolab: Interesting, balanced, amusing.
Crimetown: Interesting stories, told well.
S-Town: A one time event; heart rending, a spiritual successor to season 1 of Serial.
The Fall of Rome Podcast: Patrick Wyman is a real historian, and this history goes into greater depth than the other two above. The production value is lower and he can be a little dry, but the content is heady as Wyman focuses on the forces behind the key historical figures and events.
Common Sense with Dan Carlin: Carlin’s libertarian political/society podcast, but aptly named. Lots of well thought out ideas. And anti-Trump.

Safe for Now: Listen to most, pleased to see new episodes.
The Bill Simmons Podcast: Light and easy, sometimes funny, often about the NBA, good for listening to while doing labor intensive tasks they may force you to miss a few minutes at a time.
Serial: Absence makes you forget. Season 1 was a force of nature. Season 2 wasn’t. Not sure if there will be a season 3.
PTI: Sometimes funny, informative for keeping up on the day-to-day of the sports’ world. Repetitve after 15 or so years, but still decent. Light listening.
This American Life: Thought provoking, but often depressing and highly slanted. Slanted toward things that I happen to agree with mostly, but you can’t really make believe that they select a full spectrum of stories to represent “this american life.”
Pod Save America: Funny, liberal political show. You listen to it and wonder how the Trump people can exist.
99% Invisible: Generally interesting. A little dry in presentation. Subject matter is tangentially related to stuff that I’m interested in. Listening to it at the behest of a friend.
Transforming Grace Podcast: I’ll be honest, I skip the ones not done by Glenn Parkinson, pastor at my old church. He’s just so excellent. But I am like 3 months behind always.
History Matters Podcast: Legit PhD historians talking about history, though perhaps overlaughing at things that aren’t particularly funny. Some interesting parallels, and occasionally you’ll hear a point that seems so ironclad that you have a hard time seeing why it can’t be policy.

The Cut Line: Things I’m going to delete now that I’m done with this list.
The Ringer NBA Show: I want to like the Ringer’s NBA show. I just don’t like that guy that much. Much preferred Zach Lowe. Maybe I’ll see if he’s still around.
With Friends Like These: Reportedly about some liberals getting the opinions of conservatives, then hashing out the differences and coming to some mutual understanding of their positions. But not really about this. And the liberals come off as preaching and condescending in the end. A good example of what people dislike about the left without also being funny, clever, or particularly informed (like Pod Save America).

TBD
The Liturgists Podcast: Recently subscribed after Gungor concert. Will see if I like it.

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The Second Law

Last Sunday, a lady at a ministry table at church gave Abby a red helium balloon. We attached a 7 foot long string to it, and Abby carried it around all afternoon, bouncing it off the ceiling like she was dribbling a basketball in zero gravity. She loved it.

But rubber balloons aren’t particularly good at keeping the inside in and the outside out. The helium slowly leeched out overnight. By morning, the balloon only had enough buoyancy to float a foot or two of the yarn. It hovered pitifully above the floor.

Abby was excited to see the balloon again when she woke up, but quickly became concerned. “Ut-oh…Up in the air! Up in the air” she encouraged, as she tried desperately to loft the balloon.

upintheair

Alas, entropy

 

You want your daughter to be happy, you want things to always be perfect for her. You hate seeing disappointment. It was such a wonderful balloon, so different than those things bound to the earth by the pull of gravity. But now it’s broken. And it’s not the only thing. Life will be filled with expectations that fall short, promises that are broken, opportunities that evaporate, and dreams that are shattered. As much as I’d like to run out to the store and buy another helium balloon, I know that the next one will deflate too. Best get used to it, little girl. In the meantime, I’ll pray that balloons are the most of your problems, because this world can be a whole lot worse than that.

I’ve also been thinking a lot about weight and buoyancy, but I decided that wasn’t depressing enough to write about.

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MH370

Update
They have backed away from the assertion that the course was changed prior to the last communication. It was an accident. I still like meteor.

I find it unlikely that all of the key “evidence” in the MH370 case is accurate. Synthesizing the disparate evidence into a coherent story is difficult.

Here’s an attempt:
Co-Pilot shows up to work drunk…or maybe he tries to invite another lady to the cockpit, as he has in the past. A consummate professional, the Pilot is enraged…tells him he’s going to report him, tells him he’s a waste, tells him he’ll never fly again. Co-pilot, who is engaged to a daughter of a pilot, goes blind with fear and rage, stabs pilot in the throat with a pen. Self-righteous prick, I’ll show you.

In the next few minutes he regroups. Now he’s facing a murder charge…uhh…well…can’t go to China…turns off the transponder, changes course, calmly says good night as he’s already thinking about what to do. Slowly realizes he’s screwed no matter what. Locks the door to the cockpit. Flies as high as the plane will go, what the hell, always wanted to do that. Turns left, turns right…now he’s just flying, randomly. Gets out over the Indian Ocean. Turns south. Says to himself, “I wonder what happens if I just let the autopilot fly this thing indefinitely?” Wonders if they’d ever find him; at least no one will ever know what I’ve done.

Crew and passengers can’t breach the door. No cell coverage in the middle of the Indian Ocean. He runs out of gas in the middle of nowhere, no shipping lanes, equidistant to the satellite for ping purposes, has fulfilled all radar constraints, has the co-pilot saying goodnight calmly after already changing course. He fulfills a bizarre, non-premeditated but skillfully executed death wish.

I have another one too, which involves a meteor. But it doesn’t fit the “already programmed the turn before saying goodnight” scenario, which basically eliminates natural causes. My top-4 least trusted pieces of information that have the most important impact on the theories of what happened:
1) The course change happened prior to the goodnight. This effectively eliminates mechanical failure and points toward premeditation. Yet, how do you explain both pilots going along with it without any communication between them? They were randomly paired. One of them has to have done it alone, and the co-pilot is the one that said good night after the supposed course change. This is key if true. I’m unconvinced.
2) Radar data showing the altitude. I once saw a radar signature going like 10,000 miles an hour. Radar’s flaky, especially at long ranges when the tracker has to make assumptions based on low SNR data with huge error bars…especially whatever the Malaysians are running. I wouldn’t put too much stock in that.
3) Ping data leading to those concentric arcs. I question the synchronicity of the satellite. They’re using it for location but that’s not what that satellite is for. Are you sure it sent out the request exactly when it said it did? Sure, GPS can, but is this satellite built with that in mind? If we can throw out #1, then we really want to throw out #3 too. I think that mechanical or natural causes is more likely psychologically (and from a “what the heck is the point” perspective), but complex maneuvers out over the Indian Ocean or subcontinent don’t really make sense if it’s mechanical. I would favor a “ghost ship” scenario – something terrible happened. Rapid decompression or fire…everyone died…plane flew on for hours in whatever direction it was pointed after a brief and ill-fated attempt at recovery.
4) The Co-Pilot is the one that said good night. If we find out the pilot had the simulator set to do weird things like the plane did, the the suspicion falls on the pilot. I have a hard time visualizing two unrelated people being complicit in this scheme; ergo, the pilot incapacitated the co-pilot and said goodnight calmly.

Anyway, I remain enthralled. My meteor theory remains my favorite, but it’s really out there.

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Sledgehammer

Once a year I go to Food Lion in Elkridge (or maybe Ellicott City…somewhere in the demilitarized zone between them perhaps), since it’s the only place around here that consistently carries Sabretts hot dogs. Today, I had to get some other staples as well. When the cashier scanned my milk, she asked me if I wanted a (plastic) bag for it. “Nah, I’ll carry it,” I said. “Saving trees,” she responded, thoughtfully. I looked at her for half a second before deciding that the production of plastic probably indirectly consumes trees, or at least forested land. She looked a little embarrassed. This is why God invented the disinterested “yeah”.

Then on the way home I stopped at Meadowridge Liquors. Not only was I not shot, but no one else in the store was shot while I was there. The Yuengling was held together by plastic and a rubber band (no box), but I’ll take not getting shot.

Once I got done with my outdoor chores, I started listening to Radio Paradise. Peter Gabriel was singing a song where I thought he was saying “Shingles hurts” over and over again. He’s getting older; I was surprised that he had embraced it. I later decided he was saying something along the lines of “shake the hands”.

But I have heard that shingles does hurt. At least, that’s what pharmacists tell people when selling them $200 vaccines. I might have had shingles once, actually. I had a nondescript rash on my back that occasionally felt like someone was simulating jabs from searing hot pokers straight into my nervous system. It was only vaguely localized; it mostly just felt like someone was confusing my brain into thinking I was being tortured. Maybe it felt like a bee sting 2 minutes after the bee stings, once it starts to itch slightly, but before the itch is the primary mode of irritation.

Radio Paradise just started on Gary Jules, “Mad World”. I do love that song.

And I find it kind of funny, I find it kind of sad
The dreams in which I’m dying are the best I’ve ever had
I find it hard to tell you, I find it hard to take
When people run in circles, it’s a very, very
Mad world. Mad world.

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Zen of Zipper

The slider is the portion of the zipper that pulls together the two chains to zip two sides together. On your jacket, the slider “belongs” to one side. It may mate with the other side, but it doesn’t belong with it. But look at your pants. The slider is not a citizen of either chain. The zipper, as a whole, is simply the zipper.

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When you take a month or two off, the best way to get back into it is to copy and paste something that you wrote for another purpose, this time to the customer service department of United.

I’ve always been fascinated by the features below while flying, be they topographic or man-made. I even intentionally cram all 6 feet of myself into the window seat so that I can watch the ground for hours at a time. Most of the time I have no idea what I’m looking at. On Flight 753 from BWI to SFO on the morning of 6/24, however, I got all the information I could possibly want from a First Officer who provided non-stop commentary of the ground below on channel 9.

I very much appreciate the First Officer’s efforts (though, fascinated as I was, I did not listen to the entire narration, which was 5 hours long). I have always thought that this sort of interactivity was in the future of air travel – with basic internet connectivity and access to Google Maps and Wikipedia, anyone would give himself a running commentary of the ground below. I spent some time trying to figure out how to make a system such as that cost effective for you, and couldn’t really come up with any easy, unobtrusive way…so, for now, I appreciate the First Officer’s efforts.

There was a problem, however. The ATC chatter interrupted her feed constantly. The interruption itself wasn’t a big issue…but the fact that the volume of the ATC feed was many decibels louder than the FO’s made listening uncomfortable. I’d crank up the volume to hear her narration, only to be startled over and over by a blast of shorthand jibberish. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been known to listen to that too…but the disparate volumes was unfortunate. Perhaps the FO’s Cockpit Topics could be placed on a separate channel from the ATC chatter? There were many unused stations.

Anyway, thanks for all the useful info. I hope that you encourage more of your staff to follow her lead. I enjoyed knowing what I was looking at.

And if you ever want help brainstorming how to make a better system, drop me a line…or give me a pad of paper on my next flight and I’ll fill it up for you, gratis. I spend most of the flight thinking about that problem anyway.

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