Thursday, March 13, 2008

So Reasonable

I received one of the nicest, left-handed compliments ever last month. And I almost missed it.

”One of the most eloquent presentations of this view came across my screen last month from the blog of retired air traffic controller Don Brown.”

That sounds nice doesn’t it ? I wrote Mr. Poole back, thanking him, and also taking him up on his offer -- made later in the same article.

”Having heard many presentations on the technology behind NextGen, I knew this was not the whole story, but because (as my critics point out) I have never controlled air traffic or done hands-on work on any of the new technologies, I asked one of the best experts on this subject, Mike Lewis of Boeing ATM, to review Brown's post. I don't have the space here for Mike's full reply, but let me summarize the main points.“

”There's a lot more detail in Mike's response (which I'm happy to forward to you, if you're interested).“

I’d be most interested in Mr. Lewis’ response. I’ll wait until I see it (as opposed to Mr. Poole’s summarization of it) before I comment on the particulars.

Both Mr. Poole and Mr. Lewis have impressive biographies. They’re obviously smart and well educated. MIT and Princeton are impressive schools. Their price tags are real impressive. My son has applied to MIT and, quite frankly, I’m scared he might be accepted.

I don’t believe I’ve ever taken the opportunity to brag on my children on this blog. (Did you like that segue ? Bear with me.) My son is known as “the math god” at his high school. He took first place (again) in another one of his regional math competitions last week. When it comes to math, he’s scary smart. I haven’t been able to follow what he’s doing since elementary school. He’s a genius. The local paper said so. Of course, that’s the same paper that said he had applied to the Michigan Institute of Technology.

My daughter, on the other hand, has decided to be an artist (bless her heart.) There’s nothing wrong with that of course (except the term “artist” is usually preceded by “starving.”) What I find so amusing about the situation is that she is smarter than her brother (by a couple of points on their IQ scores.) She’s been on the Dean’s List every semester so far, yet the talk is always about how smart my son is. Even I do it.

My son is fortunate in that society doesn’t measure intelligence by the ability to draw. I swear, the boy can’t even draw a stick figure. He could probably come up with a mathematical description of one of my daughter’s pictures...but he still can’t draw it. My daughter on the other hand...well, a picture is worth a thousand words.

(an art class sketch from a painting by Tony Ryder)

There is a point to all this (besides being able to brag on my children.) Mr. Poole (the MIT engineer) -- by reaching out to Mr. Lewis (the Princeton engineer) -- brought a mathematician to a picture drawing contest. I have no doubt that Mr. Lewis is as smart as a whip and is as likely as anyone to bring some new tools to the world of air traffic control. The point is controllers don’t have those tools.

If Boeing (or anybody else) wants to give controllers a better paintbrush, a better pencil or a new and improved canvas -- we’re all for it. Until then, Mr. Poole is stuck telling you what “can” happen and what “could” be possible. He’s stuck -- telling the artists what is theoretically possible but unable to demonstrate it.

Of course, Mr. Poole gets paid to do his thinking. And Boeing gets paid when they sell the U.S. Government some new system. I’m sure Mr. Poole and Boeing would both be thrilled to privatize the system.

Me ? I’m just a retired guy that can’t do math and can’t draw. But I used to paint masterpieces in the sky. And I did it for 25 years without killing anybody. You can believe whomever you choose to believe.

Don Brown
March 13, 2008

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