Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Title Says It All

If you haven’t looked over at the blogroll on the right side of the page, you probably haven’t seen Robert Reich’s new blog yet.

The Truth About the Economy that Nobody In Washington Or On Wall Street Will Admit: We’re Heading Back Toward a Double Dip

”But isn’t the economy growing again – by an estimated 2.5 to 2.9 percent this year? Yes, but that’s even less than peanuts. The deeper the economic hole, the faster the growth needed to get back on track. By this point in the so-called recovery we’d expect growth of 4 to 6 percent.

Consider that back in 1934, when it was emerging from the deepest hole of the Great Depression, the economy grew 7.7 percent. The next year it grew over 8 percent. In 1936 it grew a whopping 14.1 percent.

Add two other ominous signs: Real hourly wages continue to fall, and housing prices continue to drop.”

In case it’s not hitting you, he and Krugman have been right all along. The stimulus was too small, we didn’t focus on creating jobs like we should have (too much stimulus went to tax breaks instead of something like a new WPA) and we’re headed for a “lost decade” just like Japan suffered through.

Speaking of which, another idea that I’ve been too chicken to go out on a limb and write about...Japan’s triple disaster (earthquake, tsunami, radiation leaks) may be what winds up turning Japan around. Japan will be forced to spend huge sums on infrastructure -- even if it has to borrow the money. The status quo will change.

I didn’t suddenly get brave about writing of things outside my area of expertise. I was just reading Time. If a Japanese economist can think it, then I guess I’m not too far off base.

”"Often it takes a huge crisis to make a society change," says Toshihiko Hayashi, an economics professor at Doshisha University in Tokyo, who has studied the legacies of natural disasters. "For Japan, even two lost decades after the bubble burst were not enough to fundamentally change the country's economic and political systems. But this crisis is different. It could be the catalyst that finally changes Japan.””

The question is, what will it take for America to change? Hopefully, it won’t take another World War. And, no, I’m not the only one to have that thought either.

Don Brown
March 11, 2011

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

What I Learned About ERAM

On the last day at Communicating for Safety, there was a panel discussion on ERAM. For those that don’t know about ERAM, it’s the big enchilada in air traffic control for NextGen. Without ERAM, there is no NextGen. Read the FAA’s Fact Sheet on it if you need to.

”The computer system used at the FAA’s high altitude en route centers is considered the backbone of the nation’s airspace system. It processes flight radar data, provides communications and generates display data to air traffic controllers.

The current system, called the Host, is being replaced by ERAM.”

Now, let me get my usual overexplanations out of the way. I’m retired. I’ve been retired for 5 years. (Yes, time does fly when you’re having fun.) All the abbreviations at the panel discussion went right over my head. I can’t tell you the details of ERAM. I can only tell you what I see and what I feel based on 25 years in ATC.

Another piece of the puzzle that you need to plug into this post is the recent past history of NATCA and the FAA. The Bush Administration -- in the form of Marion Blakey -- cut NATCA out of the process. A lot of work was done on ERAM without the input of the people that were going to use it. It was a shameful and despicable period. Even worse, it was just plain stupid.

Now, let’s get to the heart of it. Here’s what I learned from listening. When the FAA first turned ERAM on at Salt Lake Center (ZLC), it couldn’t even track an airplane going the wrong way. If the computer said the flight was supposed to head north and it was headed south, ERAM wouldn’t track it.

(For the non-controllers, the data tag that is attached to the actual radar target should follow the target. Here’s a picture from a simulator program.)

The program should track the target no matter what it’s doing. Circles, loops or random turns. The data should stay with the target. Period. That’s where ERAM started with live traffic. The thought of it is appalling to anyone that considers themselves to be in the safety business -- which should be everyone in the FAA (not to mention the entire industry.) You can read about the beginning in this press release from October 2009. (The timeline is important.)

The next big step was ERAM’s deployment to Seattle Center (ZSE). Seattle Center (ZSE) adjoins Salt Lake Center (ZLC) which means that the ability of ERAM to pass data back and forth between two facilities gets tested. That started in March 2010. (I’m not certain of that date and it’s harder to verify than I thought it would be.) There are still numerous problems. Basic problems. I believe they were referred to as “core functionality”. In other words, there are problems that should have been fixed before ERAM ever left the lab. They should have been fixed before the program left Salt Lake Center. And now, they are about to leave Seattle Center.

The language the FAA is using is intentionally confusing but they are splitting hairs and proceeding with ERAM’s deployment. ERAM is not ready to be deployed. But yesterday, the FAA’s Chief Operating Officer, Hank Krakowski, signed off on turning ERAM on at Albuquerque (ZAQ), Minneapolis (ZMP) and Houston Centers (ZHU).

Here is what hit me when I learned at Communicating for Safety that the FAA was considering ERAM’s continued deployment. If the FAA and Lockheed (the ERAM contractor) have all available resources concentrated at ZLC and ZSE, trying to fix the known problems with ERAM -- what happens when they add even one more facility to the mix? Instead of juggling 2 balls, they now have to juggle 3. Or 5. Every controller I talked to (and they were all involved with the program in one way or another) agreed with my assessment. By deploying ERAM to other facilities the problems will grow exponentially. They will have the same problems they now have, a whole host of new problems (each facility is somewhat unique) and they won’t have any more people to handle the problems.

Before I close, I want to reiterate; ERAM has to work. If the FAA decided to scrap the whole thing tomorrow, they’d have to start over the very next day. It’s that important. It is a monumental undertaking. The pressure to keep this ball rolling is enormous. But so are the consequences if ERAM’s shortcomings cause an accident.

Every instinct I have tells me that ERAM’s continued deployment is a mistake. A really big mistake. The FAA needs to get it right at ZSE and ZLC before it goes any further. I have nothing more concrete to offer. I’m now an outsider looking in. But my instincts have always been pretty good when it comes to safety.

Expect the press releases about ERAM to start sometime very soon.

Don Brown
March 30, 2011

Beat Me To It

There isn’t enough time in the day to blog about everything I’d like to get to. Fortunately, there are other bloggers out there -- many more capable than I.

Those a decade or so younger than I am probably can’t understand my dismay that my country is again involved in a decade-long war. After the pain of Vietnam, I didn’t think we would ever do it again. That’s why this line hit me so hard when I read it yesterday.

”A sixteen-year-old probably remembers when the United States was at peace. In a few more years, that cohort will be nineteen years old.”

I distinctly remember being a teenager, awaiting my turn to be drafted for Vietnam. That was the norm. Anybody could get drafted. Everybody knew someone that was. Fortunately for me, the war ended before I turned 18 and the draft was ended.

I believe ending the draft was a mistake. I don’t need to explain it -- WWVB beat me to it.


”I thought Charles Rangel was grandstanding when he called for compulsory conscription, but I see now that the Korean War infantryman * was exactly right. You ask a kid about the draft these days, and they're going to reply, "NBA or NFL?"”

You might be interested to know that my son is 20 years old. If we had a draft, I would have found time to get to this subject a lot sooner. Which, of course, is the point.

Don Brown
March 30, 2011

NATS Sell-Off

The United Kingdom continues to sell off the Crown Jewels. Figuratively, that is. (So far.)

Budget 2011: Government to reduce stake in Nats air traffic control business

"The national air traffic controller has joined the Channel tunnel rail link on the state auction table as the government pushed on with its asset disposal plans."

And then there’s this interesting tidbit;

"However, government sources said no decision had been made on the scale of the stake sale, amid warnings from airlines of "highly damaging" consequences if the state exits the business entirely. The Airline Group, whose members include British Airways and easyJet and which owns 42% of Nats, has warned that it might dispose of its stake if the government reduces its shareholding to zero."

I guess I should have seen that coming, but I didn’t.

Just in case you don’t think you’re interested in all this, former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher started the whole trend of privatization. If you’ll read just that section (at the link) from Wikipedia you might glimpse something even more important -- and dangerous -- at the end.

”The privatisation of public assets was combined with financial deregulation in an attempt to fuel economic growth. Geoffrey Howe abolished Britain's exchange controls in 1979, allowing more capital to be invested in foreign markets, and the Big Bang of 1986 removed many restrictions on the London Stock Exchange. The Thatcher government encouraged growth in the finance and service sectors to compensate for Britain's ailing manufacturing industry. Political economist Susan Strange called this new financial growth model "casino capitalism", reflecting her view that speculation and financial trading were becoming more important to the economy than industry.”

In other words, Thatcher and her conservative-soul mate, Ronald Reagan, turned our countries away from manufacturing and towards finance. Away from building cars towards selling sub-prime mortgages. Privatization. Deregulation. Gettin’ the Flick?

David Cameron -- the new Conservative Prime Minister -- is trying to get the United Kingdom out of the same mess that America is in; a “casino capitalism” economy gone bust. Anybody remember Northern Rock? I bet my English readers do.

”Cameron describes himself as a "modern compassionate conservative.”

If that doesn’t send the British over the edge then they haven’t been paying attention.

By the way, it case you didn’t catch my recent post, Krugman says Cameron’s policies aren’t working.

”But the government of Prime Minister David Cameron chose instead to move to immediate, unforced austerity, in the belief that private spending would more than make up for the government’s pullback. As I like to put it, the Cameron plan was based on belief that the confidence fairy would make everything all right.

But she hasn’t: British growth has stalled, and the government has marked up its deficit projections as a result.”

Come on now. It’s all connected. Try to keep up.

Don Brown
March 30, 2011

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Good Question

I must be making up for lost time. Sorry for so many posts, so fast, but hey, it’s a blog. You can always read it later. I found this following links from another interesting story a reader sent me.

Unilateral Disarmament in the Class War

”What’s worse?  That the Right has declared class war on working Americans?  Or that progressives haven’t even been aware of it?”

Good question. What caught my attention was the date in all this.

”Some outrage in Blue Blogistan about a proposed law from House Republicans that would deny union members and their families of Food Stamp benefits if they are on strike.”


”This provision, according to my colleague Noah Zatz (who specializes in employment law and public benefits law) was put in by the Reagan Administration in 1981.”

I’m going to assume the date rings a bell with most of my readers too.

Don Brown
March 27, 2011

One Simple Reason

There is a new Bill on Capitol Hill -- Public-Private Employee Retirement Parity Act -- that would do away the the remaining portion of a defined-benefit retirement for Federal employees. It is, of course, a Republican Bill.

Bill would end FERS defined-benefit annuity

”Two Republican senators introduced a bill that would end the defined-benefit portion of the Federal Employees Retirement System for new federal hires, starting in 2013. The bill would not affect benefits for current feds.

Sens. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) introduced the Public-Private Employee Retirement Parity Act March 17. The bill would apply to future federal employees, including members of Congress. FERS employees now receive a defined-benefit pension and also may participate in the Thrift Savings Plan, which is equivalent to a private-sector 401(k) retirement plan.”

This Bill is just plain wrong for one simple reason -- and the quote will help me explain it. As with the public sector’s dive in the Wall Street shark infested 401k waters showed, it makes all Americans become investors. But all Americans aren’t cut out to be investors.

Let’s think about a comparison. Let’s make my daughter the artist an investor and my local Congressman an investor. Give them both a $174,000 salary and let them invest for 20 years. Who do you think will walk away with the most money? Who do you think will get the best investment “advice”?

Pensions were supposed to protect workers in their old age. Even workers that don’t know anything about investing. That is the reason their pensions were supposed to be protected by people that did understand investing and had a fiduciary duty to protect a worker’s money.

Remember this?

The people on the left side of that curve deserve a pension too. And the good people on the right side of that curve should protect them from the thieves that reside on the same side (the right side) of the curve. Having the Federal Government acquiesce to the same greedy “logic” that gave us the Great Recession is wrong. And -- quite frankly -- morally reprehensible.

Don Brown
March 27, 2011

Waiting On Krugman

First, it is time to go back and check the history of this blog. In June of 2010 I said;

”We only have our opinions. I think it’s wrong. But if you think it’s the right thing to do for America -- cutting government spending and raising taxes to pay off the deficit -- you now have a test case to watch.”

That test case was the United Kingdom. Their new Conservative Prime Minister took the route advocated by America’s Republican Party and started paying down their deficit. Last Friday (while I was in Vegas) Paul Krugman gave me the update I was waiting on.

The Austerity Delusion

”And the British government has just marked its economic forecast down and its deficit forecast up.

They’re all evidence that slashing spending in the face of high unemployment is a mistake. Austerity advocates predicted that spending cuts would bring quick dividends in the form of rising confidence, and that there would be few, if any, adverse effects on growth and jobs; but they were wrong.”

I think it’s a little early for Professor Krugman to declare the policy as failed but it’s a silly thought on my part. I really have little knowledge or opinion of economics outside of the ones Paul Krugman has written. I do read others from time to time (Stiglitz , Roubini, etc.) but no one has the influence on my opinion that Krugman does. As a matter of fact (for those that didn’t click the previous link) he provided guidance on the subject of timing from the man himself -- Keynes.

”But this long run is a misleading guide to current affairs. In the long run we are all dead. Economists set themselves too easy, too useless a task if in tempestuous seasons they can only tell us that when the storm is long past the ocean is flat again.”

Following the advice of his economics guru, Krugman told us three years ago to “go big” -- to prepare a massive stimulus for the country. Here we are -- three years later -- and virtually everything Krugman warned us about on the economy has come true. So if he says that the United Kingdom’s policy of austerity is failing...I’m inclined to believe him.

”But the government of Prime Minister David Cameron chose instead to move to immediate, unforced austerity, in the belief that private spending would more than make up for the government’s pullback. As I like to put it, the Cameron plan was based on belief that the confidence fairy would make everything all right.

But she hasn’t: British growth has stalled, and the government has marked up its deficit projections as a result.”

And the real problem is (of course) that, if Krugman is right, this is our future -- sluggish growth and continued high unemployment. In other words, a “lost decade”. Just like you-know-who warned us.

Don Brown
March 27, 2011

Fatigue and Staffing

If I remember my Bible stories correctly, sleeping while on guard duty was punishable by death for Roman soldiers. Sometimes, it happened anyway. I assume the supervisor that was supposedly sleeping at Washington National Tower will suffer a somewhat less-harsh discipline.

The point is, you can order people not to fall asleep but they will anyway. The real question is, “What are you willing to do about it?”.

Ironically, I was at a safety conference in Las Vegas, attending a lecture about fatigue, when all this happened. I probably don’t have to spell it all out for you. You can already guess what was said. Shift work causes fatigue. And as we have since learned, this supervisor was on his fourth night shift in a row.

For those that don’t know, the vast majority of controllers work rotating shifts. The most popular rotation (now and during my career) is called the 2-2-1 (two-two-one.) That’s two evening shifts (typically 3PM-11PM) followed by two day shifts (typically 7AM-3PM), followed by a midnight shift (typically 11PM-7AM). Quite literally, it can kill you if you do it long enough. But that’s another story. For now, let’s focus on the short-term damage.

Shift work makes you sleepy. The 2-2-1 rotation makes you sleepy all the time. In the briefing at Communicating for Safety, the worst periods for controllers are right where you would expect them to be -- towards the end of an evening shift and during most of a midnight shift. As a matter of fact, the briefer at the conference went to great pains to show that -- at the end of a midnight shift -- test subjects were dysfunctional. That’s dysfunctional on a level equivalent to being half drunk. The average subject tested in the same range of functionality as people with a blood alcohol content of .04.

I hope you’ll think about that for a moment. If a controller showed up for work with a blood alcohol content of .04 the FAA would try to fire them. Yet, on a daily basis, controllers have to work shifts just as impaired. There’s no way around it. Somebody has to work during those time periods. As I said earlier, the question becomes, “What are you willing to do about it?”. So far, the answer has been, “Not much.”. The briefing did offer mitigation strategies (mostly napping.) But at the very beginning, it was noted that all recommendations were based on a 40-hour workweek.

Who says controllers should work a 40-hour week? Oddly, when I brought it up, most people were thinking in the opposite direction -- the briefing didn’t say anything (that I remember) about overtime. If you think a 2-2-1 is tough, try a 3-2-1; three evenings, two days and a midnight. I have seen controllers work overtime midnights; a 2-2-2.

I’d be remiss in pointing out the truth if I didn’t take this opportunity to point out how controllers were demonized (much like other public employees are right now) back in the days of the Bush Administration. Many of the “outrageous” salaries controllers were earning at the time were inflated by overtime. Because the FAA chronically understaffs the air traffic control system, controllers work a lot of overtime. All of a sudden, the frame of reference changes how you view overtime doesn’t it? Instead of being at work “half drunk” once a week, overtime can make it happen twice a week. Let it go on long enough and it happens all the time -- chronic fatigue.

(Yes, I know “half drunk” is a poor choice of words. I don’t write for idiots or to avoid political “gotcha”s taken out of context.)

As criminal as this will seem to some, I haven’t even touched on the real crime yet. That would be staffing an important facility like Washington National with only one person. Actually, it doesn’t have to be a big, important place to prove how stupid it is for a controller to work alone. It can be stupid at a small, sleepy airport. It can even be stupid to have two controllers on duty but let one of them take a long break.

Where do you draw the line? Having three controllers on duty to work two airplanes on a midnight shift is expensive. What are you willing to do about it?

After the Lexington crash, the FAA started enforcing its rule to have two controllers on duty. But they didn’t have the staffing to do it. So that forced them to schedule overtime. And that -- as we have already discussed -- leads to sleepy controllers.

For those not in the aviation industry, I hope the links show you that none of this is new or unknown in this industry. We all work crazy shifts. Pilots, mechanics, controllers and everyone else works when our bodies say sleep. We work 40 hour weeks just like people that get to work normal shifts -- and sleep at normal times. Controllers have it bad enough but pilots and flight attendants are crossing time zones too.

A simple idea like working half shifts on the midnights would help combat the problem. But it would just be another issue our employers would use to beat us up with during contract negotiations. I mean, after all, look what happened to those lazy teachers that only work 9 months out of the year -- for the outrageous sum of $50,000.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
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Don Brown
March 27, 2011

Saturday, March 26, 2011

38 Inches at FL340

Here I sit, cruising along at 34,000 feet (or so) on my way to Communicating for Safety in Las Vegas. I don’t know how often I’ll get a chance to blog but I have one now. I’ve got a grand total of 38 inches (or so) to write in (all 6’3” and 250+ lbs. of me. Okay ++lbs. of me.) I’m surrounded by things I don’t understand. And I’m not sure I care to understand them.

The first thing is this screen in front of me. Not my laptop, but the “entertainment system”. It’s entertaining alright. It entertains all sorts of ways to separate me from my money. But I’m getting ahead of myself. First (safety first), isn’t this thing going to hurt when I brace my nose against it during an emergency landing? Sorry. Professional hazard. I always wonder how safety considerations stand up against making money. (In my experience, not very well.)

My wife (the TV junkie) is sitting next to me watching The Office . She says she hates The Office. She’s waiting on the next “free” show. The movies you can rent are 6 bucks. Imagine, watching a movie on you own screen as you cruise along at 500 mph. It’s just incredible. It would be really incredible to have a movie seat to go along with the movie. (Standby. She’s on trivia now.) (Standby on the standby. They’re having to reboot the entertainment system. Always a comforting process when you’re on a computer-controlled airplane.)

Where was I? Oh yeah, I was talking about this flying gift shop I’m on. I don’t mind spending money. Really, I don’t. I’m headed to Vegas and I’m sure we’ll throw plenty of money away. I just find flying incredible when you step back and look at the experience with fresh eyes. The flight attendant handed me a menu. $8 sandwiches and $5 snacks. Add that to the $23 suitcase handling charge. $7 for a (real) drink. I didn’t pay any attention to what headsets cost. (I’ve got my iPod with me.)

(Standby...I’m being distracted by the Linux penguin and code scrolling across the entertainment screen. “Please Wait...”)

Here they come with the food carts. Time to tuck those elbows in. I’ve got to lose some weight. Not sure how I’ll lose any height.

Oh well. It turns out trivia is a good way to pass the time on an airliner. The guy in 25A is tough to beat.

Sorry for all the thoughts rummaging around in my brain. It isn’t an atmosphere conducive to thinking. But here are my thoughts anyway.

Flying has become an experience to be endured. We’ve gone from china and silverware to boxed snacks that cost extra. The cabin is stuffed with luggage because the airlines don’t want to pay anyone to handle it. But all this is merely an inconvenience.

I think it worthwhile to ask the question, “What are we trying to accomplish?”. Seriously, what is the purpose of the national air transportation system? Is it to move bulk goods? No, it’s too expensive for that. Is it supposed to be mass transit? It seems as if that is its mission but it’s an expensive way of doing it. Face it, we are paying for time. Going fast costs a lot of energy. Is that really what we want to do? So I can get to Vegas in a hurry? That’s a national priority?

Who benefits from all this? Airline deregulation’s number one rationale was lower airfares for the general public. Ask yourself if that goal has been accomplished. (It certainly has in some respects but I haven’t found any numbers on the subject that I trust.) Ask yourself about the costs.

Pilots have been losing ground for decades; Prestige, salary and pension. The rest of the airline employees have only fared worse. How about investors?

”Warren Buffett observed that the world airline industry has not made a dime for investors in a century of manned flight.”

If employees, investors and consumers are all being ill-served by this industry, then why are we putting up with it? I was reading an article not too long ago explaining that the average speed of air travel is actually slowing down. Despite all the talk and all the pressure in regards to efficiency -- it’s getting worse, not better.

As a matter of fact, that pretty much sums up the whole industry; It’s getting worse -- not better. Well, unless you’re an airline CEO. I couldn’t make that kind of money if I hit the jackpot in Vegas. I guess casinos aren’t the only places where we’ll pay people to take our money.

Don Brown
March 26, 2011

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Still Here (or there)

Just in cased you missed me, I'm still here. I just refuse to pay $22 a day so I can research a blog entry anywhere in this hotel.

Sleeping on duty has been a problem since the Roman Empire (and probably long before.)

One person on duty is bad business for ATC.

But it just proves my point that airplanes don't need controllers to fly (or land.)

ERAM is in more trouble than I thought. I'll explain (more fully) when I get home. Tomorrow. Assuming I can still trust the NAS to get me home.

Don Brown
March 24, 2011
Live from Las Vegas

Saturday, March 19, 2011

How’s the Big Picture?

There is so much going on in the world right now that it’s hard to know where to start. The fight with Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has all but disappeared from the media. The fight isn’t over. You’re just not hearing about it. The battle for Libya has almost disappeared. Not quite, but almost -- as all eyes turn to Japan.

It hasn’t been a major theme of mine, here at Get the Flick, but some of you might remember that I’m not a fan of nuclear power. However, if we’re honest about viable options, we realize that Japan doesn’t have any good ones. I suspect there will be a reevaluation of actual costs when this immediate incident is over.

At the moment, I’m focusing on how the Japanese government is functioning -- with the concern (of course) of how our government functions. Would anybody like to contest the importance of the Japanese government at the moment? How vital it is that they have a good government? Private industry is neat and all but it isn’t a substitute for good government. Private industry isn’t going to house and feed the Japanese population in the immediate future. Take a look at these pictures and think about how important government is in comparison to private industry.

And that (believe it or not) brings me to Krugman. He’s been on a roll lately (and I haven’t) and there are some thoughts of his you should be following.

Mind-Changing Events

"And the reality of Japan’s liquidity trap showed that monetary policy can lose traction even without those kinds of currency and debt-denomination issues.

You could say that the Asian crisis made me more Keynesian — because it showed that 1930s-type problems could happen in the modern world, and that you could not, in fact, count on Uncle Alan or Uncle Ben to solve everything."

The Great Recession is our government’s test. And right now it is failing.

Heroes As Villains: The Case of Elizabeth Warren

”As Nocera points out, this attack needs to be seen in the context of the GOP attempt to undermine any and all financial reform. And the GOP has it in especially for anyone who got it right: since they’re trying to sell a narrative in which the financial crisis was somehow generated by too much government intervention, not too little, and the bankers were just helpless victims, they especially need to demonize the people who called the actual route to ruin as it was happening.

And it’s not just the Republicans: Warren has clearly faced a lot of hostility from within the administration, too. And as I see it, this also comes precisely because she was right: that gives her the kind of credibility that, in turn, makes her something of an independent force — which some people don’t like at all.”

Take it from me; being right doesn’t necessarily make you popular in government. Especially if being right proves a lot of important people wrong.

Millions of our citizens aren’t in shelters and in need of emergency food supplies. (Well, at least not on the scale and in the context of Japan’s disasters.) Our millions are unemployed. That is the challenge of our government. If private industry was going to fix it, it would already have done so. (Which is an absurd idea. It’s not their job to fix it. Which is why they aren’t even trying.) It’s our government’s job to fix it.

The Forgotten Millions

”More than three years after we entered the worst economic slump since the 1930s, a strange and disturbing thing has happened to our political discourse: Washington has lost interest in the unemployed.

Jobs do get mentioned now and then — and a few political figures, notably Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader in the House, are still trying to get some kind of action. But no jobs bills have been introduced in Congress, no job-creation plans have been advanced by the White House and all the policy focus seems to be on spending cuts.

So one-sixth of America’s workers — all those who can’t find any job or are stuck with part-time work when they want a full-time job — have, in effect, been abandoned.”

I don’t believe the government of Japan will abandon its people. I don’t believe its response will be perfect. I feel certain it will make mistakes. But I feel just as certain that it will more forward. It will help its people. The question is, why won’t yours?

Don Brown
March 19, 2011

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Today’s Photo 3-16-11

Sometimes, it’s really hard to choose between two photos. But, you know what? I don’t have to. The maple’s red seeds give the appearance of Fall color.

© Don Brown 2011 (Click on the picture to enlarge)

© Don Brown 2011 (Click on the picture to enlarge)

Don Brown
March 16, 2011

Monday, March 14, 2011

Today’s Photo 3-14-11 (II)

From a morning in my yard.

© Don Brown 2011 (Click on the picture to enlarge)

© Don Brown 2011 (Click on the picture to enlarge)

© Don Brown 2011 (Click on the picture to enlarge)

Don Brown
March 14, 2011

Today’s Photo 3-14-11

I don’t have the time to look it up but I remember there are a couple of train nuts out there. Enjoy. Because that is what I am doing -- enjoying myself. Spring is sprung. It’s the prettiest time of year in this part of Georgia and I’m out in it.

© Don Brown 2011 (Click on the picture to enlarge)

Don Brown
March 14, 2011

Friday, March 11, 2011

Would You Like to Guess?

Thanks again to The Earth-Bound Misfit for paying attention. Federal agents arrested a guy accused of planting a bomb on the MLK Day parade route through Spokane, Washington.

But, But, White People Simply Cannot Be Terrorists!

”Of course, this guy is a white dude, given that he has ties to neo-Nazis. Which means that Congressman Peter "I was For Terrorism Before I Was Against It" King won't be at all interested.”

Apparently, Congressman King isn’t the only one that isn’t interested. Did you remember the story?

Imagine if this guy was a Muslim. White, Asian or Arab wouldn’t matter. It would be on the front page. “Muslim Extremist Tries to Bomb Heartland!” Fox News would go nuts with it. Instead, you get a couple of paragraphs that actually came from The Associated Press. But at least they covered it. Can you imagine if it had happened in Atlanta? CNN would be all over it. Nonstop. They only did slightly better than Fox. (Don’t be fooled by the video. It’s old.”)

Two days after the event and a Google search brings up Salon as the top search result.

I can’t tell you why. Would you like to guess?

Don Brown
March 11, 2011

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Some Interesting Facts...

...surrounded by the same old junk you know is wrong. When are these guys going to learn that the lies untruths and exaggerations that the reporter didn’t check out just make us question whether or not we can believe the other parts of the article?

CNN International has a three-part story on NextGen. Part 1:

Help on the way for air traffic jams

”Millions of consumers are so frustrated with the airline experience that they're avoiding it, and delays are part of the problem. Some 41 million potential fliers chose not to travel by air from May 2007 to May 2008, according to Geoff Freeman of the U.S. Travel Association. That translates into $26.5 billion in lost spending that could have boosted a recession-dogged economy.”

That got my attention. Can I believe it?

”The NextGen overhaul is so complicated and massive that it's often compared to the space race of the 1960s. It will take until at least 2025 to complete and will have an estimated total price of $22 billion. However, long delays and additional costs are threatening to add hundreds of millions of dollars to the project, according to the Department of Transportation.”

I don’t believe that one. I’ve already seen estimates of $50 billion. So it won’t be “hundreds of millions” over budget. It will be billions.

”Currently, planes must fly zig-zag routes to stay close to ground-based radar tracking stations. With GPS technology called ADS-B (automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast), planes can be tracked while flying in straight-line routes. These routes are shorter. They save thousands of hours of travel time, millions of gallons of fuel and millions of dollars.”

Just flat wrong. Everything. No zig-zags for radar. If shorter routes were going to save the airlines they would have already been saved. And just because there might be a few non-aviation folks from the Atlantic that have never thought about the fact that everybody can’t always fly in a straight line...

Now that we all have the Flick on that...let’s move on to Part 2:

Air traffic overhaul hinges on 'human factor'

”ADS-B represents a giant leap from the current pilot reliance on eyesight and air traffic control radio communication to achieve "situation awareness," a mental picture of all surrounding aircraft. With a screen in the cockpit, pilots now will be able to see the whole picture.”

Well, not quite. Perhaps the best way to think about this is to point out that the language of controllers is creeping into the cockpit. (That’s by design -- that is the design -- for some people.) It’s actually “situational awareness” (a minor error) and situational awareness for controllers is very different than situational awareness for pilots. Same concept -- different details. Pilots won’t have “the whole picture”. The controllers that hadn’t previously caught on are now wincing because they now remember what happened when pilots got TCAS. TCAS shows a limited number of airplanes on a “scope” in cockpits. It was a revelation to pilots -- how many airplanes showed up on TCAS. They thought TCAS showed them “the picture” and they started questioning controllers about what they were seeing. It didn’t go over well.

ZTL: Delta twenty four turn twenty degrees left vectors for traffic

DAL24: Where’s the traffic Center we don’t see him on TCAS

ZTL: Delta twenty four (stop looking at your TCAS and) turn 30 degrees left

Again, for those that don’t think about these things, a controller’s “scope” is now a big computer monitor. (I think they’re 20 by 24 inches.)

A pilot’s “scope” for TCAS is tiny. Even a “glass cockpit” with ADS-B won’t come close to the scale that controllers use. I thought pilots were busy enough without having to stare at another little, tiny screen. Which leads us into the next quote.

”If texting while driving is unsafe, what about texting while flying?”

I wish I had thought of that line. The only line I had come up with is that if you think the washout rate for pilots is high, you ought to see what it is for controllers. And now you want a guy that can do both -- at the same time -- while “texting” clearances instead of talking on the radio?

I guess Part 3 will be out tomorrow. It will probably tell us how all this new NextGen technology will transform us all into Superman and defy the laws of physics.

Don Brown
March 10, 2011

Spelling It Out

I was hoping that the curious -- when they saw the list of donors for the Republican Governors Association in the previous post -- could follow it on their own. And then I tried to follow the top donor -- Perry Homes -- and ran into a slight obstacle.

There isn’t an entry on Wikipedia (my favorite starting point for searches) for “Perry Homes”. You first have to figure out who Perry Homes is. It’s Bob J. Perry.

”Bobby Jack Perry (a.k.a. Bob J. Perry) (born October 30, 1932), is a Houston, Texas homebuilder, owner of Perry Homes, and major contributor to a number of 527 groups, such as the Swift Vets and POWs for Truth and the Economic Freedom Fund.”

That’s right, he's the Swift Boat guy.

”In 2006, Perry was the largest political donor in Texas. His donations included nearly $400,000 to the campaign of GOP Governor Rick Perry (no relation).”

They aren’t related -- at least not by blood. Gov. Rick Perry just happens to be the Chairman of the Republican Governors Association.

Republicans. A Texas Governor. Swiftboating, Union busting. This tune might remind you of another guy.

You might remember we’ve been down this road before.

I think you can take it from here. I hope I didn’t insult anybody’s intelligence by spelling it out.

Don Brown
March 10, 2011

P.S. Didn’t the house-building market crash? Where’s this homebuilder getting all the money?

They Were Lying

Last night, the Wisconsin Republican Senate voted to strip public-sector union workers of their bargaining rights. As you are hopefully aware, the premise of the Bill in question was that the government needed these new powers to rein in the out-of-control costs of labor contracts. Because the union-busting portions of the Bill were wrapped up in the budget bill, the State Senate needed a quorum to vote. It’s a requirement of the State constitution -- there must be a quorum present to vote on a fiscal Bill.

After a three week (or so) standoff -- where Democratic Senators left the State to prevent a quorum (and thus blocking the Bill) -- the Republican put all the union-busting portions in a separate Bill and voted it through last night. You can read a better version of this explanation at Time.

If you’ve been able to follow me (hopefully this has just been a refresher) then you already recognize that Wisconsin’s Governor Walker lied. Taking away union rights was supposedly about balancing the budget. That kind of law requires a quorum. Now that the Republicans have tried everything they can think of in the nearly month-long standoff -- without success -- the truth comes out. Crushing unions has nothing to do with balancing the budget. Either the Wisconsin Senate just violated the Wisconsin Constitution or they -- and Governor Walker -- were lying. Or both. (Actually, I think it’s both. The lawyers are going to get rich on this one.)

Of greater concern is how this will play out in public opinion. With 14 million Americans unemployed, I’m thinking that workers are already weak enough. We’ll have to wait to see what workers think.

Two things to keep in mind. Federal workers? You’re next. Everybody else? Keep in mind that labor fights haven’t always been non-violent.

(Teamsters and police clash in a 1934 Minneapolis strike)

So far, these demonstrations in Wisconsin (and elsewhere) have been remarkably peaceful. If desperate people get the idea that laws don’t matter -- State constitutions and sunshine laws -- don’t expect them to remain lawful. I hope that they remember the lessons of Martin Luther King, Jr. But history says they won’t. This situation could get out of hand. It’s important to remember who started this.

Don Brown
March 10, 2011

P.S. In case, like me, you wonder who is on the other side.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

“60 Minutes” Still Has It

If you read this blog, you know the misery is out there. You know the unemployment figures. You know the outlook. You know the times are tough.

Knowing it and seeing it are two different things. Watch. It’s important. (Sorry about the commercials.)

(Here is the print version of the story in case you have cause to use it.)

A friend and I used to poke fun at our parents. They were suffering from DES -- Depression Era Syndrome. You’ve probably seen it too if you know anyone that survived the Depression. They would never throw anything away that might be remotely useful one day. They didn’t waste anything. They watched their money like a hawk.

It doesn’t seem so funny anymore does it?

The kids you see in this video will be just like that. They are learning lessons that my generation thought were so remote -- so unimaginable -- that they were laughable.

When you look and see the damage that has been done -- and realize it will last for decades (if not a lifetime) -- perhaps you will believe that I was serious when I said the banksters belong in jail. The kids in this video shouldn’t be the only ones that have to learn a hard lesson. The banksters should learn one too.

Don Brown
March 8, 2011

Today’s Photo 3-7-11 (too, two)

Some of you may remember Meadowlark Gardens. The gardens are blooming again.

© Don Brown 2011 (Click on the picture to enlarge)

© Don Brown 2011 (Click on the picture to enlarge)

Don Brown
March 7, 2011

Monday, March 07, 2011

It Says Retired

I haven’t had this much email since I stopped writing for AVweb. Don’t get me wrong, I like getting email. And just ask my friends, I like talking about air traffic control (still.) But I’m not “up to speed” as they say, and I have no motivation to kick myself into high gear. I’m retired. I like taking it slow.

This is just my way of saying that -- if you’ve emailed me -- I’ll get back to you. Probably later than sooner. Especially the folks that ask the “deep” questions. (Who would have thunk it? Atlantic readers are deep thinkers. Duh.)

I’m flattered. Sincerely. I’ll get back to you. You can trust me. I was a controller. But right now I have a few flower beds that need weeding before it gets hot.

© Don Brown 2011 (Click on the picture to enlarge)

Don Brown
March 7, 2011

Today’s Photo 3-7-11

I’ll never figure it out. Looking at this morning’s weather report, I thought it would be perfect conditions for a sunrise shot. One of those “the sky’s on fire” type sunrises. It wasn’t to be. You just never know what you’ll get. You just have to show up and hope for the best.

Besides, even second best ain’t bad.

© Don Brown 2011 (Click on the picture to enlarge)

Don Brown
March 7, 2011

Back to Normal

My last post for James Fallows is up on his blog now. Starting today, I hope to return to a more sedate pace, suitable for a retired guy. I’d forgotten what it was like to go through life with too many thoughts running around in my head and a deadline. With AVweb, it was just once a month. My wife has been looking at me and just shaking her head. Well, she says things but when I’m lost in thought I do not hear.

I thought it might prove useful to list the entries I put up in case I (or anyone else) wants to find them at a later date. They are, in order:

Inside the Busy, Stressful World of Air Traffic Control

Seeing Through an Air Traffic Controller's Eyes

The Case for Regulating Airport Runways

Why We Need Constant Air Traffic Vigilance

Can the FAA Get Rid of Air Traffic Controllers?

It is my fervent hope that in some way, somehow, they shall do some good.

I have to, again, thank James Fallows for the grand opportunity of borrowing his audience. His audience is not only vast, it is influential. I’ll never understand why he was willing to take such a risk on me. I hope that he is breathing a little easier today.

I’ll leave you with one thought I never worked into his site. The week before, IBM’s “Watson” was the big story. I’m sure the guys at the FAA and MITRE that dream of replacing air traffic controllers with computers were watching. I’d heard Ken Jennings being interviewed about it all. The show had already been taped but he was sworn to secrecy about the outcome. He mentioned that Watson has several advantages over humans. Near the top of the list was the fact that Watson didn’t get nervous. Watson didn’t get emotional. It didn’t get rattled.

I could see where some people might think that was an advantage. Controllers and pilots do get scared. When -- suddenly -- there’s an emergency and someone’s life hangs in the balance, it can be hard to control the fear. It can be hard to keep that fear out of your voice and provide a pilot with reassurance. A controller knows that they might say something wrong. They might make the wrong decision. And they know the enormity of it.

The fact that Watson is missing those human frailties is a double-edged sword. It’s a computer. “Caring” is just another word in it’s electronic vocabulary -- just like “dying”. It can make the decision to turn an airplane into a mountain with all the emotionless efficiency with which it “landed” in Toronto instead of Chicago .

I’m going to take the fact that it bombed on an aviation question as a sign.

Don Brown
March 7, 2011

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Hey! You! New Guy!

I suspect I’ll have more than a few “new” controllers show up at this site in the coming days. James Fallows has caused me to put my safety hat back on this past week so I’ve been running around with my brain on fire, like the old days. I plan on dousing that fire this weekend. There’s a reason I retired...

But before I do. If you’re a controller that hired on after 2005 and you never had the “pleasure” of working with (or around) me... I’ve got something to say.

If you don’t understand non-radar, you don’t understand air traffic control.

Remember -- I was a young controller once. I know what you’re thinking.

At first, you don’t even care how it all happens. Just let me talk to some airplanes so I can show you what I’ve got.

That will pass. Trust me. Probably about the first time you really scare yourself when you’re alone.

I don’t know how this generation will ever learn about the building blocks of air traffic control. I really don’t. But I did -- somehow. And it wasn’t the FAA that taught them to me. It was the profession -- other controllers.

”“What did they call non-radar before radar?” Answer: Air Traffic Control. Non-radar is the foundation of all air traffic control.”

Maybe you’ll have to play the home version of air traffic control. I don’t know. I just know you need to know it. Air traffic control isn’t a video game -- no matter how much the FAA makes it look like one.

Don Brown
March 5, 2011

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Today’s Photo 3-3-11

A subtle sunrise this morning.

© Don Brown 2011 (Click on the picture to enlarge)

Don Brown
March 3, 2011

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Okay, So I Lied

I know I said I’d put all the ATC stuff on James Fallows’ blog at the Atlantic but I just couldn’t pass this one up and it would take too much time to explain it to a more general-type audience.

Any controller that was working between 1981 and, say, 1987 will share in my sense of deja vu, reading this article.

Air-traffic concerns on the rise in Colorado

”I-News, a nonprofit news collaborative for Colorado media, examined nearly 11 years of National Aeronautics and Space Administration data and found that the total number of reports through the first 11 months of 2010 exceeded the number of similar reports filed over the previous five years combined.”

”The problem, the report said, is "many very junior, and often not even fully certified controllers cutting a lot of corners, and doing some very sloppy coordination." And the trainers, the veteran added, were being asked to teach others after having only "a year or two at the most on the job themselves.”

”Mike Naiman, one of the Colorado controllers set to retire then, says officials in Congress and the FAA need to pay special attention to the coming wave of retirements. "We kept telling them, 'You're going to see a lot of people go,' " he said.”

Mike is right (of course.) We tried to warn them. Over and over and over again.

I hope you won’t read these words anywhere else; It’s a good thing we had a recession. At least that slowed the traffic down and gave the FAA a little breathing room. Not to mention, it kept a lot of controllers from retiring -- when their retirement funds tanked. I just hope it’s enough.

Don Brown
March 2, 2011

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Welcome “Atlantic” Readers

It dawned on me last night that the air traffic control parts of my blog aren’t that easy to find anymore. You are, of course, welcome to read the political stuff and look at the pictures. But if you came for the ATC, this list will make it a little easier. I picked them mostly by popularity.

Thanks for stopping by. I hope you’ll come back.

Air Traffic Safety vs. Capacity

Air Traffic for Dummies

So Reasonable

URET - A Dissenting View

The Truth

Don Brown
March 1, 2011