Wednesday, August 26, 2015

How My Internet Works

One of the computer comebacks that has always stuck in my head was, "They call them personal computers for a reason." I suspect younger people can move from machine to machine with ease. Even looking at my wife's computer (supposedly identical to mine) confuses me. (How does she see those little, tiny, program icons in the dock?)

Anyway, I recently had an internet experience that only an older person can have -- the sheer wonder of how far we've come. I was wasting time on Flickr (as usual) and came across this picture.

Old Man of Storr

I had no idea where it was so I typed in into Google Maps.

Google Maps: Old Man of Storr

I love Google Maps. I find all sorts of interesting places just by scouting for photo locations on it. Between it and Flickr, I can waste hours. And in Twitter and Facebook and it's a wonder anybody gets anything done. But I digress. While I was checking out the Old Man of Storr on Google Maps, I decided to search for a hotel nearby. You never know, I might actually get there one day. That's when I found this place.

Glenview Hotel and Skye Pie cafe

I'd go there for the food alone. I think savory (sorry) savoury pies are one of the United Kingdom's best-kept secrets. I have no idea why you can't buy them on every street corner in America. I mean, look at this menu. Beef & Gravy in a pie crust? How can anybody resist that? Crab & Cheese? Yes please.

Best of all, when I showed it to our regular traveling companions, I got back, "I told you I wanted to go to the Isle of Skye." That increases the chances that I might actually get to go by at least 90%. And to think, it all started with a picture from some guy I don't even know, halfway around the world. And now, thanks to the internet, it will probably be booked solid. And some inn keeper in Scotland will be writing a blog saying, "It all started with some guy in a cowboy hat from Georgia. Next thing you know we're overrun with "rednecks" wanting savoury pies".

Don Brown
August 26, 2015

Friday, August 14, 2015

Obama's Iran Deal Will Destroy the World

Catchy headline right? All my normal readers know I'm a big Obama supporter and the rest of you will just have to read along to figure out what I'm talking about. Once again, I've been doing yard work, listening to podcasts and thinking. It seems like it's becoming a habit.

This time, I was listening to Voice of America's "Encounter" -- just because I'm strange like that. You have to listen real close when the program starts, otherwise you don't know which side to root for and it's half the program before you can figure out which guest is the hired gun from the Heritage Foundation (et al.).

Anyway, I don't even remember which episode it was (I'm catching up on six weeks worth) but two guys were going on about when it's best to go to war with Iran (that's really what the argument is about) -- now or later. I choose "never" but what do I know? (One thought too's interesting, listening to a "timely" news program six weeks late. An interesting perspective that you should try sometime.) That's when it hit me. This Iranian "agreement" will destroy the world. But the Right Wing is too ideologically blinded to recognize the argument. Here you go guys (because I know you're reading.)

Oil is currently $42 a barrel. Cheap, cheap, cheap. Saudi Arabia opened the tap and has kept it open. I don't know if it was to frak the US frakers, to cripple Russia or for some other purpose ("market share", yeah right) but whatever the reason, it has driven the price of oil down. And if the Iranians come out from under their sanctions, you know they'll be pumping. Oil will become cheaper. And cheaper. And the world will use more and more of it, warming up the planet and WE WILL ALL DIE! (It's okay, right wingers. You can click on the link. It's a John Bolton-approved ad.)

I wondered why no one on the pro-Israeli-right-wing side had made this argument and (of course) 2 seconds later it hit me -- they can't. I mean, you can't claim that Global Warming is a hoax and then claim it's going to destroy the world (or at least the human-inhabitable climate). Nope, it's far saner to provoke a war that can go nuclear and destroy the world that way.

In other news, Al Gore's guys are thinking (out load) that he should run for President. If I was him, I'd do it just so I could say "I Told You So". But y'all know how I like saying that.

If you've made it this far, go listen to someone that has a clue about foreign affairs: Fareed Zakaria. See what he has to say. (Evidently, embedding videos is no longer an option.)

Don Brown
August 14, 2015

Saturday, August 08, 2015

Thinking in the Yard

I was doing some yard work and -- as is my wont -- listening to podcasts. This one from the RSA inspired some bigger thoughts.

Designing a World Where People Come First

It starts out with your typical civilian-aviation story (it's irrelevant to my thoughts) and quickly heads into an odd blend of liberal/conservative thought on "reimagining" (the whole talk is full of buzz words) schools. It occurred to me (again) that we really do become our professions. Our work defines us in ways I don't think many young people are prepared for. As this guy went joyfully from topic to topic he got virtually everything wrong -- from a controller's view of the world.

(Pardon the lack of quotes. If I don't get this done in a hurry I won't get it done.)

Entrepreneurs -- We don't need any entrepreneurs in Air Traffic Control. Okay, that's not quite right. We do need to have experimentation. We just don't need for it to happen on the floor of the control room. The FAA's use of simulators was abysmal in my day. Has it improved? Is anybody actually using them to experiment? Humans being humans, don't encourage experimenting in the general controller population. But it does need to happen somewhere. As long as it is somewhere safe.

Non-Standardization -- This guy is basically talking mass experimentation (and local control) of schooling. It would be totally and utterly wrong for air traffic control. Does anybody talk about continuity of service anymore? Are you thinking about it? A pilot can talk to a controller in south Georgia for breakfast and be talking to a controller that lives in Brooklyn before lunch. He shouldn't have to adjust to "how New York does it" from the way it's done in Albany, Georgia. ATC should be done the same way in Albany -- whether the one in Georgia or the one in New York. Ideally, a pilot shouldn't have to adjust his "hearing" to follow ATC instructions. That is "ideally" in terms of safety. We might not ever solve that one but it doesn't mean we should give up trying. Anybody can work on speaking carefully and distinctly -- and every controller should.

"Parents understand what makes a good school." That's like saying pilots understand what makes a good air traffic control system. And to all the pilots (and parents) nodding their heads...that sounds like controllers know what makes a good airplane. We don't. Understanding pilot's needs and the demands that their profession imposes on them is important. The ATC system is here to get airplanes (and their passengers) where they need to go. Safely. We might all recognize good outcomes in all these areas but that doesn't mean we can design a system to produce those outcomes.

I encourage you to think some big thoughts about your profession. Listen to something totally out of your sphere and see if the ideas might work in your field. Or not. However you do it, set aside some time to think. Find the others in your profession that are also thinking. There won't be enough of them, but there will be some. Those are the people you want to meet.

Don Brown
August 8, 2015

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Little America

When I first drove into the Great State of Maine, I stopped at a Dunkin' Donuts shop in some town I don't remember. The guy in front of me had a beard about 6 inches long. The next guy to walk in behind me had a beard about 12 inches long. I was sort of taken aback. I come from down South, in a place so rural that we joke that camouflage is a fashion statement. People here actually know the difference between ™Realtree and ™Mossy Oak. Guys with "that look" are a dime a dozen down here and they're usually carrying a gun. I just didn't expect it up North. Walking out the door, I whispered to my wife, "I think we've stumbled on Duck Dynasty North."

I thought about this -- and other things I saw -- throughout my drive to Maine and back. In short, America looks beat up. We look run down. It's not about Civil-War-style whiskers. If that's the look you want, have at it. It's about what is under it. The unkempt clothes. The paunchy bodies. The slovenly habits. It's the beautiful, cute and wonderful houses I saw that needed a coat of paint. The yard needs mowing, the bushes trimmed, the garden tended and the front porch mended.

There were exceptions to this unruly rule. After driving through the bone-rattling despair of Troy, New York, we entered the beautiful town of Bennington, Vermont and went out for dinner. It wasn't a fancy dinner -- pizza and beer -- but it was a memorable one. Nice, friendly people in a very local joint (Ramuntos Pizza). Young people were playing corn hole (tailgate toss) in the side yard and -- I swear -- kids were riding bicycles down the sidewalks of Main Street. It was almost perfect. Close enough that you tried not to notice a couple of empty storefronts smudging the Norman Rockwell painting. And that the magic faded away to modern Americana just a block or two off of Main Street.

©Don Brown 2015

There were the Big Money exceptions of course. Shore Drive in Cape Elizabeth, Maine is doing just fine, thank-you-very-much. No problems with the lawns or painting the houses there. The residents can hire all the help they need. That isn't the problem in America. It's the people that don't have the time and wherewithal to take care of their homes -- should they be lucky enough to even own one. (Or pay the mortgage on one.) It's the people that are piecing together two and three jobs trying to make a full-time living. The families where living on a single income is no longer even a dream. They have no benefits, no retirement and -- seemingly -- no future. Or maybe, it's just that they have no hope.

America can do better. We can still do Big Things. I drove across the Tappan Zee Bridge on the way back home. Thankfully, we are building a new one before (hopefully) the old one falls down. It's a multi-billion dollar project. You can create a lot of jobs for a billion dollars. You can create a lot of full-time, union-wage jobs with good benefits if you put your mind and politics to it.

©Don Brown 2015

But it's not the big things that were bugging me on this trip. It was the little things. The important little things. Maybe it was because I heard the most interesting story on This American Life while I was waiting for the Sun to rise on the Blue Ridge Parkway one morning. It's a story about something that seems so small. It's so small I'm not sure I know how to name it. But I have the feeling that we need more of it. Gumption? Resilience? Standards? Hope? I don't know. Maybe I'm just getting old and sappy. But this story makes our current troubles seem trivial. It shows that if we have even the tiniest of things -- the right things -- to cling to, just what the human spirit is capable of. Have a listen. Stick with it until the end.

This American Life -- Episode 559 -- Act One

Don Brown
August 4, 2015