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Where’s Blogger?

April 12th, 2010 · 3 Comments

I’m here. Still plugging away at the good life I’ve created for myself with the people I love. That is, in case any of the seven of you that used to read this blog regularly are wondering.

I’m still working on the weight loss kick. As of today, I’ve lost 87.25 pounds since I started the program on August 10, 2009. That leaves me with 12.75 pounds to go until I’ve hit the 100 pounds-lost mark, and 21.75 pounds to go until I hit my initial target weight of 225 pounds. I feel great in both body and spirit, and I can only complain about one thing: the cost of new clothes.

In general, all is well!

I’ve been updating my Now Reading widget regularly, and my Flickr widget always updates itself whenever I add any new images to my flickr.com account. Feel free to check either of those widgets out to see what I’m reading and taking pictures of. Again, if any of the seven of you that used to read this blog regularly are still interested.

I’m also on facebook (ugh) now. Become a fan of Glenn Calvin Photography and get regular updates to my photographic portfolio!

→ 3 CommentsTags: Fitness · Literature · Personal · Photography

Good Riddance, 2009…

January 1st, 2010 · No Comments

Another 805 hours in the logbook during 2009. And I thought I slacked off in 2008! I’m down nearly 40 block hours year-over-year. A lot of that can be attributed to a great decrease in the airline’s schedule that began in February.

Last year’s flying brought my totals to 4,101 hours in the 737 and 9,433 total time. That means I’ll fly my 10,000th hour some time in September, 2010!

Happy new year, everyone!

→ No CommentsTags: Aviation · Logbook

Christmas Nookie…

December 28th, 2009 · 1 Comment

I’m an avid reader. As you can probably tell if you (care to) watch the sidebar of this blog (whether I’m posting regularly or not), I read between two and four books a month. I attribute this to a couple things: 1) the commute to and from my domicile for work, and 2) the fact that I am hopelessly addicted to science fiction and history. For the last ten years, I’ve been buying book after book after book. Hardcovers and paperbacks began to pile up (deep!) on my office floor to the point where they were starting to get in the way and become  fire hazard. Being that I’m not a pack rat by nature, I decided a couple months ago to box them all up and take them over to the local “Friends of the Library” shop where they’ll be sold to benefit our local public libraries. There were 11 boxes and almost 240 books. The little old lady that runs the shop had no idea what to think when I showed up!

About a year ago, I began hearing about these so-called “e-readers.” These things are essentially the iPod of the book world – simple electronic devices that allow a person to carry many many book titles in the palm of their hand and effectively freeing up office shelf space for their sports-related bobble-head and vintage aircraft instrument collections. After gathering up all those books for donation (and after some hemming-and-hawing about the unsettling thoughts I had regarding tech replacing tome), I decided that one of those little devices might be just the ticket for a guy like me who’s short on space and long on reading time. I looked at what was immediately available last October and decided that it was best to wait for an e-reader that was to be released in mid-December called Nook. Everything I’d read said that the Nook would really give Amazon’s e-reader a run for its money, offering more titles, better connectivity, better handling of .pdf files, and a color touch-screen for menu navigation. When they became available for pre-order, I didn’t hesitate.

At this point I’d like to pause briefly to thank my wife for my Christmas gift! Thanks, hon! My Nook arrived on the 24th, and of course she wrapped it right up and put it under the tree. She made me wait until the next morning to play with it, even though I’d given her Christmas gift to her two weeks before. She can be a right pain in the – Anyhow, now that I’ve had a couple days to play around with it a bit, I figured I’d review it and give you all the pros and cons I’ve found.

Pros:

First, it really is a sleek-looking and compact device. It’s about 7″ long by 5″ wide and is only 1/2″ thick. The last book I read was about the same length and width, but exceeded the Nook’s thickness dimension by six-fold. It goes without saying that this little device will save me lots of space in my travel bag!

I found that (after a Christmas day of dealing with the Barnes & Noble e-book delivery system’s teething problems) the connectivity of this device is lightning-fast. I downloaded two very-lengthy e-books in two different ways. First, I bought Ayn Rand‘s The Fountainhead – a novel of massive physical proportions – and downloaded it via the device’s cell-phone connection. In less than a minute, I completed the order and had the entire novel safely stashed in my Nook’s memory. Then, with the Nook’s wireless LAN connection hooked into my home network, I downloaded Peter F. Hamilton‘s The Reality Dysfunction – another gargantuan novel, this one of the space opera variety. Again, lickity-split, I had the book downloaded to the device and my wallet lightened by a dollar amount significantly less than the physical copy would have cost me.

The E-Ink main display where books and other publications pages are viewed looks just like the printed page of your favorite novel. It is very easy to read and is flicker-free while displaying a page. I found that it handled pictures and diagrams just as well as text (though in black and white only, obviously), and it is of a nice-enough size. I have yet to try my luck at reading a copy of the Wall Street Journal on Nook’s display, but I imagine it’ll do just fine.

Navigation through the software menu and functions of the device (which are based on Google’s Android OS) I found to be very intuitive. Forward and backward “page turn” buttons are located on either side of the device under relatively stiff membrane buttons so that they are within easy reach without lending to accidental page-turns. The color touch screen is a nice feature, showing full-color images of book covers in your library as well as menu and sub-menu selections, which leaves the front of the device uncluttered by buttons.

Cons:

It looks and feels like a very delicate device. Two displays, hard plastic corners, and a fall from a tabletop probably won’t mix well. And does even a simple protective sleeve come with it? Not on your life! That’s $20 extra! And my case is on BACKORDER! Fortunately, Mom is a whiz with a sewing machine and agreed to stitch me up a protective drawstring sack made of random fabric remnants…probably with a Raggedy Andy or Holly Hobby motif. Of course, I’ll have to replace a couple light bulbs for her at her house. Fair trade, I think.

The main screen probably takes longer to refresh on a new page than it takes for me to turn a page in a physical book. It takes about a second-and-a-half to refresh its display with a new page of text. After hitting the “Next Page” button, there is a positive-negative flash on the screen that is a tad annoying, though it is probably inherent to all E-Ink displays.

Though a neat feature, the touchscreen itself leaves a lot to be desired for a fat-fingered fool like me. The accuracy of the touch-sensing I found to be a tad “off” sometimes, and selection of the menu item/letter/number you’re pressing is far from instantaneous. Because of that delay, entering information or using the built-in highlighting/note-taking or dictionary systems can be a tad frustrating.

There is no web-browser. For a device that has such good and varied connectivity, being limited to viewing Barnes & Noble’s e-book site is just a little bit frustrating. I can understand AT&T not wanting the GSM bandwidth it provides with the Nook to be wasted (especially when device owners aren’t paying monthly service fees for that method of connectivity), but there should be no reason to disallow web-browsing while connected via the Wi-Fi antenna.

Conclusion:

Being a big fan of physical books old and new, I wondered just how different an experience reading a novel on the Nook would be. In fact, several people (my wife, primarily) have stated that part of the lure of a real book over this device is the tactile feedback a book gives. Of course, the sense of accomplishment one feels as the right half of the book gets thinner in their right hand while reading through it’s pages is something that might be missed by someone who is a fan of traditional books. Picking up the Nook is just simply not the same as picking up a well-worn used book and smelling an untold number of owners’ perfumes or pipe tobaccos and wondering about the history of that volume. And being able to lend a book you’ve greatly enjoyed to a friend or coworker whom you know will enjoy it as much just isn’t doable (though there is a somewhat restrictive “sharing” feature built into the Nook).

Still, I like this device. Will it ever replace physical books in my collection? That is doubtful. It will, however, serve the primary purpose for which I intended it – keeping me from going crazy with stacks and stacks of books everywhere, and saving me weight and space in my travel bags.

*****

If any of you seven readers are interested in how my weight-loss and physical fitness program is going, the answer is: It’s still going. I’ve been on the program now for about four-and-a-half months and I’ve lost over 50 pounds (down to 282.5 from 334) simply by eating less and working out more. I feel better physically and mentally than I’ve felt in a long, long time! My wife is being very supportive and encouraging, and she’s also doing very well on the same program. I’ve got quite a way to go, and I’ve been hitting plateaus pretty regularly, but I really do believe I’ll get to my goal weight on this program!

Sorry for the lack of updates, recently. Most of my writing tends to come from what I’m thinking about most at the time I sit down at the computer. Lately, I’ve been thinking and worrying a whole lot about the direction in which my wonderful United States seems to been heading, and that doesn’t really make for good reading on a blog that I prefer to remain mostly politics-free. So because I don’t feel a need to bludgeon you over the head with my ideology, I’ve been sort of mute here for a bit. Besides, I’m sure you can gather my political leanings by some subtle (and not so subtle) entries in my “Interesting Passages” posts, of which more are to come shortly.

I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas and holiday season!

→ 1 CommentTags: Book Recommendation · Literature · Tech/Geek

So-Cal Sunrise…

September 15th, 2009 · 4 Comments

Our day started pre-dawn in Sacramento last Friday. While flying southbound on the SADDE6 arrival into LAX, we were treated to an amazing sunrise. The high cirro-stratus mixed with lingering smoke from the mostly-contained Station Fire created a wonderful mix of oranges contrasting with the purples of the San Gabriel Mountains as the sun behind them.

I shot this image just as we passed over the Fillmore VOR.

→ 4 CommentsTags: Aviation · Photography · Uncategorized

Eight years later…

September 11th, 2009 · No Comments

I can remember no greater horror than we saw after turning on the television early in the morning eight years ago today.

I will never forget. I may never forgive.

→ No CommentsTags: Aviation · Patriotism · politics

Bodybugg update…

September 8th, 2009 · 1 Comment

I just got back from the gym, where I had my second bi-weekly weigh-in.

So far, by following the Bodybugg program (not the diet portion of it, I’ve been making my own food choices) and exercising at least four days a week for at least thirty minutes per day, I’m down a total of 18.25 pounds! I’ve also lost 5 and 3/4 total inches in body dimensions, none of which was in my hips (though I don’t find that strange because I’ve always built muscle in that area faster than any other).

Needless to say, I’m quite pleased with myself. Another month or so and I should be somewhere near my first major milestone!

→ 1 CommentTags: Fitness · Personal

Bodgybugg…

August 23rd, 2009 · No Comments

I’ve decided it’s high time to finally do something about my weight. I’m currently at my heaviest ever.

Ever.

And that upsets me.

I have a couple of negative personal traits that have helped me to be a horrifically efficient weight-gainer over the last seven years. First, I love food. I love to cook, I love to eat. And when I eat, I eat big. Second, I have a career where I have to wake up very early and then sit around on my rear end for most of the day. And finally, I hate the gym. I hate the narcissism, I hate the smell, and I have an aversion to pain (I injured my upper back about seven years ago in a gym and hadn’t been back since). Fortunately, these are all things I can change.

In the recent years, I’ve embarked on a number of fitness quests. They usually involve some way of changing what I eat and how much along with aerobic exercise of some sort. And I usually fall off the wagon after a month for whatever reason. However, I believe that I’ve now found a program that excites me enough to become a motivator to follow the program and stick with it long-term. That program is Apex Fitness’s Bodybugg ® calorie management system.

I was first introduced to the system about a month and a half ago by a good friend I was working with who is also rather “large-framed.” He had been on the program for several months and had been impressed enough with it to recommend it to me. The person that recommended the program to him had lost over 50 pounds by following the program. Initially, I thought, “Just another weight-loss gimmick…and at $300, an expensive one at that.” But after doing some research into it and thinking hard about the pros and cons and how I would do on a program like it, I decided to dive in head first and get started.

The program consists of two parts: an electronic device that you wear on your arm that tracks calories burned, steps taken, and activity levels (combined with a digital display that allows you to have an instant readout of your progress throughout the day), and an internet-based tracking and advice program that takes the data from your arm-band device and turns it into a graphical representation of your calorice and fitness performance compared to your caloric and fitness goals.

The device on your arm spits out data, and throughout the day, you upload that data via a USB cable into the web-based software. In addition, you keep a food-journal and input the foods you eat and their portion sizes into the software. At the end of the day, the software spits out a calorie deficit/surplus figure. Compare this figure to the goals that the software sets up for you after you answer a lengthy questionnaire to track your personal performance on the program. I find that attempting to meet the daily goals that it has given me of a 4050 daily calorie burn, a 500 daily calorie deficit, a 30 minute workout, and 10,000 steps a day is a great way of helping me meet the short-term and long-term weight loss goals I have set for myself. Also, similar to tying a string around one’s finger, having the band around my left arm gives me a reminder to consume food in a mindful way, as well.

In essence, this is a tech-geeky way for me to do something I know I need to do: lose weight and get into better physical condition. Since I’m all about tech-geeky, this thing is right up my alley.

As of tomorrow, I’ll have been on the program for two weeks. I’ve changed the food choices I make and I’ve added fast walks of distances ranging from two to four miles to my daily routine (though some days I just don’t have time). I’ll be going back to the gym again very soon…yes, even though I hate it.

I weigh myself for the first time this week, so I’ll see how those first two weeks have been shortly. The short-term weight-loss goal is a pound a week. The long-term weight-loss goal is 75 pounds (from…ugh…just over 330 lbs down to 255 pounds).

This time, I intend to meet the long-term goal. Since I’ll be working on this with my wife, I think I’ll succeed.

→ No CommentsTags: Tech/Geek

Mirror Mirror…

August 17th, 2009 · 3 Comments

My latest eBay plunder is a 500mm f/8 Reflex-NIKKOR lens.

This lens is interesting because its not your typical set of concave and convex optical glass lenses in an aluminum tube. Instead, this lens relys on pair of catadioptric mirrors, much the same way a large astronomical telescope does.

For that reason, the lens is much smaller and much lighter than a refracting lens of the same focal length. For instance, I recently wrote about Nikon’s 400mm f/2.8 VR lens. You can see the humongous size of that lens here. This 500mm f/8 mirror lens is about 1/4 the length and 1/5 the weight of that monstrous 400mm f/2.8, so it is far more easily transportable. It also costs far less to produce, and therefore is MUCH less expensive to the consumer. A 400mm f/2.8 lens costs approximately $9,000, while this 500mm f/8 lens costs me a mere $150 on eBay.

There are downsides, though. This lens is all manual. The fancy autofocus or vibration reduction that exist on the bigger refracting lenses doesn’t exist here. Also, you’re limited to one stop, f/8, which makes this lens a bit tricky to use in lower-light situations. Fortunately, with the D3, I can crank the ISO up to 1000 (without worrying about image noise) and get shutter speeds in the range of 1/1000th to easily avoid motion blurr in my images.

Others have also complained about poor image quality (low contrast and soft focus), but my experience so far with the lens says that this lens can create images that are just as sharp and contrasty as other lenses. And with the help of software, there should be no issues.

Another thing about this lens that may or may not be a downer for you is the bokeh it produces. Instead of out-of-focus highlights being uniform balls of light, this lens produces ring-like highlights in out of focus areas due to the center, rear-facing mirror element. Depending upon who you are and what you shoot, this could be a boon or a hinderance. Personally, I think it produces an interesting effect.


All in all, I think this lens is a great addition to my bag of tricks. It’s very light and very small compared even to my 70-200mm f/2.8, and it will allow me to really reach out and grab an image at long distance. I forsee myself really using this for daylight wildlife images.

EDIT: I shot this image of the moon last night (8-30-09) with the reflex lens. At 1/500th of a second and ISO 500, this image came out perfectly-exposed, even though the camera’s exposure meter was pegged to the underexposed side. I used a tripod and the camera’s “mirror-up” function to minimize camera shake blur. It’s also a crop of the full frame. Pretty darned sharp, if you ask me.


→ 3 CommentsTags: Lenses · Photography · Uncategorized

An Interesting Week In The Industry…

August 17th, 2009 · 3 Comments

The last week has been an interestingly eventful one at work.

My airline attempted to purchase another airline out of bankruptcy. The auction was held a couple of days ago. My airline lost.

This is one of the few losses of a major business battle I can remember my airline taking. The funny thing is that I’m not all that disappointed. Even though the acquisition would have resulted in SIGNIFICANT renewed growth for my airline and the addition of a couple hundred fine aviators to our seniority list (behind me), I’m actually kind of glad it went the way it did.

Why? Well, there’s a couple reasons.

First, the union that represents the pilots at my airline went into the negotiation of a seniority list integration (SLI) with the other airline’s pilots with a very firm understanding of what our pilot group wanted.  The deal came down to approximately three hours of late-night negotiating, which resulted in a stalemate. The deal our pilot’s union offered theirs, although very good, wasn’t satisfactory to them (they wanted relative percentage seniority list integration, seat protection, domicile protection, and an outrageous and never-ending monthly pay compensation for their pilots on furlough). Essentially, any deal that could have been agreed upon would have been an absolute windfall for the pilots of the airline being acquired, due to their insistence on those four items. Handing the acquired carrier’s pilots a windfall like that on the backs of the pilots of the acquiring carrier is NOT a way to win friends and influence people in the world of airline pilot unions. For that reason, I’m glad my airline’s pilot union stood their ground and refused to allow itself to be walked on by an incoming pilot group that really had no leverage with which to bargain, anyhow.

Second, our company made it clear that they would not pursue the acquisiton unless the SLI could be agreed upon between the two pilot groups (for reasons of maintaining a strong management/employee relationship). My airline’s management team could easily have told the bankruptcy judge to delete the employee-group agreement clause from our binding offer after the two pilot groups negotiations stalemated. Instead, management stood by its word to only complete the deal if the two pilot groups came to an amicable SLI. When no deal came about, management let the deal go. That says a TON about our management’s loyalty to its employees.

The bankrupt airline ended up being purchased by the only other holding group to bid on their assets. However, from what it looks like to me, that holding group essentially doubled its debt to complete the deal. They have the intention of operating the acquired carrier seperately, which keeps all of their employees working conditions pretty much status-quo. However, I wonder how long that holding company will continue to operate the airlines it owns seperately. If (and when) they do decide to combine the six airlines that operate under the holding company, the SLI is bound to be contentious and messy. Pilot work rules are already questionable among the holding company’s airlines (the newly-acquired one excluded), and when you try and make a group of pilots who are used to a fairly good set of work rules work under some significantly less-optimum conditions, you’re bound to have a fight on your hands. Essentially, the holding company that won the bid over my airline will absolutely have its hands full.

*****

Rumors abound.

During slow times in the industry, we airline pilots relish a good company or industry rumor, and right now they’re absolutely buzzing around the crew lounges of my airline. The Captain I have the pleasure of working with this month is a bit of a rumor-monger (in a good way), and has been collecting rumors regarding a certain new aircraft type since 2006. He was explaining to me last week that these rumors he’s been collecting all sort of fell into place recently, leading to a strong suggestion from our company’s CEO (who was in the jumpseat with my Captain last week) that this new aircraft type is indeed on its way.

What are these rumors? Everything from our company’s recent interest in fully-automated cockpits and navigation to manufacturing reps at our headquarters behind locked doors demonstrating new seating and interior designs to FAA Inspectors leaning into the cockpit to say, “Congratulations! I just saw paperwork at Springboard Airplane Builders saying you were getting the new ScreamWhiner.

This is one rumor where all available signs point to “True.”

Can you say: “BWI to LHR”?

It is my thought that something will be announced within the next two months. I have nothing to substantiate that statement, however. It’s just a gut feeling based upon the events of the last week.

→ 3 CommentsTags: Aviation · Business/Unions

Footprints and Space Junk…

July 20th, 2009 · 4 Comments

Aside from the obvious continuation of the species and the pride a new mother and father feel for their newborn spawn, does the infant contribute anything to humanity? Of course not. At first, the neonate is simply a screaming, wiggling, out-of-control mess all covered in goo. Only after many, many years of nurturing (read: spent money) is the human being, now all-grown-up, able to contribute anything worth-while to society. And even then, only a small percentage contribute in spectacular, civilization-changing ways. A group of human beings who were capable of changing civilization gave birth to a newborn back in 1969. The newborn’s name was Luna, and they nicknamed it “The Moon.” They fed this newborn six times, and then they left it. Since then, that orbiting newborn’s limitless potential to change civilization has lain dormant.

Today is the fortieth anniversary of man’s first steps on an extra-terrestrial world. On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Alrdin set foot on Luna. They came in peace for all mankind.

And exactly what was it they and the rest of the Project Apollo team at NASA ultimately accomplished?

Footprints and space junk.

Of course, the six missions of the Apollo Program that landed on the moon were fantastic successes for their time. They brought back a wealth of scientific data and rock samples. The scientific advances of the Apollo program that led up to the moon landings created numerous spin-off technologies that have done nothing but benefit humanity. The program brought a wave of national pride, the citizens of the United States knowing that their country had beaten the Soviets to the punch, for once. I wasn’t even alive when the last Apollo mission lifted off from the surface of the moon, but watching what those astronauts did for the world brings tears of pride to my eyes.

But in the end, the only tangible legacy of the Apollo program remaining are the half-dozen lunar landing sites and museum-housed exhibits.  Since the Apollo missions, humans haven’t strayed out of Earth’s orbit.

I know why we did it, landing on the moon. But looking back at it, I don’t really know why we aren’t still doing it.

The primary reason, of course, is because society is fascinated by the new and the now. And when such monumentally important things such as lunar (and further) exploration are seen by mainstream society as uninteresting or unimportant, funding will naturally wane. And without funding, there is nothing when you’re speaking of space programs. “Why do we really need to go to the moon again, anyway?” That is the typical question many skeptics ask. “Funding a serious space program is wasteful when the money could be spent to fix so many problems here on Earth.” There are several simple ways to answer that question.

First, space exploration requires research and development that reaches into nearly every aspect of science and industry. And during the development of new and bigger space projects, there will undoubtedly be unexpected and spectacular advances. Space research will absolutely lead to an immeasurably positive impact on the world’s economy through the introduction of spin-off products and technologies to the general society.

Second, Luna is a completely untapped source of natural resources. No, we do not have a full understanding of exactly what natural resources exist on the moon. But will that change if we don’t return to it? What we do know is that there are abundant sources of copper, nickel, and iron (among many other things) on Luna. There also may be other resources such as sub-surface ice and hydrogen that could support increased lunar activity as well as manned missions to Mars and beyond. As the population of the Earth increases, the availability of natural resources decreases. Being that societies tend to get a little uneasy when things they need get scarce, and given the tendency towards violence that we homo-sapiens have showed in the past when subjected to such shortages, large losses of human life from war over scarce resources might possibly be averted were we to use the Moon to its full potential.

The real answer to that question of “Why?” can be answered by looking into the eyes of your seven billion neighbors. Robert A. Heinlein said it very well in a short passage from his book: I Will Fear No Evil:

It isn’t the threat of war, or crime in the streets, or corruption in high places, or pesticides, or smog, or ‘education’ that doesn’t teach; those things are just symptoms of the underlying cancer. It’s too many people. Too many. Seven billion people, sitting in each other’s laps, trying to take in each other’s washing, pick each other’s pockets. Too many. [There's] nothing wrong with the individual in most cases – but collectively we’re…unable to do anything but starve and fight and eat each other.

Aside from eating each other’s lunches in the not too distant future, there is also the possibility of extinction due to events beyond our control.  The dinosaurs were wiped off the planet by the impact of a meteorite that was so tremendous that the dust it threw into the atmosphere blocked out the sun for thousands of years. So aside from the Velcro and Astronaut Ice Cream, the space program must continue to exist for one reason and one reason only: survival. The moon is a ready-made life raft for humanity. We just need to inflate it and climb aboard.

But there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch, folks. It will take money and brains and brawn.

Throughout history, Government has funded and provided the infrastructure for  exploration of and expansion into unknown territory. Did King Ferdinand shrug his shoulders over the New World after Columbus’ first trip? Did Thomas Jefferson merely say, “Thanks for finding the Great Falls of the Missouri. No need to go any further. Come on back to St. Louis, now.” to Lewis and Clark? Absolutely not! These men (and others like them throughout history) knew the importance of the development of new and promising frontiers. They understood that society as a whole would nothing but benefit from newly found resources, increased square footage, and increased freedom. That is why these key individuals set aside the money for exploratory programs. Money attracts the brains which employ the brawn, and the three combine to do great things.

Because of the enormous potential for societal benefit that space exploration has, it should be the last program people fritter about the government spending their tax dollars on.

We, as human beings, must return to the child Luna so that we may raise her and make her into the productive, spectacular, civilization-changing place she can be. It can only be done properly by human hands. I hope the footprints the Apollo astronauts left won’t be the last.

→ 4 CommentsTags: Aviation · Space