Sunday, November 30, 2008

Who is Sparticus?

Do you remember writing your college entrance essay?
For me, it was a horrifying experience because it felt like the whole objective of it was to glorify yourself in 400 words. "Oh, look at me. I'm so wonderful, I worked in a soup kitchen, and I tutored Cambodian immigrants, and I shoveled sidewalks for the elderly." Those people should add: "Never mind that I did all that stuff just so that I could get into your prestigious university and will probably never do any of it ever again."

So, perhaps I should give this disclaimer. This is not about telling you why I'm so wonderful and terrific and why you should care about this blog. I went to the "bad" high school in town, I went to state school for undergrad and graduate school, and I am a proverbial state worker. Clearly, there are a lot of people ahead of me in the worthiness totem-pole.

Please, read this post instead as if you are reading the weather forecast - it's simply for your information.

I am the first-born child, and as such I never let my little sister forget that. As a baby, my doctor once called me tyrannical because even as a months-old baby I would terrorize my parents by crying at night until they carried me from the crib into their bed.
Oh, did I mention that ages 0-7 occurred in Argentina? Yes, I am from the South, deep South. I was born in Godoy Cruz, Province of Mendoza, in the Republic of Argentina. My extended family is still there, with branches scattered in Spain and Australia.

I grew up in Fort Collins. I did not like it there until I left it. That is where my mother and sister still live.

My parents divorced three days before my 10th birthday.

The single most difficult moment in my life was that call from my mother at 11:45pm on April 15th.
I still have not fully recovered from that - and I'm not ready to write about it either.

When I graduated in May with my Masters degree, I became the second person in my entire family with a graduate degree.

Now, I am a part of New York's dysfunction.

When I came to the Northeast in 2006, I could not wait to leave. Now, because of her, I cannot stand to be away.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

New Rule: First Class eligibility

The Capital Region's own A.K. is on her way to the West Coast. I do not know the reason for the trip, but seeing as how it is around Thanksgiving, I am assuming that may have something to do with it.

Based on anonymous sources and web-based research, A.K. was probably on this flight from Albany to Cleveland early this morning. Notice how the flight path cleverly avoided all that mucky weather in Western New York. Well done, pilots.
And now, she is over the midwest on her way to LAX.
And as she waited for her flight to depart, the A.K. checked in with some thoughts on her travel so far. She reported a situation that frequent air travelers have no doubt encountered but have resisted from commenting on due to the sensitivity of the issue. As the premier airplane and airplane accessory commentator in the Greater Washington Park Area, I have no qualms about tackling the controversial issues and I will say what you all have been thinking.

In a tribute to Bill Maher, I will do in the format of a...

New Rule: You cannot fly first class unless you are old enough to appreciate it.

Not only is it a waste of money to do so, but it's cruel to all the other passengers, like the A.K., who have to parade past 7-year olds in first class on the way to their cramped seats in the back of the plane. What's the point of unlimited legroom if your legs can't even reach the floor?
I'm conflicted about my own mother in first class because I don't think she could reach the floor either. But, that's an issue for another day.

For the record, I am not anti-kid or anti-short people. I was a camp counselor for 6 years (here and here) and I probably would still be one if I didn't, you know, have a mortgage. I just happen to think that a 7-year old in a recliner-size first class seat is a misappropriation of valuable cabin space.

Perhaps the problem is not who is in the first class seat, but the existence of the first class seat in the first place. Let's face it, the class system in airplanes simply perpetuates the divisions between the haves and the have-nots in our society. Isn't it good enough to be better and wealthier than everybody else on the ground? And is the curtain really necessary? Are you all afraid that you're going to catch the "middle-class disease" from us? I hear it's going around.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Party like it's 1978

My Lake George/Greater Adirondack Region Bureau Chief recently sent me this well written defense of airline re-regulation. Yup, a case for more government, and even though I recently wrote about how dysfunctional government can be, I could not agree more.

The airlines were deregulated in 1978, by the aptly called Airline Deregulation Act. This law gave the airlines pretty much free reign to set routes and establish their own prices. Good idea, right? Sadly, Jimmy got this one wrong.
Mr. Elliot outlines eight areas in the airline industry that government would be well advised to become involved in. They are: (1) ticket prices; (2) executive pay; (3) disclosure; (4) human rights; (5) the truth about delays/cancellations; (6) frequent flyer programs; (7) passenger compensation; and (8) common sense - i.e. making airline tickets transferable.

I know nothing about economics. Absolutely dumb as a rock on the subject. But, folks, capitalism in its purest form is a farce due to a little concept that I and others - like Nobel Prize winning economists - like to call market failure. And the fundamental failure of the airline industry is that it is, for all intensive purposes (that was for you), a cartel.

Allow me to explain why that is the case. The product being offered is homogenous, there are relatively few providers, and there has been a fairly transparent allocation of territories. Delta owns Atlanta, Northwest has Detroit, and American is king in Dallas. Sure, perhaps it's not perfect territorial allocation, but try flying into Atlanta on any airline other than Delta. How's that ticket price treating you?

And, by the way, if you think I'm on the fringe for thinking this, then "Hi, welcome to the fringe, BBC."

Therefore, under this assumption that the airline industry suffers from an incorrigible market failure, then Mr. Elliot's points are valid. Consequenlty, in an industry where the market has failed, government has a duty to become involved.

Of course, government probably won't get involved, which is odd because I think that most of the legislation that comes before my desk involves issues that legislators should be keeping their noses out of. But, the airline industry is powerful, and I am sure that just like Michigan lawmakers were beholden to the failing car industry for decades, the airline people are probably friendly with the right lawmakers.

Instead of enacting the bold regulations that we deserve, the public will instead be left, as is usually the case, with a talking points-style press release promising accountability, and "further study" and a reiteration of how Congressperson So-and-so cares about airline passengers, and blah blah blah.

And be sure to hold on to that press release, because it will make for a good meal when you are stranded for 14 hours at the tarmac and the airline is charging $27 for a bag of stale peanuts.

We'll get more of this.
And less of this.
Come on, Congress. Do it for the children.

I got the call

In high school, I never really knew what it was like to wait by the phone for that special girl to call. Let's face it - I was on the debate team, you don't get over that sort of stigma too easily. But at least it's not like I expected the call, you know?

Last night was different, though. I was waiting for my mistress to call, that lady they call "Hockey."

Since I am not yet a full-time member of the Night Owls Hockey League, I am forced to wait for open spots before I can lace up for the game. And last night, right as I was losing hope and thinking that Lady Hockey was taking a pass on this Argentinean, she called.

And what a night it was. I played on the left wing.

Not this one. This one. It was, by all measures, another very close game. Close in chances. Close in shots. Close in falls. And, most importantly perhaps, close in score. The first period ended 3-2 in favor of the other guys. We came out roaring out of the gates in the second, tying it at 3-all in the first shift, and then going ahead 4-3 on a goal by Brian, assisted by yours truly. After 2, the score was 5-4.

And then came my moment of glory. With about 10 minutes remaining in the game, I came in on a line change, picked up a loose puck at their blue line, darted in untouched and put in a glorious shot over the goalie's glove. I probably could not do that again in a thousand tries. But that was the only try that mattered. That gave us a 6-4 lead, which was a margin that we needed, since they grinded out a goal with 5 minutes to go.

So the line after two games: 1 goal, 2 assists (3 points); 1 GW goal, 1 GW assist. Not too shabby.

I did not have to wait until the last minute for my next date with this icy mistress. She came calling again this morning. Next Sunday, 7pm, Albany County Hockey Facility. Be there.

For those of you worried that this post does not deal tangentially enough with "Airplanes I Have Known," then consider that:
1. Alex Tanguay, pictured above, is a left winger, formerly of the Colorado Avalanche, who scored the game-winning, series-clinching goal in the Game 7 of the 2001 Stanley Cup Finals, which...

2. Allowed the legendary Ray Bourque, pictured below, to finally lift the Cup after 20+ years in the National Hockey League, and whose autograph graces the back of my copy of "Crime and Punishment" because...
3. He was waiting for his daughter at Denver International after she flew in the seat next to me on a flight from Boston to Denver, a moment which...

4. I consider to be my first date.


Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Being on stand-by at work

Have you ever flown stand-by? You know, when you go to the airport hoping to get on a flight because for one reason or another you had to suddenly change your plans.

Well, I had to do it once. I was flying to Argentina for the holidays one December and my scheduled flight from LaGuardia to Miami was so delayed that I feared I was going to miss my Miami-Santiago connection. I ended up flying stand-by to Miami on an earlier flight out of LaGuardia and barely made my next connection.

It was gut-wrenching. It was nerve-wracking. I was literally the last person called onto the plane. I would not want to do it again.

Except for that my whole job is like flying stand-by. Allow me to explain. So, you may have heard on the news that there is, shall we say, an economic crisis happening. The Governor called a special session to make some budget cuts in light of said economic crisis. Turns out that this very hyped and anticipated special session...well, it basically did not happen. Instead, we got a full hour of some of the best reality TV I have ever seen (another clip here) in the form of a televised 5-way leader's meeting.

So, this last week at work, for all intents and purposes, was like flushing money down the toilet. All the work. All the analysis. All the meetings. All the memos. All the charts. Yeah, they are not looking all that worthwhile right now.

Don't get me wrong. I still enjoy my job very much. I just happen to work for an institution that thrives on last-minute action (or inaction, if you will).
And today as I sat at my desk at the Alfred E Smith Office Building, all that inaction made it feel like I was flying stand-by all over again because all we did was wait. And we waited some more. And we waited for session to be called. And we waited for the education team to be summoned. And we waited for something, anything to happen. And in the end, the flight (i.e. the special session) was cancelled.

The so-called experts have various tips for flying stand-by. I condensed their suggestions into these four main ideas:
1. Don't check luggage.
2. Get to the airport as early as possible.
3. Call the airline ahead of time.
4. Stay at the gate until the doors close.

These are great ideas, but they do not do anything for me at work. So, if you find yourself on stand-by at work, follow these simple tips:
1. Pack four hearty meals. (Preferably in your Green Bag).
2. Make sure your cellphone is fully charged the night before the magically disappearing special session.
3. Park your car in a spot that won't require you to move it for at least three days. (Albany readers, you know what I mean.)
4. Think that you'll be home by midnight, that way getting home earlier than that will seem like a blessing in comparison.
5. Make sure to take plenty of bathroom breaks, otherwise you could get uromisotisis poisoning and die.
6. Get a job with the minority party so that nobody really cares if you are there or not. (Yes, that was mean, but it's true.)
7. Use your extra time at work to send President Bush a thank you card for his wonderful stewardship of the US economy.
8. Learn a foreign language - or in my case, try to finally get a good grasp of English.
9. Start a hunting expedition to kill the office mouse. Behead it and display the severed head as an example to all the other mice.
10. Blog about it.New York State Government: Because somebody has to make Congress look good.

Monday, November 17, 2008

A triumphant return to the ice

Last night I returned to organized hockey after a 3-year hiatus. Back during my time in NoCo, I was very involved in both roller and ice hockey. I was playing, at one point, on three teams: the Brew Crew, Proformance Auto, and the "Red" team. I had every intention of keeping up some level of involvement when I got to Albany, but it was not to be. I could not find a rink that I liked or a league that fit my skills. That all changed last Sunday when I went to the Albany County Hockey Facility, located just off of Runway 10/28 at Albany International Airport. Last Sunday, while I was waiting for drop-in to start, I saw the end of the game of a league that seemed to match my skill level and speed to a T.

Short story shorter, I played last night in front of a packed house of four fans, one of which was decidedly cuter than the others.

And what a match it was. The team I played for, the "Black" team, snatched victory from the jaws of defeat, winning 4-3 after coming back from 3 one goal deficits. Yours truly assisted on the game-winner 47 seconds into the final period.

It was not all grood times last night. It took me just about the first two periods to get some rhythm, and I felt like I had no legs all night. In drop-in hockey, there is a decidedly lack of interest in hustling back for defense, so I was not used to all the intense up and down skating required when you are actively interested in the results.Of special note, the wonderful people at Albany International were using Runway 1 (opposite end pictured above) as the active, which means that players and spectators alike were treated to two takeoffs almost immediately above the facility during the course of the game.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Voluntary Guidelines: Code for Doing Nothing At All

This week, a federal commission looking into whether there is a need for a passenger's bill of rights reported their recommendations. The commission came about as a result of the inhumane and unacceptable conditions that many stranded passengers had to endure during the Valentine's Day snow storm two years ago. If you recall, during that incident, passengers were stuck without food, water, or access to the bathrooms as their aircraft sat delayed on the tarmac for hours.

The commission, shockingly dominated by the airline industry, not so shockingly recommended that airlines adopt voluntary guidelines.

Now, I'm no pundit, I know nothing about politics. But, aren't voluntary guidelines what got us into trouble on Wall Street? Voluntary guidelines are the political equivalent of punting - they come after failure to do anything meaningful and you're out of ideas.

What happens when you give a child a "voluntary guideline" such as: "Timmy, it would be nice if you could mow the lawn. I would really like that, but you don't have to if you don't really want to. Only do it if you want to, it's not a big deal. But it would be nice if you would mow the lawn, you know, since I have robotic arms and work five jobs and I can't really do it. But if you don't want to mow the lawn, don't worry about it. It's O.K. Really. Only if you really want to."

Let me tell you a little story: Timmy ain't mowin' the lawn.

My mother never used voluntary guidelines. She always used her favorite grammatical form: the imperative, which goes something like this: "Mow the lawn now if you expect to eat dinner tonight - and look like you're enjoying it, too."

And I mowed and I enjoyed it.

So, basically, the commission is saying go with option 1 and the airline industry promises they will magically do the right thing. Nothing could possibly go wrong with this idea.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

I didn't know Governor Paterson could fly...

...but that's what I thought when one of my contributors alerted me about a blind pilot landing safely the other day.

But alas, it was not Governor Paterson that landed the plane, but rather 65 year old Jim O'Neill, a British man who suffered a stroke that caused temporary blindness while flying a Cessna.This is pretty impressive, to say the least. I can barely walk a straight line, and I have functional use of both eyes. And Mr. O'Neill had to account for altitude changes, wind, and other factors.

Think about it this way: it would not even be that easy to pull your car into the garage with someone on the radio giving you directions. Just imagine not being able to judge depth, distances, and speed. Plus, consider that when Mr. O'Neill landed, he did not really have a chance to slam on the brakes if something went suddenly wrong. And he was not landing at 3 mph.

For the sake of scientific research, I attempted the blind car parking experiment with my neighbor Chuck guiding me on the radio. It did not work out too well.Clearly, the lesson here is: don't do stupid things just to prove a point if they are not covered by your car insurance.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

New Flight Sim hub

These past few weeks have been busy on the Flight Simulator front. After the necessary technological upgrades made it possible to start using the Century of Flight edition, I have been making multiple flights on a nightly basis.

The Learjet 45 is really a great fly in this game. It is a very fast aircraft, and it is challenging to fly, yet a novice user like myself can still manage to land it neatly most of the time. Unfortunately, I have not made any progress with the larger aircraft, even after I had set the goal of landing the Boeing 737 by the general election. No such luck, though. I came close a couple of times, and my technique is improving. But I have the hardest time lining up to the runway, even if my approach is good. God, it's frustrating.

I have been using Burlington International as my hub of choice during most of this, and I am running flights throughout the Northeast. My destinations include Bangor, ME, Portland, ME, Martha's Vineyard, MA, Albany, NY, Syracuse, NY, and Long Island (MacArthur Airport), NY.I had this visitor pull up at the gate next to me during a stop in Albany. Maybe this is the closest I will ever come to landing a B737.
The appeal of these destinations is that they rarely require longer than a 30 minute commitment. Although I dearly enjoy all my Flight Simulator time, I find that the flying part is rather boring, and it is the landings that really get my juices flowing. So, with these destinations I rarely spend more than 20 minutes in flight and the rest of the time is spent on the approach, final, and - hopefully- landing.

Speaking of which, here is one of the better touchdowns. It occurred at Martha's Vineyard.
I chose Burlington as a hub because the airport is fairly easy to spot and the approach is predictable. The active runway in the game is 33, which means that most of my approaches, which hail from the south, allow me to fly right in instead of having to maneuver around. I can't say the same for Portland, ME, which is my secondary hub. Those jerks have had me landing on 36, which really annoys the heck out of me.

To keep the simulation as real as possible, I make a point to "address" the passengers and let them know when they can move about the cabin and when they have to return to their seats. I know it sounds strange, but - I'm strange.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

The best part about being POTUS: Air Force One

I am conflicted about the end of this election cycle. Don't get me wrong - I was very happy about the results, and in fact I only voted for one loser (I'll let you guess). But now that the election is over, it will throw off my entire daily routine. I would get up in the morning, turn watch "Morning Joe" on MSNBC while I got ready for work. I would check almost ALL the polls and almost ALL the blogs - and did so about every 10 minutes. And of course, this election provided fodder for this blog, which in my mind has almost become my full-time occupation.

But, even though I will have to work harder to stay busy and find stuff to blog about, I cannot put into words the satisfaction and closure I felt as I voted.My trip to Scranton, PA on election day was quite fulfilling. I drove down there after voting downtown. I got to Scranton, and they asked me to go to Carbondale, PA - which is about 20 minutes northwest of the Scranton-Wilkes/Barre region.

This region was Hillary Country during the Democratic primary. She won big in this area (by about a 3-1 margin), and so there was a legitimate concern that President-elect Obama was going to struggle bringing these voters home. In the end, Lackawanna County came out in huge numbers for the Democrats - by almost a 2-1 margin. And the region also re-elected two vulnerable Democratic Congressmen (Kajorski and Carney).

I canvassed with Ned, who it turns out, did doctoral work with my stepfather at CSU in the 1970's. Small world, right? We were targeting people who had indicated they were going to vote for Obama, so it was nice in the sense that most of our encounters were love fests. Only one person had changed their mind and decided not to vote. I had been very concerned about this experience. I have been diagnosed as a homosapienaphobic - that is, I am afraid of talking to people. Especially strange people, and even more especially about politics. But, all in all, my experience was quite fulfilling, and I will do it again in 2012. (!!!)

It will be truly a beautiful image to see President Obama in the White House. But it will be equally beautiful to see him boarding Air Force One, which I expect he will have to do a lot as he travels the world to rehabilitate all the valuable relationships that have been damaged by the last 8 years. Hopefully, the sight of this aircraft landing in airports around the world will no longer incite anger - but rather HOPE. Except maybe anger about that horrible Harrison Ford movie, that would be justified.

Monday, November 3, 2008

A whole new meaning to "airing" political ads

Here is another example of aviation's impact in this year's transformational national election. Senator McCain is toast in Colorado following this sighthing over Mile High Stadium on Sunday:
Look, I grew up in Colorado, and outsiders underestimate the importance of the Broncos, and by extension the complete and total detestation of the Raiders. Coloradoans are such Broncomaniacs, that, in fact, political scientists have theorized that the power structure in Colorado looks something like this:

1. Governor
2. Speaker of the House
3. Senate President
4. Broncos quarterback
5. Joe Sakic

Number 5 on the list is why this did not help either:
I'll be roadtripping to Scranton, PA tomorrow to GOTV (or "get out the vote" for the laymen). Even though I am feeling optimistic, I cannot justify standing on the sidelines when the other side has put all their chips into a neighboring state.

Which reminds me, John McCain thinks Mike Schmidt couldn't hit water if he fell off a boat and that Donovan McNabb throws like a girl.

Just sayin'. (Wink)