Thursday, December 27, 2012

Looking Ahead into the Murk

I said some of this in a comment on my previous post, but I know lots of people don't read comments, so I'll say it again, and add some more so that those who do read comments aren't getting ripped off. 

In the days before Blogger allowed me to pre-schedule posts I had to be at a computer at the moment a blog entry posted. Finally Blogger added the much-requested feature of post-dating, allowing me to designate the date and time a post would appear. This allowed me to write lots of posts when I had lots of time and have them appear when I was too busy to post. It also allowed me to respond to a reader's concern that  if I stopped posting without notice, they wouldn't know what had happened to me. I knew that if that happened it would be because either I wasn't all right, I had lost access to the account, or I had become absorbed by something else. I wrote a post that was intended to cover any of those possibilities, and postdated it by six months or so. Every time I've noticed it getting close to posting, I've changed the date on it to further into the future. Until I got really really absorbed in something.

That happened about a year and a half ago, when you probably saw my blogging slow down, and then my job changed to include some desk duties at the same time that another of my hobbies expanded to take up the time I used to spend blogging. I think about blogging fairly often, but when I'm on the road I'm usually straight from the airport to dinner to hotel bed, to flight planning over breakfast and back to the plane. I may wait there for a couple of hours, but have you ever tried to write a blog entry on an iPhone?
I  really appreciate the support readers have given me, and I've had a lot of fun writing my stories and meeting great people over the years. I haven't deleted the blog because I probably will continue to write blog entries. I still think in blogese sometimes.  I know some of you, and probably my favourites of you, do understand that telling the world about my life is logically less important than taking care of my own friends and family, keeping strong and fit, and regrouting my bathroom. Blogging is definitely more fun than regrouting the bathroom, but regrouting the bathroom is m ore fun than dealing with the ceiling falling in, right?
Meanwhile I will share two strategies for coping with elderly relatives who ask the same questions or tell you the same story over and over again all day.

Technique #1: Groundhog Day

This strategy is named after the movie of the same name, in which the main character was forced to relive the same day over and over again. After working through denial and anger--the way you probably want to respond the fifth time in an hour the same relative offers you a food they used to know you didn't eat--Bill Murray's character sets out to make his endlessly repeated February 2nd the best day ever. He puts himself in the right place to catch a child falling out of a tree, says just the right things to make everyone happy, and so on. Each time you repeat the explanation that Aunt Bea is absent from the gathering because she has the flu, the explanation should improve. Eventually you look and feel brilliant, and if you're really good you may hit on an explanation that holds.

Technique #2: Take Two

Some explanations don't improve on repetition. I still don't want a glass of wine. The correct answer is still "no thank you."  It's not, despite how much I want it to be, "No godamnit. and if you ask me again I will put that wine bottle somewhere you don't want it either." In this situation you are in a movie. Your role is the loving relative, and the director has asked you to play the scene again. Your co-star might not get his or her lines correct, so you may need to ad lib to match them, but nothing in your performance must let on that you are on take seventeen of the same scene. You could try reading the line a little differently. Do the best job you can. Get it perfect and the imaginary director may let you move on to the next scene. Or maybe they want to try the same thing with different lighting.

I watched a memory reboot cycle a few days ago between A, an elderly person, and B, a person with celiac disease. The latter can't eat wheat, so has brought his own rice crackers, which happened to be wasabi flavoured.

A: Would you like some crackers? [offering a basket of mixed wheat and rice crackers, which the celiac can't eat, from, because the wheat contaminates the other food on contact]
B: No thank you. I can't eat those.
A: [sees B eating a cracker from his own supply] Are you allowed to eat those?
B: Yes.
A: May I have one?
B: Yes, they're wasabi-flavoured, so you might find them too hot.
A: [tries one] Ow, this is hot.

Ten minutes passes. Dialogue repeats, almost to the word. As it started again for the third time, the celiac hid the wasabi crackers and ended the cycle. It was especially disturbing because I couldn't pass it off as not paying attention or not really understanding that someone couldn't eat a cracker. It was failure to learn from one's own recent sensory experience of pain. I was going to say that even earthworms can do that, but it turns out that after 500 tries at a maze with pain at one fork and a reward at the other, earthworms show only a statistical tendency to choose the better option. But chihuahuas can probably get it in two. And on a deeper level I know that I'm not immortal. As I review aspects of the systems of the airplane I fly all year, I learn facts that I know I must have studied last year, but have forgotten about. I've read over the new aerodrome operating visibility rules for arrivals and departures at controlled and uncontrolled airports at least five times, but I still can't bet on remembering what is first and second priority for determining visibility at an uncontrolled aerodrome. Will the interval slowly shorten and the required repetitions increase until I can't remember for ten minutes what I've studied ten times?

Much of the my problem with the low visibility operations rules is that it isn't really clear why the options for determining visibility are presented the way they are. I usually learn things by understanding them, or at least by imposing some structure on them. Does the brain lose the ability to hold structures over time? Is there someway to strengthen its structure so it can continue to support the things I need to learn and remember? Current theory says that maintaining the brain is similar to maintaining the body's structure: use it or lose it. Keep exercising, stress it, allow it to rest, and keep mixing up the challenges.

Let me see if I can put some structure on the low visibility rules. At an aerodrome with a tower, low visibility operations for departures and arrivals have the same rules: operating visibility is determined "by the following hierarchy" : 1. RVR (an automated beam measurement), 2. ground visibility given in the METAR (a human observation, possibly but not necessarily taken by the controller), and 3. pilot visibility. According to this, the controller's visibility doesn't enter into the formula. The METAR could be 45 minutes old, and the controller able to report better visibility, but according to the rule as written there, the pilot can't move. Then look at the case when there is no RVR and no METAR. That's a little unusual, but I can think of one aerodrome with a control tower that has no RVR equipment and never has a METAR, so we do get down to what the pilot thinks sometimes. Again we skip what the controller thinks. The ATIS says we're zero-zero in fog and I can see fine, I taxi out. But if I'm at another airport twenty miles away and they have a 0/0 METAR, five miles vis on the ATIS and I can see all the way to the horizon, I can't move. Perhaps I can remember the hierarchy through its stupidity.

For an airport without an operating control tower, the arrivals hierarchy is exactly the same, but for departures, METAR and RVR swap places. I'll have to make up a reason. 

Oh yeah, and then under it all there's a note: "Tower observed visibility does not take precedence over reported ground visibility. Where ground visibility is reported, tower observed visibility is considered advisory only. However where ground visibility is not reported, tower reported visibility replaces ground visibility and needs to be considered in determination of the aerodrome operating visibility." 

See what they did there? They made a rule and then undermined it with a note.  Why didn't they just say 1. RVR 2. METAR 3. tower reported visibility 4. pilot visibility?  In reality everything is as murky as peering into blowing snow in the dark. The human taking the ground visibility observation for the METAR is going to be influenced by  her knowledge of the current RVR reading, the visibilities pilots are reporting, and the number of airplanes sitting on the apron with no gate to go to. There's another page and a half of this stuff in the CAP GEN, most of which boils down to "pilots should not taxi around when they can't see far enough ahead to operate safely."

I don't know what's in front of me right now, but have a good year behind me and wish you all a good one ahead. When I get the bathroom regrouted I might even blog about some of it.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Screaming Busy

If this gets posted, I have stopped blogging for long enough to forget this was here. Likely I've run out of prewritten blog entries. I've probably lost interest, internet access, or my password. Or maybe I got a life. Expect the comments section on this entry to contain a note from someone who knows I'm okay, and then a note from me telling you to stop e-mailing me already, because if I'm too busy to blog I'm probably not reading my blog e-mail either.

Busy. Will blog or officially end blog later.

Or if no one turns up to claim I'm okay, then perhaps I'm not, but you are absolutely forbidden to post, quote, read or even refer to the poem High Flight in my memory. I hate it and anyone disregarding this notice will be cut from my will, banned or evicted from my funeral, forbidden to comment on my blog, and haunted by malevolent spirits. Not even mine. Malevolent douchebag spirits whom I'll designate.