Here and Now

 

Earl and I went out for lunch this afternoon. This not out of the ordinary for us, especially during the weekend. The experience was enjoyable. Our restaurant of choice was a local diner that is open until only 2:00 p.m. on Sundays. Luckily, they still offer the lunch menu; many diners or family restaurants in the area serve only breakfast on Sundays. I find this disappointing as I’m not a big breakfast-food kind of guy.

Lately I have been making a conscious effort to not use my smartphone in anyway when sitting in a restaurant. Well, I should take that back. When seated for a meal, I will tell Earl that I’m checking in on social media and then I’ll set my phone on the table, face down. Outside of taking a photo or something, I consider the phone off limits until we are ready to leave.

This smartphone approach has afforded me the opportunity to enjoy the company of others at the table and to observe the activities in our immediate area of the restaurant. As an avid people watcher, I have to admit that I’m always curious to see others in their natural habitat.

The first woman I noticed was younger, I’d guess somewhere between high school and college graduation. She was dressed casually and had joined a table of seven others. I guessed they were family. The vibe from the table was that it was some sort of “catching up” scenario; the snippets of conversation that permeated the atmosphere of the diner included questions about travel and college.

The reason I noticed this woman was because when she was served her pancake breakfast, she busied herself by demonstratively cutting up the entire stack of pancakes into a small, bite sized portions. All three or four pancakes on her plate were chopped up in this manner. Her cutting motions were large, in fact, this is what originally caught my eye. I remarked to Earl that it had been a long while since I saw someone cut their food up in a restaurant in this manner; he asked if there was a toddler at the table as it sounded like she was cutting up the pancakes for a four year old or something. No, she was cutting up the pancakes for herself. This type of table habits run directly contrary to anything I was ever taught, read from Miss Manners or witnessed on “Downton Abbey”. Granted, at one time in my life I held my fork like a shovel (it was several decades ago), so I’m really not an authority on table manners, but her approach to eating, which was repeated with the sausage and other extraneous meats on her plate, struck me as quite odd. The baby approach to culinary manners did not match the air of young adult that she was trying to portray. I found this humorous.

I did notice that between her portion-controlled bites she would glance down at her lap. A shift in my gaze confirmed that she had an iPhone 5C (in mint green) sitting in her lap. Apparently, something in cyberspace was more important than the family gathering that I was observing.

Earl and I were chatting about how our waitress resembled Vera from “Alice”, Earl was happy she didn’t fling straws all over the place, when a couple a few tables over caught my gaze. Both were older; if I had to guess I’d peg them in their mid 60s. They appeared to be married, but for all I know they were having an affair that spanned decades, but my money is on married. The reason I’m thinking they were married is because they weren’t, at least to my knowledge, interacting with each other in any way. Before the food arrived, while they had food in front of them and after they had finished their meal, they were both engrossed in their smartphones. Casual observation confirmed that the man had an iPhone 4S or older and the woman had an iPhone 5 or newer. They were both so involved with their iPhones that they didn’t even look at each other. When the food was delivered, while they were perusing over the menu, their gazes barely ever averted from their smartphones and at each other. Earl suggested that perhaps they were texting each other, but I don’t think that was the case.

These observations were made by my casual glances and such. Earl and I continued a lovely discussion as we enjoyed the moment in that little diner together this morning. I’m happy to be in a place where I still enjoy the company of those I spend time with and putting my smartphone down on the table, upside down and outside of my peripheral vision, confirmed that the best moment is the moment enjoyed in the here and now.

Solo.

So on Sunday I went on a solo flight that wasn’t part of my official requirements to becoming a Private Pilot. Any flight time where I’m Pilot In Command is good and I’m always looking to get all the hours I can get, but the purpose of this trip was special to me. I wanted to fly into a Fly-In Breakfast this year and I wanted to go to the airport where my Dad belonged to the local chapter of EAA.

My instructor and I flew to KFZY, or Oswego County Airport in Fulton, a couple of weeks ago together so he would feel comfortable with my performance and endorse my logbook so I could make the flight solo as student pilots have restrictions when they’re flying the airplane alone. The flight to and from KFZY went without a hitch and I was given the endorsement to make the flight solo. I was very excited and barely slept the night before, though I felt great that morning and was more than ready, willing and able to make the flight.

The flight was awesome. The weather was perfect, there wasn’t a bump in the sky. The airplane handled wonderfully and I felt very confident behind the controls. One of the new experiences of this flight was the I was flying into a non-towered airport; in these instances, the pilots talk to each other on a common frequency and everyone works together to keep the area in and out and around the airport safe. The only caveat to this is that at smaller airports, some of the airplanes don’t even have radios, so you have to just kind of watch out for them. The important thing is that everyone is doing what is expected of them and that keeps things predictable and as safe as possible. Being predictable is an important part of training to become a pilot.

If you want to get a sense of what the traffic going in and out of the airport was like, I made a video of the experience. It’s rather long clocking in at 14+ minutes, but it gives one the sense of what I was hearing and watching for.

Earl was kind enough to drive back and forth to the airport so that we could have breakfast together. I told him that he shouldn’t have to drive to meet me for much longer because once I get my license we’ll be flying everywhere together. I am really looking forward to that day, but only if it’s as safe as possible for the both of us.

The flight in and out of the “non-home” airport was a good challenge for me and ultimately went well. While I was there I spoke with some other pilots and even showed one the photo in the office of my Dad standing next to his AcroSport II.

It was an amazing experience and just confirmed for me that becoming private pilot is one of the best decisions I have ever made.

IMG_0473Busy breakfast line. Delicious food served up by the Civil Air Patrol.

IMG_0482Posing next to the airplane before departing back home.

IMG_0485A shot of Interstate 81 as it crosses over the eastern end of Oneida Lake between Central Square and Brewerton. No, driving a vehicle and flying an airplane are not the same and while I don’t have a habit of using my smartphone while flying, I had the airplane at a point where I could snap this quick photo without anything startling happening.

All Night Long.

I have been working all night. It’s not like the nightmare of my old on-call days; this was a scheduled server maintenance that had to be done. Corporate growth and all that. The “maintenance window”, as we call it in the biz, is until 7 a.m. Right now the folks that are migrating data are at 70% complete. If it’s not done by 6:30 a.m., all will be aborted and I get to schedule another all-nighter.

I live such an exhilarating life.

I am looking forward to going to sleep in a couple of hours. I took a 90 minute nap yesterday evening. I had planned on four hours with the hopes that it would be enough to get me through the night but my body only wants to sleep when it wants to sleep and that’s all there is to it. Luckily, I’m doing pretty good right now.

I started writing some code while waiting for the server to do its thing but when I couldn’t make heads or tails of what I had just written 30 minutes prior to any given moment, I decided that it wouldn’t be a good idea for me to write code for an application that is considered “mission critical”. I decided to just get organized and do “busy work” until I got the “all clear” signal from the team that gives those sorts of signals.

I seemed to use more quotation marks than normal in that last paragraph.

So I am sitting here with bated breath waiting for that quoted “all clear” signal so I can finish doing my portion of this server migration.

I’m really looking forward to sleeping in a little bit. I hope to have pleasant dreams. Actually, I hope to be dreaming about flying, because there is no way that I would past the “F” (fatigue) in the IMSAFE self assessment I do for piloting an airplane.

I know my limits.

Forced Networking.

This entry originally appeared on my Google+ stream.

It was the mid part of last week that I decided that I was not enjoying the disjointed Foursquare / Swarm experience, so I deleted both apps off of my smartphone. This actually made me a little sad for a couple of reasons. I had been actively using Foursquare and contributing to that ecosystem since shortly after its inception and when my husband and I went on our road trips (which can be several thousand miles long once or twice a year), it was fun to check in places that we had been before and subsequently be reminded of this fact by Foursquare. We also liked playing “spot the mayor”, something that didn’t happen very often but happened time to time, nonetheless.

We embarked on our latest road trip this past Thursday, and it was the first time in nearly five years that we didn’t use Foursquare in any way to find local eateries and the like. He used Yelp to a certain degree, I opted to use the Google ecosystem.  My tools were the various Google apps that are available for iOS.

It was wonderful.

One of the things that I really, really like about using Google for location-aware services and discovery is that everything is integrated together. There’s not a lot of app hopping (like going from Swarm to Foursquare) and if there is some app hopping involved, it still feels quite integrated. And because I’m now using Google services for this type of location discovery, the Google Now experience is becoming even more predictive. Predictive is good. This type of prediction is where Google is jumping leaps and bounds beyond what Apple has to offer through iOS’s Siri.

So, in an ironic way, I have to thank Foursquare for kind of screwing up their ecosystem to the extent that it made this loyal user look elsewhere for information. Had Foursquare continued with their integrated experience, I would have never realized the value of Google and its contribution to the arena.

Let’s hope that Google continues to improve their offerings on all platforms. If they do, I shall continue to be a very happy user.

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Connection.

Last night I was working my volunteer shift at Oshkosh AirVenture 2014. I was stationed at register 78 at the South Admissions Gate. I had an hour training and since the associated systems are geared toward volunteers, I was processing entry tickets and wristbands and the like like a pro. I have to admit that it felt good to give back to the aviation community this way. Next year I am going to work a couple shifts instead of just one.

One of the things that made me feel at ease was the friendliness of everyone: the EAA staff, the volunteers, even 99% of the customers were all very pleasant. People were smiling. My shyness was immediately disarmed. It was great to be around so many folks in the General Aviation community.

While at my station, three gentlemen walked up. After a few moments of conversation, it was determined that it was a grandad, dad and son. They had flown in from Tennessee and had flown into Oshkosh in their Cessna 172 for the day. Aside from a tent that they kept in their airplane, they were not prepared to spend the night, however, Flight Service was recommending against departure to wherever they were going due to stormy weather in the area. Their 172 was parked in a “no camping zone” on the grounds and they had no way to get anywhere. They were looking for a ride to one of the many massive camping areas at AirVenture. They were going to pitch the tent and just sleep in it; no sleeping bags, no change of clothes, no toothbrush.

The conversation involved more and more people as it went on. Options were discussed, predicaments were rehashed. Finally, a volunteer that lives locally chimed in.

“Why don’t the three of you stay at our house tonight.”

Now, she’d never met these gentlemen before. She just knew that fellow aviators needed a little help and she simply offered them a place to stay. The guys resisted in a very southern-gentlemenly type way. She insisted, so they thanked her and offered her the same if she ever got to Nashville, where they lived. It turns out she had never been to Nashville before but she would love to visit some time, it had just been out of her budget. She was delighted.

As a kid I had seen that type of exchange before with other pilot clubs and while I’m most certain that this type of generosity is not confined to the likes of aviators, it was her gesture that reminded me of just how wonderful to General Aviation community can be to one another.

Maumee, Ohio.

So this morning Earl and I woke up in lovely Maumee, Ohio. For those unfamiliar with the geography of The Buckeye State, we are just outside of Toledo. Our intention was to find a hotel somewhere just west of Cleveland, but hotels are very popular in Ohio and we ended up here in Maumee.

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Yesterday after work we embarked on our summer road trip to Oshkosh, Wisconsin. The drive is a long one but well worth it.

I’m always up for a good adventure.

The Beard Rant.

I haven’t ranted in a while, but I recently saw on an image on Instagram that motivated me.

THERES-A-NAME-FOR-PEOPLE-WITHOUT-BEARDS...-WOMEN_THUMB

“There’s a name for people without beards… women”. “There’s a place for men without beards… the lady’s room”. Ah, such humor and wit can be found in these little memes that populate the Internet. Occasionally the sounds of the guffaws are deafening.

The next time you decide to perpetuate things such as “a face without a beard belongs on a woman”, please remember this:

  • Men without beards are protecting your right to say stupid shit by serving in our military.
  • Men without beards are protecting your stupid shit by being an officer of the law or a fireman.
  • Men without beards are flying your stupid ass all over the world in airplanes.

So, by all means, please feel free to step onto Fort Drum or Fort Bragg or Quantico or Parris Island and tell the guys there that because they don’t have a beard, they are obviously not a “real man”.

And by the way, ladies are no more “less than” than men because they don’t have a beard. Someone in the world has to put up with stupid crap and quite frankly, the ladies do a fine job of it.

Foursquare Four Squares Back.

One of the cool things about being active in the various social media platforms is that one is usually able to go back and see what they’ve done over the years. I often use this blog as a memory repository of sorts; just yesterday I asked Earl if he remembered an event that we had enjoyed together back in 2008. When I mentioned this his face lit up with the recollection of the memory, as if he hadn’t thought about that happy occasion since. It was a moment of joy.

One of the social media platforms that I have been very involved with since nearly it’s beginning is Foursquare. If you’re unfamiliar with the app/network, up until recently Foursquare allowed you to check in at a location, for example, “I’m at Dunkin’ Donuts at 123 Main Street in Anytown, USA”. You would see whom from Foursquare was also currently at the location and you could read tips and such from other users that had checked in at the same location. I was big on leaving tips and suggestions for others. If you were a frequent visitor of a location, you became “Mayor”. Some establishments would give you a little goody or discount for being the mayor. It was a loyal customer perk.

Foursquare recently announced that they were going to take the country into a new, exciting direction and focus more on location discovery. Check ins would still be part of the experience, but the whole check in process would be moved to a new app called “Swarm”. Swarm allowed you to check in and it would allow you the opportunity to see whom was at the same location, but only if that person was on your friends list. There’s no longer an opportunity to meet strangers or vie for the title of mayor with a person you don’t know. The whole mayor thing was put on hold, instead you earn stickers.

When you check into a location on Swarm and you decide to leave a tip, you get moved over to the “new and improved” Foursquare, which gives you the details of the location and the opportunity to leave a suggestion. The experience of having to move between two applications, especially when everything used to be a cohesive experience, leaves a lot to be desired. It’s clunky, it’s slow and more importantly, two apps take twice as much room on your iPhone and they seem to drain your battery faster. (Location monitoring is now done by two applications instead of one).

Users have been complaining about it like crazy on Facebook and Twitter, but Foursquare has been nearly silent on the issue. The CEO, Dennis Crowley, simply tweeted that “change is hard”, which pretty much meant that users are SOL. The user experience and input, which has been an integral part of the crowd sourcing and data mining that powers Foursquare in the first place, has been pushed aside because the company “knows better”. The fact that both applications are now averaging a satisfaction rating of 1 out of 5 stars on both the iOS App Store and Google Play apparently means little to Foursquare, they know best.

Now, it’s stuff like this that makes me absolutely insane. As a fairly rational human being, this stuff shouldn’t bother me at all; I simply delete both apps and wipe my hands clean of this social network. That has been my intent and that’s what I did. The issue is, I used to get a kick out of seeing when the last time I had been to, say, Culver’s in Michigan City, Indiana. It would spark a conversation with Earl about the last time we had been there. I liked trying to spot the mayor at Pat’s Steaks in Philly. I didn’t have the nerve to say anything to him, but seeing him there was kind of cool.

I know I’m not alone in this assessment of the “new” Foursquare. There’s been plenty of complaints on Twitter and the like. The one thing that I wonder about is why Foursquare decided to shun the input of their users and go forward with some nebulous vision that few seem to have a handle on.

Granted, there are plenty of bigger issues in the world today, but it’s kind of weird to see a company commit what appears to be commercial suicide. I had higher hopes for the 21st century.

Speaking To The Past.

While I was on one of my daily bike rides the other day, I came to the realization that with the passing of my 46th birthday, I have been legally driving a vehicle for 30 years. I found this a little hard to believe, because I never feel like I’ve been in this life for that long, and the idea of three decades passing since taking that written test for my learner’s permit was slightly startling. Because cycling puts me in a “zen” mode, these thoughts led to the pondering of what I would say to my 16-year old self; what nuggets of life experience would I say to my younger self if I had the opportunity to.

1. Try not to care about what others think. Now I know that’s not easy for a 16 year old boy that’s trying to navigate his way to his life path, a path that you know is different from many of those around you, but caring about what others think is going to hold you back. It has taken me a really long time to figure that out.

2. Dad loves you more than you’ll ever realize. He doesn’t say it that much but he shows it in his way, even though you don’t always see these gestures. He’s proud of you for being just the man you’re going to be and that’s something you’ll realize later on.

3. The music teacher thing is just a diversion. I know you’re going to try for that degree because that’s what you feel you’re suppose to do, but it’s just a diversion. Go with it, but mark my words, you’ll learn a lot more about life than about music when you go to college. You’ll end up doing what you really want to do.

4. Maintain that inquisitive nature when you’re around computers. Keep doing what you’re doing with that Commodore VIC-20. All of that knowledge and skill that you don’t realize you’re developing is going to help you in the long run. Big time.

5. I know you don’t think you’re going to master the art of driving a stick, and yes, I still remember the time we stalled the tractor behind the barn and the dump truck up at the lumber yard, but you’re going to love driving a stick and you’re going to insist that all of your vehicles are a manual transmission. And not only will you be able to drive a stick, you’ll eventually get airborne in those airplanes you dream about.

6. There are millions of people just like you, even though you feel like you’re the only one in our hometown. It’ll get worse before it gets better, but it’s going to be awesome in the long run. And besides, you’re more honest about yourself than others around you. Remember that. Others will appreciate you for being yourself, even the ones that you don’t think would ever understand.

7. The teacher that was kind of a dick to you that one day in class? Yeah, he was a dick through and through.

8. You’re surrounded with a great group of friends. Even the classmates that scare you and that you’re afraid to talk to… you end up having great conversations with them at the high school reunion.

9. Don’t worry, you’re not going to have to put out at the prom. There will be hints about it and maybe some pressure at the senior prom, but you don’t do anything that doesn’t feel right. Enjoy the evening for what it is.

10. Jenn is on your side all the time. And Mom is mom and she stays mom and it’s all good.

11. Don’t be afraid to explore your surroundings and then keep reaching out farther and farther. Folks think we’re crazy for some of the road trips we’ve gone on, but the truth of the matter is, they’re probably jealous.

12. Life turns out to be awesome. Folks probably will think you’re all pollyanna, but remember, you don’t really care what people think when you get to my age, so it’s OK to say that life is awesome, because it really is. You’ll get through the hard parts just fine.

Brain Power.

I live by the philosophy that I should be always striving to improve myself in some way. Whether it’s listening to political radio or reading up on some random topic or even try adjusting my eating and exercise habits to find what works best for me at the particular moment, I always try to better myself.

Some of this is inspired by a secret desire to become some sort of superhero, I suppose. There’s always that kid in me that hopes that someday I’ll be struck by a lightning bolt and be turned into something beyond the ordinary. Other inspirations include movies such as “Limitless” or the movie coming out this weekend, “Lucy”. While I have no desire to be a ScarJo, the idea of unlocking secrets of the universe with an enhanced mind is compelling to me. And yes, I know that the “humans use only 10% of their brain” thing is an urban myth (as opposed to a rural myth?) but nevertheless the concepts in these two movies are, well, thought provoking.

Enter Lumosity. Now I routinely listen to Binaural Beats to relax or to nap or to better focus my attention while working, and these exercises work for me, but I haven’t found a way to improve my short term memory and the like. Lumosity is designed to help one exercise their brain. The brain is basically thought of as a muscle and with the proper workouts, it’ll function better, and Lumosity helps one reach that goal.

Now, usually I would jump into the full-blown, paid up plan offered by software such as this, but I’ve decided that I’m going to use the free version of Lumosity starting today and through the end of August. If I find that I’m satisfied with my progress using the software, I may invest in the paid version, which helps exercise your brain in more ways.

I’m interested to see how this experiment goes.