Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Learning to Fly

Back in the infancy of helicopter development, everyone agreed to make the flight controls universal: the uppy-downy thing would be in the left hand, directional control in the right hand and the feet would control the tail rotor. Push left foot and the fuselage twists left, push right foot and twist right.

When you lift your left hand to make the helicopter leave the ground, the main rotor increases the torque on the fuselage and it wants to rotate in the direction opposite of the blades. Remember Newton's third law- for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. You counteract that torque with the tail rotor.

In American manufactured helicopters that means that as you lift the uppy-downy thing with your left hand you must push the left pedal with your foot to keep the helicopter pointed straight. Several thousand take-offs and you develop some serious muscle memory.

I got a job flying A-stars this season. They are manufactured across the pond in France. The main rotors spin clockwise. That means all of the muscle memory associated with my feet is wrong and I must heed Yoda and unlearn what I have learned.

The first flight went beyond embarrassing and into boy, I sure hope I still have a job territory. You wouldn't think it'd be hard to get the footwork down. After all, it's still push left, twist left. But human brains are lazy, thinking takes energy so once the brain correlates more power with more pedal, it's committed to muscle memory and that's that. So the nose of the helicopter was all over the place, especially in the hover. I felt sorry for the other FNG's in the backseat and imagined them struggling to keep their breakfasts down.

I did eventually figure out the footwork and spent a satisfying, if a bit too soggy, summer showing tourists some of Alaska's splendor. While I did get plenty of the usual, "Why is the ice blue?" and "Who built that road in the middle of the glacier?" type questions, I was asked two new ones in rapid succession. "Is it cool if we take our clothes off? And will you take pictures of us?"


Monday, May 29, 2017

Put a Tiger in your (drunk) tank

Not quite seven years ago, Frank Deford commented on fallen heroes in American sports. He mentioned Tiger Woods as the start of it all. Today in Florida (really early today, kind of very late yesterday) Tiger Woods was arrested for driving under the influence and Frank Deford died and I wondered (in Alaska) if anyone else was concerned about instant replay umpire reviews and the pending robot apocalypse.

Mr. Woods' whoopsie was a doozy, his second. Luckily for me, I gave up on sports heroes about the time I realized that I'd never be drafted into the Brewer's farm system. So it didn't faze me when a classy Swede made news with one of her husband's golf clubs roughing up the car on a Thanksgiving afternoon. Or this afternoon when the tiger not named Tony said that alcohol had nothing to do with his erratic behavior. I'll give him the benefit of the doubt on that one but won't be laying any money in Vegas.

Mr. Deford wrote for Sports Illustrated for more than half a century and had a long career as a broadcaster for NPR. He made his mark as the sportscaster who focused on the quirky aspects of the game in whichever sport he chose to pontificate on at the moment. Feel like diving down a Deford wormhole? Steffi Graf is over-rated is a good place to start.

I saw a bit of a baseball game today and was thrown back to a class I had in college, American History from the Civil War (incidentally one of the stupidest terms ever) to the present. I don't remember the professor's name but I do remember a lecture where he covered the rise of baseball on the national conscience and the integral part the umpires played in said rise. Basically, his theory was that factories and baseball became popular at the same time and while you could root for the Yankees and I could cheer for the Dodgers, we could both hate the boys in blue, they represented the bosses in the factories. Who by the way are now the boys in black and are required to wear black undies in case they split their pants. Yes, I'm serious. You're an adult, Google it.

Anyway, I always enjoyed listening to Mister Deford on Wednesday mornings and was sad when he announced his retirement earlier this month and have wondered what he thought about the replay review.

I think it's ridiculous. Cuz if we can review what the refs, umps, zebras, stripes, blues, etc. call, why do we need them at all? Computers and instant replay can definitely do the job. And if we don't need them, why do we have them? Fire them. I'm sure the owners will pass the savings on to the ticket holders. And since many of our heroes are cyborgs on performance enhancing drugs, why bother with humans to enforce the rules?

One good reason is that it gives sports commentators something to do to make our morning commute more enjoyable. Also, fuck the robots.

Teaser: next post- helicopters and tourists and robot spiders