Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Twelve O'Clock High

A few miles from me is Hooks Airport, a rather good sized municipal facility that caters mostly to private planes, but is large enough to handle corporate jets. So it's pretty common to hear planes overhead, with the occasional helicopter. I've always loved airplanes and enjoy watching them in flight. This past Saturday we had a special treat. The Collings Foundation, is an organization dedicated to purchasing and restoring to flying condition rare aircraft from bygone eras. This is a group passionate about preserving aviation history, and more than willing to share it with others.

So my wife and I headed over on a chilly, overcast day to take part in aviation nostalgia. Parked at Hooks were WWII relics, a B-17 and B-24 bomber, and TF-51 trainer version of the famous P-51 Mustang. For a fee you could climb inside the bombers and be transported back in time. The weather was appropriate, as it was often wet and dreary at bases in England, where young men were preparing for dangerous missions that would make them old men by the time they got back. The two bombers were especially impressive. Though state of the art at the time, it was clear that inside they were cramped, uncomfortable and noisy.

It was something standing behind a waist gun, pointing it at the sky and trying to envision the fear of a man perhaps only a few months removed from his home, family and sweetheart While trying to steady his nerves he knew deep inside with each mission the odds were mounting against his survival. Yet he knew his job, and was determined to survive. He knew at any minute, the enemy's young men would skillfully fly nimble fighters to try to shoot his plane down. Young men who also knew their job and were determined to survive. Young men he didn't even know would be trying to kill him, young men he would quite probably enjoy the company of and become friends with if it wasn't for the insanity of their leaders inciting them.

It is possible to arrange for rides in these planes, but unfortunately the fee is out of my budget. But it's something I know my Dad would have enjoyed. Though he flew in B-29's, he knew quite well about the B-24 and B-17. I could imagine him entertaining the pilot with stories, and then announce, "Let me show you how to use the Norden bombsight." Supposedly the most accurate bombsight ever invented, it was claimed you could aim a bomb so it would drop inside a pickle barrel, though why anyone would consider that to be a target is beyond me.

Then knowing my dad's sense of humor, he would have then muttered something about arming the bombs on board then bringing out his list of various miscreants he wanted to pay a visit to.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Readers Comments

No, not on this blog, though I've been tempted to write a bunch myself to make it look like someone is actually reading it. But then again I'm not looking for fame or fortune. My motivation for starting a blog is simply to have fun and express whatever comes to mind at the moment.

And at this moment it's some observations on online news. In particular, my favorite part of online news, reader comments on stories. In the past, the only way to express your reaction to a news article was to write a letter to the editor, then hope that editor would see fit to put your missive into print. Granted what was often published was complete nonsense, but you could then proudly point to your local newspaper and say, "See, I just made a complete fool of myself in print!"

With the advent of the Internet, most online newspapers now allow anyone to make a comment. The beauty of this is you don't have the agony of spending hours writing a letter to the editor then never seeing it because let's face it, a newspaper receives hundreds of these letters each day, and can only print a few because of space limitations.

A comment could also be made about the space limitations between the ears of many letter writers, but that's besides the point. Now, thanks to technology, it is possible for a single story to have hundreds of comments. Meaning every crackpot and cynic can now share his or her opinions with the world.

Which is why reader comments are usually the most entertaining part of reading the news.

Today the Houston Chronicle has a story on Russia possibly basing bombers in Venezuela and Cuba. Considering most of the bombers left in their inventory are old, slow and lumbering, but still impressively large, it looks like if this happens it will be for political and propaganda reasons. In other words, nothing to lose sleep over. However, a couple of readers had an interesting exchange:

America's day of reckoning is underway... it obvious to anyone whom has been in military intelligence that the Russians are restaging another invasion of America.

Am I missing something or did I sleep through the last Russian invasion of America? The next commenter set things straight:

Hey, take your Yankee butt back home no true Texan would be worried if Russia Invaded it would be an opportunity for target practice.

Only a real Texan can cut to the chase like that.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009


... which explains my thought process much of the time. While it is possible for me to concentrate on the task at hand, (or in the case of my latest hobby project, building Revell's immense and impressive U.S.S. Constitution, the task is bits and pieces that mysteriously vanish when I need them, more on that later), quite often I find my mind drawn off in tangents. I've always had a vivid imagination, and many times wanted to either daydream of engage in some activity such as writing, painting, or model building rather than what I was doing at the time. Since the task interfering with what I really wanted to be doing was usually work or school, my flights of fantasy were hardly practical.

When I was working evenings and weekends were looked forward to with great enthusiasm as it meant the time and freedom to pursue more creative ventures. Now that I'm retired, I view each day with the same enthusiasm. Yet even now there is a balancing act. After the first month, I started feeling an emptiness, that I had outlived my usefulness in some capacities. When I was at EPA, I was a database administrator and ran the show. I had national recognition, respect, and truly enjoyed my work.

Once that was gone, I felt adrift in some ways, as my career was something I had built on my own, and it gave me a badly needed focus. Fortunately, I've found new activities, one of which is a continuation of my career, to fill that void. I started my own company to contract out my data management services, and just a week ago signed my first contract. It's a good feeling to be continuing the work I liked, and of course getting paid for it is also good motivation! I'm also taking a class in 3D modeling at Lonestar College in town. I love computer graphics, and while I can manipulate preset models to my liking, I've always been interested in creating my own from scratch.

So far the results are not exactly world beaters, but I'm learning the basic concepts and will be able to pick up more and more with experience. The only down side is the software I'm learning on, Autodesk's 3DStudio Max is very capable, but if I want my own copy it will cost four thousand big ones. I'm looking for cheaper alternatives naturally.

I also got back into model building. I had built several wood model ships when I was back in California, but didn't have the space to build or display any aircraft or anything else. So now that I have that room, I've gotten back into what unfortunately is a shrinking hobby. Too few youngsters these days have the patience or desire to build anything. But I still enjoy it. One of my prize possessions from the past was the Constitution. My Dad built one years ago and thoroughly enjoyed the challenge. I yearned to try it myself, then finally got up the courage to try. It was frustrating at times as the kit has a multitude of tiny parts, plus being plastic it was fragile. Plus it is easy to warp the masts when rigging.

But it was a great lesson in concentration and perseverence. I kept my random thoughts while working on it to fantasies of leading it into battle. Alas, I ended up leaving it behind when I moved out of my townhouse in Fremont, and I can take for granted it did not last long afterwards. So shortly after moving to Texas I mail ordered a new one, and relived the pleasures, and patience trying frustrations, of building it again. And it is turning out rather well. It'll never win any competitions, but I'm satisfied with it. The only sad part is wishing I could once again call my Dad to share our experiences in building it.

After it's finished, I'll take a break from ships to tackle some airplane projects. Of course I'll have to discipline myself to do this at an appropriate time, while working on a paying customer's project is not a good idea if I plan on staying in business.

But there is one other item I must add, the most important part of my life, the constant encouragement, stimulation, and love from my precious wife.