30 March 2006

'Cause He's the Tax Man!

Someone kick my butt!

I hate this time of year.
I throw all my tax information into a box and wait until the last minute to sort it out and take it to my tax preparer.
Inevitably there is something missing and I have to scramble to find it.

Last year I waited until the 14th of April to begin my tax information gathering. I'm proud of myself this year for beginning before "the midnight hour."

I normally get a small refund, and so long as that is true
the 15th really isn't a deadline.
I've also heard there is less likelihood of being audited if you wait until the last minute.......

Yeah, that's the ticket! Less chance of being audited!

What's your excuse?

27 March 2006

Time In a Bottle

On my way to work Saturday night, the ceiling was overcast and gray except for a sliver of sky next to the horizon, perceivable as about an inch of blue.

As the Sun slowly made it's way Westward, it began to transform this piece of sky......
the color was like lava flowing down a volcano at first.....a brilliant red-orange.

Then the Sun itself popped from behind the overcast, and it was too brilliant to look at directly. But I knew I was in for something special once it began to hide behind the edge of the earth.
I also knew the beauty would be fleeting.

Sure enough, as it dipped below the horizon, the sky turned the color of lava once again, only this time the edges of cloud were tinged with a brilliant silvery-yellow hue.
Slowly the underside of the overcast was illuminated, and the entire sky above me turned the color of molten lava. As the Sun continued it's journey, that color changed to purple, then magenta, then reddish-gray, and finally the Sun gave up the stage and dusk prepared the world for the coming darkness.

This whole scenario unfolded in less than ten minutes.
If I could have stopped time.....
captured that moment so I could savor it fully, I would have.

I was in Baltimore, Maryland when I found out my Dad was dying.
The company had purchased a BK117 in Italy and had shipped it to Baltimore. I was there to inspect the aircraft, and finding it as advertised, with the help of a mechanic, mount the main and tail rotors on it and ferry it back to the Midwest.
As luck would have it, the trip took me right over the town where my Dad was hospitalized. I got to stop and see him.

In my 20 years of EMS flying, much medical information has found it's way into this thick skull. From what I had heard I knew Dad was in big trouble.
Dialogue with my sister, Mommanurse , filled in the blanks........
It was just a question of time.
Again, if I could have stopped time right then, I would have.

Dad had been a lifelong smoker. He resented our attempts to get him to quit.
Now his habit had caught up with him.......he tried to put on the "Brave face", but everyone could see through it........he was obviously frightened about what the future held for him. We were all frightened for him.

Over the next months, Sis and I took turns giving Mom as much relief as we could in taking care of Dad. It was a painful process to watch, knowing that he was in pain and uncomfortable, because we knew the next day would only be worse, and the next worse than that. He was on the downhill slide.
I didn't want Dad to die, but I didn't want him suffering, either.

Time, time, time........
It just marches along, oblivious to our wishes.

I'm not old, but I'm no longer young.
Very soon I will be old.

My memories are overwhelmingly good......
I've said before that my life has been blessed......
I've had a Guardian Angel on my shoulder watching out for me, guiding most of my decisions.

But as I age, I find it SO easy to be melancholy.
I see beauty in so many things......Sunsets and Sunrises, family, other relationships.
I'm upset that these moments of beauty slip away so quickly.

Jim Croce wrote "Time In a Bottle", and then his flame went out.
The lyrics to that song are worthy of your attention.
If they don't make you melancholy, you and I are not on the same planet.
Try as hard as we might, we cannot stop time.......the inevitable is just over the horizon.

I don't want to waste these moments........I want to enjoy them to the fullest.

Being melancholy is bittersweet.......
It comes only when we know we are experiencing something beautiful that we want not to end so quickly.

I read this post to Sara Jean and she said, "Gosh Greybeard, you're gonna have everyone depressed and considering suicide!"

I think some men go through their own form of "Change of Life", and maybe that is what I am experiencing when I'm melancholy.
It was not my intent to depress you, but to share my thoughts and see if others have had similar experiences.

24 March 2006

Wop, Wop, Wop......

Our EMS company gives out helicopter lapel pins as an advertising promo.
Some years ago my Mom was wearing one I had given her as she stood in line at a grocery store. The guy in line behind her noticed the pin and asked her about it. When she told him what I did for a living, he asked her how I became a helicopter pilot.
She told him I was Army trained and a Viet Nam veteran, and he said "I was a grunt. You tell him the sound of that Huey headed our way to pull us out of the field was the most wonderful sound in the world!"

And what a sound!
In some ways, like a heartbeat.

I have 3,000 hours beneath the rotor of various models of the UH-1.
The rotor on the UH-1H model Huey was 48 feet 3 inches in diameter.
Each time that two-bladed rotor swung around, 24 feet of it was takin' a huge bite out of the air.
The red-line on the airspeed indicator was 120 knots/138 miles per hour. The rotor itself was turning at over 400 miles per hour at the tip. When it came around on the advancing side, it was going fast enough under some conditions to begin to build up a pressure wave, associated with the speed of sound.
That's what gave the Huey it's distinctive sound signature.

One of the reasons helicopters are not so noisy today is that rotor diameter has been reduced, lessening the speed at the tip. Most manufacturers are making multi-bladed systems, which decrease the amount of work the individual blade needs to do, therefore lowering sound levels.

When you hear a helicopter flying by, in most cases the loudest noise you hear is the tail rotor. It turns at 6-7 times the R.P.M. of the main rotor, and makes a high-pitched hum.

The main rotor is generally the second loudest thing on the helicopter. In most machines it is a lower pitch buzzing sound.

On top of all this you add the noise of the engine. In the case of a turbine, it is barely noticeable on top of rotor noise. In helicopters powered with reciprocating engines you can identify the engine sound, but it generally is not objectionable..........more like the sound of your neighbor mowing his lawn at a distance.

I was always aware of the noise footprint of the Huey. It was such a noisy machine, when I flew over cities or late at night, I tried to fly at altititudes that would dissipate the noise.
When I hear one now.......no matter where I am or what I'm doing, I'll stop to watch it pass.....
everything comes to a stop until the aircraft is out of sight and out of earshot.

The Old Huey is a sweetheart, and I'll love her 'til my dying day.

22 March 2006

Galveston Wrap-Up

Just a few quick thoughts on the fishing trip:

The round-trip ticket on Southwest Airlines cost $187.
A one-way drive down would have taken 13 hours.
On the Interstate, I normally average 60 m.p.h., considering rest stops, gas stops, etc.. Our car gets 27 m.p.g. at this rate.
By my figures, that means the trip would have been something near 1560 miles, and if I had driven, I would have used 58 gallons of petrol. At an average $2.50 per gallon, cost of gasoline alone would have been $140+.
The flight was an extraordinary bargain.

Southwest Airlines has the security check downpat.
I showed up with my "online boarding pass" in hand, so I was able to walk directly to my gate. Going through security took all of 15 minutes.
I've flown a couple other airlines in the past year, and none of them come close.

Southwest used to be known for having "peanut fares" because they were one of the first lines to discontinue serving meals on their flights........
they give you snacks only.
On the package of peanuts they gave me was this warning:
"Warning: Machinery used to package this product may have come in contact with peanuts."
(I'm sure!)

Old friendships are special.
I've had only passing contact with the three High School classmates that were on this fishing attempt, and we were back perfectly comfortable with one another in less than an hour. The comfort level was such that we are planning a bigger/better "Fiasco" in the future.

Galveston is nicer than I expected. I've spent a lot of time on the Florida Gulf Coast lately, and it is very, very commercial there. Galveston is more "Ma and Pa" than that.........less stressful.
The beaches are not as pretty, but the comfort level may be a fair tradeoff.

Being near water.....anything larger than a puddle, is relaxing.

A friendly dog is a wonderful thing, even if he slobbers.

I've fully adopted the saying, "fishing was good, catching.....not so good."
We all commented before the trip that getting line wet was the goal..........if we caught fish, that would be a plus.
Starting off with that attitude was a good thing........
ounce per dollar spent, that one fish was unbelievably expensive!

I'm still conflicted about catching/killing my own food.
I felt sorry for that beautiful Speckled Trout when we put him in the box. Seems mighty stupid, since I ate a great fresh Red Snapper dinner at the restaurant that evening!

Returning from my vacation, I need a vacation.
It was good I had a one day cushion before I had to go back to work.

You don't forget how to play Euchre, even after 30 years.

And finally:
Being away from your home and wife makes you appreciate them both all the more.
I recommend the short separation.........your routine sure seems like a wonderful thing when it is interrupted for a short while!

Thanks for your comments, Pitchpullers.
I appreciate your kind thoughts.

19 March 2006

That's Why They Call It "Fishing"

A quickie update on our adventures.......

Not a nibble.
We spent 3 hours on the water in the morning, and a little over two in the afternoon, tempting fish to no avail.
We're told that's why they call it "fishing", not "catching".

Cloudy weather......forecast winds of 10-15 knots.
John caught one Speckled Trout about 16 inches long.

The wind picked up and put white-caps on all the waves.
We Northerners weren't too concerned, but Captain Tom was fidgety. He convinced us to put the equipment away.
As we were headed for home, the wind increased to 25 knots. Swells were 4 feet or so.
We pounded along for half an hour getting soaked by the spray.
A lure somehow found a way to hook itself to John's sweatshirt. I tried to detach it, but the ride was too rough, and Cap'n Tom sure as heck wasn't gonna stop to remove it under those conditions!
We were glad to make it back to protected waters.

No mas!

Thank goodness the restaurants serve fresh seafood dinners, because we're not doin' a very good job of putting the goods on the table ourselves.

One thing I can enjoy that the other guys don't give a whit about: There are plenty of helicopters flying around. Petroleum helicopters has a base here serving oil rigs just over the horizon with a Bell 407.
Yesterday we saw a BK117 headed Northeast up Galveston Island, then a short time later we watched a Bell 47 (the helicopter in the M.A.S.H. TV series) struggling against the wind Northeast bound, then return Southwest bound half an hour or so later. I don't often see a 47 fly these days, so it was a good memory prod.

Forecast today is for winds of 15-25 knots with small craft warnings. We are considering a trip to NASA to tour their facility.

I'll update you later.
Thanks for stopping by.

15 March 2006

The Grand Galveston Fishing Fiasco

I've been fishing three times in all my life.
I've never been able to figure out what the attraction is.
Most of the time, it looks like a great excuse
to drink beer and take a nap.
It's time to devote serious study to the subject.

I'm leaving this morning to meet several High School
classmates in Galveston, Texas.
We are going out in a good-size boat to drink beer, feed bait to the fish, and probably nap.
(One classmate has even threatened to smoke a cigar or two.)
We hope this will be the first of many "G.G.F.F.'s".

No way to know what the computer situation will be once the study begins, but if something blogworthy happens, I'll try to keep you updated.

In the meantime, as Mike Myers would say.........
"Discuss among yourselves!"

14 March 2006

Aviation Surprises

In order for an aircraft to fly in the U.S., it must at least be inspected annually to insure it is "airworthy". Aircraft flown commercially undergo a much more rigorous inspection process.

Obviously this is a good thing for many reasons. It not only keeps aircraft from falling out of the sky at alarming rates......the system fosters confidence in the flying fleet within the aviation community, and more importantly, in the civilian community as well.

If a problem is found in a certain make and model of aircraft, the FAA considers whether this problem is an isolated incident, or if there is a likelihood it is a problem that will crop up in more of this same type aircraft.

The R22 I use to train students has a rotor blade made of aluminum (Aviatrix....that's aluminium), and stainless steel. In very damp climates, particularly those close to salt water, many R22's have been found to have what is called "dissimilar metal" corrosion. Different metals, when damp, begin to act as a battery, and the electrolysis process eats into the joint where they meet, weakening it. The FAA rightfully issued a service bulletin for the problem.
The Robinson factory agreed to replace the rotors on those machines still under warranty, and will pro-rate the replacement of all rotors, depending on their total time.

The trainer I use is hangared continually and is not subject to a great deal of moisture.
Still, I'm glad to put on new rotor blades, because the aircraft could be sold to a new owner that lives in say, Miami, Florida, where the problem could be serious. This helicopter is new enough that the blades will be replaced free of charge. Replacement will take about 3 weeks.

We started the process last week by cutting off the rotor blades. We measured two feet out from the main rotor hub and took a saws-all to these $10,000 rotor blades. We then sent the rotor cuff and blade root to the factory where they will inspect the blade spindle for damage, and finding it undamaged, will fit the new rotor to our old spindles.

Taking a saw to what appears to be a perfectly good rotor blade is an emotional experience.
Add to that the fact that it grounds the trainer for at least 3 weeks, and you begin to see the economic impact that is caused in this little segment of the aviation industry.
Think of the impact of a major change to a large number of aircraft........rudder improvements to the Boeing 737, for instance, and you can see why aviation will always be an expensive, risky business in which to make a living.

I've got four students sitting on their hands, wondering how much proficiency they will lose while this aircraft is grounded.
But we'll all be more comfortable knowing the rotor over our head is likely to remain in one piece, thanks to a diligent inspection process.

10 March 2006

Money Changes Everything

.......And generally not for the better.

I didn't pilot the flight, but some years back one of our machines was dispatched to the scene of a terrible helicopter crash.
The County Police, Drug Enforcement Agency, and S.W.A.T. teams were coordinating a surveillance/takedown of a drug operation. The DEA was using a helicopter with an Infrared scope to monitor the perpetrators house. The pilot and observer in that aircraft got so focused on watching the I/R screen, they forgot that flying the helicopter needed to be the first order of business. The pilot lost control of the bird and it filtered itself through a high tension electric line on it's way to the ground, killing the observer and critically injuring the pilot, who survived, but had a life-changing head injury.

My opinion is that we have lost "The War on Drugs".
The easiest way to cut our losses is to declare VICTORY!, legalize them, and allow the tobacco and drug companies to produce a quality, inexpensive product for those that now break our un-enforceable laws.

Benefits would be at least two-fold:
Tax receipts could go into education to keep others from going down that path,
and by taking the HUGE profits out of the drug business, you do away with much of what makes it such a big problem for us.........including killing damn fine law enforcement personnel trying to enforce these impossible-to-enforce laws.
(Pablo Escobar ended up being a huge influence on Colombian politics because of his economic power there.)

Another thing came to mind this week as a result of this Barry Bonds steroid fiasco:
It's just another illegal drug situation, driven by the huge dollars involved.

We pay these athletes sinful wages to do what they do.
Athletes like Bonds, McGwire, etc. that bring attention and fans to the sport are paid on the highest end of this "sinful" scale.

These guys risk their future health for the money and fame they can garner because of the big money involved, then, like footballer Lyle Alzado, tearfully admit their mistake on some TV interview show as they are dying of liver cancer, or some other dreadful disease.

I'm so tired of it I could scream.

Back to normal values, folks......
Let's make a list of what is really important to our lives.
And at the top of that values list, remember that not only is it true that "money changes everything",
the change it makes is frequently not something we can be proud of.

07 March 2006

Post Oscar Wrap-up

First things first:

Salma Hayak!

Now, the program itself:
Is it just me, or did it seen more subdued this year?
I thought Jon Stewart seemed a little nervous, but he was funny, and his political humor was in good taste.

I'm always uncomfortable when one recipient uses up all the talk time and they cut off the second person's chance to say their thanks by "playing them off"........but I do appreciate the fact that the program doesn't go on and on and on.

The only reasonably current movie I have seen is "Walk The Line".
I'm a Johnny Cash fan, so I enjoyed the insights into his life, although I was disappointed to find he was into drugs that heavily.
Both Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon did a great job singing their parts. Portraying professional singers had to be a scary task.

George Clooney's comments about being proud that Hollywood is "out of touch" indicates to me that there is inside talk in the industry about a possible problem there. I hope it means there is a chance of a return to more "heart of America" values on films in the near future.

Films portraying servicemen/women as the heroes they are would be a refreshing change, wouldn't it?

03 March 2006

Travellin' Man

(One of my favorite Bob Seger songs, by the way.)

We are headed to a VERY LARGE midwestern city to visit with Sara Jean's niece that is 3 months younger than she. I hate the long drive. I hate driving in all that traffic once we are there.
Let's just say, I hate the whole idea of going, but I'll enjoy the fellowship once we are there.

All this will culminate with the two gals oohing and ahhing over the Oscar presentations.
I've never quite been able to understand what the interest in
"The Oscars" is: A bunch of dysfunctional people vote on one another's job performance, and WE are supposed to be interested...............why?

Yes, I'll watch.
But do me a favor:
Pray for Scarlet Johanson to outdo herself with her choice of gown for the evening!
That would make the night worthwhile.

01 March 2006

Sara Jean, Addict

Help me, please!

My wife is an addict. I need to know if there is a 12-step program, or some other help for her.

She has found QVC.

It started off innocently enough.......she'd watch while I wasn't home.
Mostly jewelry attracted her attention, but stuff to beautify/improve the house would get her attention too.

She established an account with them, then bragged about how easy it was to buy stuff now that they had all her information......("Yes, that's the credit card number. Yes, that's the address!")

Soon, she was watching nearly all the time she was at home. I knew we were in trouble when she started referring to the hawksters by their first names, as if they were close friends.

Then I noticed the UPS guy was stopping at our house daily.
Now and then it'd be the FedEx guy, just for a change of pace.

New 600 count sheets on the bed.
Foofy soap in the bathroom.
And of course, the jewelry.......
Wow.......the jewelry!

I didn't have to scold her. After about a month, she figured it out herself....(maybe when she looked at her credit card bill.)

She's weaning herself, and I can see signs of withdrawal.
It's painful for her, this cutting back.
I'm proud of her for realizing on her own that she needed to get this problem under control.

I have two questions:
Is there a scientific name for QVC addiction?
Do UPS guys also go through withdrawal symptoms?