Heinlein Had The Right Idea

Robert Heinlein had a LOT of right ideas, but the one that I’m trying to remember the source for tonight deals with frustration, intelligence, and balance. I’m sure someone out there will see this and immediately go, “You simpleton! It’s ‘____’ of course!!” I am, in fact, counting on you.

I think it was one of the opening scenes or chapters of one of the “Heinlein juvenile” novels. (I’ve ranted here before – “Starman Jones” is still one of my all time favorites, bar none.) In it our plucky young hero wants nothing more than to go to space and has an opportunity! They’re taking applications for some job or the other and he goes in, along with thousands of others, to take some sort of preliminary written test. The questions are not trivial, so fairly early on he sees other test takers who bail and walk out. He presses on as the test drags on and on. The questions never get too difficult, but they become increasingly repetitive and just downright stupid. Why the hell do they need to know these things? And why do they need to know it ten times? Finally he has had his fill. It doesn’t matter how much he wants the job, this is freaking ridiculous. He storms out while hundreds of others continue to answer increasingly pointless questions with no end in sight.

Of course, our hero gets the job. The test wasn’t to get the answers to the questions. The test was to week out the quitters who gave up way too soon and the drones who would follow mediocrity right into the pit of Hell without bothering to think for themselves. But there was a sweet spot for those smart enough to be able to answer the questions, but not sheep-like enough to follow along without questioning or purpose, people who had the correct balance of independence and discipline, intelligence and the ability to take action.

(This is where you call me a simpleton and tell me what book it is…)

Regardless, the principle’s the thing tonight.

How does one balance stability, both economic and lifestyle related, against stagnation?

How does one balance passion and purpose against caution and “responsibility?”

How does one balance “I’m too old for this shit” against “What do you mean? Never give up! Never surrender!”

How does one balance fear of change against fear of not changing?

How can you know the difference between the act that you’ll regret for the rest of your life and the one that you’ll regret for the rest of your life if you don’t do it?

This shit makes my head hurt.

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Filed under Deep Thoughts, Job Hunt, Space

Bomber Flight Video

​​​Videos from yesterday’s flight in our PBJ bomber. One of the striking things to me was the differences in the sound of the engines in various places.

From the waist gunner’s seat on the starboard side, just aft of the wing. ​​

From just aft of the round (and open!) hole on the starboard side. Listen to the sound of those pistons popping!!


From the tail gunner’s position, looking out the back.

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Bomber Flight

If you’ve been here any time at all, you’ve seen our PBJ, including its first flight after 23 years of restoration.

If you’re new, it looks like a B-25 bomber, but it’s not quite the same. And by “our” I mean the Commemorative Air Force Southern California Wing (CAF SoCal), where I am on staff (my volunteer second job) as Finance Officer.

Every good WWII bomber needs a tail-gunner position, as well as a machine gun on either side. From this view you can see the starboard side machine gun just aft of the wing, the tail gunner’s position between the tails, and a big, round, open hole just aft of the starboard machine gun. Keep those in mind.

Today we had a flight with a handful of paying customers (FYI, for a very reasonable price I can get you hooked up as well…) and at the last minute (literally) a seat opened up. We hate to have empty seats if there are CAF members around who want a ride, so one of the PBJ crew stuck their head in the office to see who was there. Since I hadn’t flown in the PBJ yet, I was told to take a seat.

The view here is aft. That starboard machine gun is in my face on the left and we’re looking back toward the tail gunner’s position, all buckled in for takeoff.

Once in the air we could move around a bit, very carefully. Here’s the view out of that port side machine gun bay, about 4,500′ above Ojai.

Back there is where the tail gunner’s position is. Good thing we’re not in an incredibly LOUD aircraft that’s bouncing around a bit. Wait… (It was actually a gorgeous day for flying, very calm up there.)

I got my turn to go back to the tail gunner’s position. It’s freakin’ incredible, a view that you have never seen before to have the ground slipping past from underneath you.

From the Ojai Valley we crossed over Simi Valley. Here we’re still looking straight back toward Ventura and the ocean way off in the distance, with the 118/23 transition on the left.

The view forward from the tail gunner’s position. It’s not terribly claustrophobic at all, but there’s not a ton of maneuvering room either.

Moving up from the tail gunner’s spot, that big open port is on my right. Everyone who thinks of aircraft as being sealed aluminum and titanium tubes with no openings to the outside air – you should fly this!

Back in my aft-facing seat, we were on final approach when the tower asked us to slow down because of a Cessna in front of us. We were already as slow as we could get without doing that whole “no-speed-equals-no-lift-falling-out-of-the-sky” thing, so instead we did a couple of big 360° steep turns. Definitely an “E” Ticket!!

Someone was having a good time.

Back on the ground, we “announced our presence with authority” to the wedding reception and quinceañera going on at our hangars. (We make a big chunk of our operating income by these rentals – if you need a big venue in Ventura County we’re the biggest and I know people who know people. Hell, I AM a people!)

“Semper Fi” is the one and only true PBJ still flying. There are a couple dozen airworthy B-25s and one or two are advertised as PBJs, but they’re not. I look forward to flying “Semper Fi” again and again in the future.

Hard to stop grinning.

For the rest of the day, people will walk up to you in the hangar and immediately say, “You went flying this afternoon, didn’t you!”

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Can’t Get There From Here

First, a bit of explanation for those who don’t live ’round here.

California is mountainous. Lots of valleys and coastal plains, separated by mountain ranges. Transportation between the various plains and valleys go though mountain passes, otherwise known as “bottlenecks.” Often these are known by the name of the mountain passes they go through. For example, between the LA Basin (LAX, Santa Monica, Century City, downtown Los Angeles, Long Beach, Orange County, etc) and the San Fernando Valley (about a million-plus commuters) is the dreaded Sepulveda Pass along the 405 Freeway. Between the San Fernando Valley and the Simi Valley (another 300,000+ commuters) is the Santa Suzanna Pass which contains the 118 Freeway.

The reason this is critical is because massive numbers of people move along a single freeway with very, very few other options available. When the 405 Freeway had to be shut down for 72 hours for a major repair it was “Carmageddon” and they warned everyone for two months in advance about it. If you needed to get from Santa Monica to Encino with the 405 shut down, it was 25 or 30 miles out of your way to go around over to the next mountain pass with a freeway through it, or you could try to squeeze through the handful of two-lane residential streets that creep through the canyons over the mountains. Remember, you’re doing this with hundreds of thousands of other people trying to skirt around the problem, plus the hundreds of thousands of other people who are using those routes as part of their normal routine.

Got it?

From my office in the San Fernando Valley I had to get to Lancaster in the Antelope Valley, which means going through the Santa Clarita Valley. Roughly speaking, that’s two trips through mountain passes on freeways, about 60 miles.

No worries! I timed it so I moved around rush hour and the freeways should be wide open. Just before I left I double checked a couple of phone apps. All clear! Green all the way!

48 to 50 minutes each way. I’ll be back in two hours!

Twenty-five minutes into the trip, crossing the Santa Clarita Valley and heading up into the mountains toward the Antelope Valley, we screeched to a halt. Crawled. We were clueless about what the problem was until CalTrans was nice enough to deploy a couple of those trucks with the big flashy signs on the back to park along the shoulder and give us updates.

A small brush fire several miles ahead. Three right lanes blocked by fire equipment.

That section of the freeway only has three lanes, so aren’t the three left lanes closed as well, sort of by definition?


IF I could somehow get off the freeway (there is absolutely no way to get off the freeway), I could turn around an go back to the office and try again on Monday. I could try to swing north up the 5 Freeway about 40 miles and then over through Tehachipi, another 40 miles or so. I could try to swing south across the Angeles Crest Highway (two lanes, twisty, not designed for lots of traffic) for about 50 miles and then down into Antelope Valley. I could swing way out to the east, almost 100 miles on the 10 Freeway to Wrightwood, then back about 45 miles over the Angeles Forest Highway into the back side of Antelope Valley. Or I could turn on some bitchin’ tunes and chill.

They knocked down the fire quickly and started re-opening lanes, so I was only held up an hour or so. And the trip back south was quick when I was done in Lancaster.

Except that I had spent so much time idling on the way up that I came THIS close to running out of gas on the way back down through that mountain pass, where there weren’t a lot of options other than calling AAA if you ran out. How thin were the fumes I was running on? The manual says Hissy has a ten-gallon tank. I put 10.8 gallons in, so now I have a good idea how much that filler tube holds…

Some days, you can’t get there from here!


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New York, New York (Pictures Day 16)

In summary: New York City had a life of it’s own in my head. In early August 2016, I visited there for the first time. On the first afternoon we visited Central Park and were there for hours, despite the jet lag. Day One started with a tour of the Intrepid and the Space Shuttle Enterprise, followed by the full two and a half hour cruise around Manhattan – south down the Hudson River into the Upper Harbor, up the East River under the “BMW” bridges, past Midtown and the UN, into the Harlem River, back south into the Hudson River, underneath the George Washington Bridge, past Grant’s Tomb, and finally back into port. To finish Day Two we had a death march to find a cab, went to the Mets game, left early only to miss the best part, and inadvertently stiffed a nice cab driver. Bright & early on Day Three we headed out toward Liberty Island – it’s hard to take a bad picture there, then went to Ellis Island.

Once back in port, we took a quick cab ride to our next destination for the day.

I “knew” that this would be an emotional visit. It wasn’t until I got there that I learned how little I “knew.”

The pools and waterfalls which outline the original twin towers are lovely. I thought that it was a magnificent space, showing how huge the buildings were, giving newcomers such as myself an excellent idea of their placement in their surroundings. We approached from the south so our first view was of the South Pool.

The new tower adjacent to the site is magnificent. As you can see from the earlier pictures from the harbor, Liberty Island, and Ellis Island, it dominates the skyline.

Around the pools of course are the 2,983 names of the victims. There are directories around which can help you find the location of individuals if you’re looking for someone in particular. I was.

Near the northwest corner of the North Pool I found the names of Mark Lawrence Bavis and Garnet Ace Bailey. They were on United Airlines Flight 175 when it crashed into the South Tower on September 11, 2001. They were scouts for the Los Angeles Kings hockey team. (If you’ve ever wondered where the LA Kings’ mascot got his name, there’s your first clue. Because of that, for the record, you can make fun of his antics and even our team, but never his name. At least it’s not advised near a Kings fan.)

RIP Mark and Ace. And Juliana. And Peter. And Robert, Carl, Andrew, Brian, MacLovio…

Entering the museum you take a very long escalator (or stairway) down toward the foundations of the World Trade Center. There are many pictures of the site as it once looked, as well as girders from the building and other artifacts.

One of the legends of the 9-11 disaster is the slurry wall. You get your first view of it near the bottom of the escalator.

You can look it up and read the whole story, but the short version is that this wall held when the towers collapsed in on it, preventing a far, far greater disaster. This underground wall keeps out the nearby Hudson River and wasn’t built for the kinds of stresses it was subjected to that day. If it had failed, the Hudson would have flooded in, undermining and collapsing other buildings nearby, as well as possibly causing truly massive flooding in the New York City subway system. That could have caused thousands and thousands more casualties as well as damage to the infrastructure that we would still be working to repair and replace.

But it held.

Coming down the escalator you first see the final beam, the last structural girder removed from the debris. You also get your first good idea of how vast this spectacular musuem is.

Walking down the ramps and seeing the story of 9-11 told, there are hundreds of artifacts that vividly portray the vast and incredible destruction of that day.

As you approach the bottom levels you see this huge art piece by Spencer Finch – each of the 2,983 panels are painted to match a memory of the color of the sky in New York City on September 11th.

At the museum’s bottom level you can start to see the structural foundations that the Twin Towers were built upon.

My first impressions up to this point were almost those of shock. It’s one thing to remember that day, with none of us ever able to forget when and where we were. It’s quite another to be there.

After the initial impressions, the shock starts to lessen and the horror begins. (To be continued…)

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Prankster Of The Year

The award goes to the guy on Monday morning who reportedly went into the office early and then put a photo of the WannaCry virus screen

onto every computer in the office as the screen saver.

If you’ve decided you don’t want to work there anymore and you want to be remembered one way or the other…

Well played, recently unemployed dude – well played!

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Sunset Don’t Know…

…that the world’s on fire.

It’s just a sunset…

…doing what a sunset…

…has got to do.

The rabbits were out in force tonight on the lawn while I was taking these.

Do the rabbits ever look up with awe and wonder at the sunset?

We’re stuck between the rabbits and the sunsets…

…aware and intelligent enough to appreciate and recognize their beauty, but too short sighted and stupid to bother to watch because we’re busy destroying the planet and our society.

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Filed under Castle Willett, Photography, Weather