The Lady Captain for Delta Airlines

Delta Pilots, from the Delta Airlines Web Site

Some people command your attention, without effort or intention on their part. For the few seconds that it took for her to walk past me, the lady pilot was one of those people.

She was an attractive blond, and tall, and her posture in no way diminished her height. She walked with poise and purpose, chatting and smiling to another pilot in those Navy Blue Delta Airlines Uniforms. The fact that she had four stripes on her shoulder, indicating her Captain’s rank, immediately explained part of her purposefulness. The fact that she was, or appeared, young, in her early to mid-thirties, spelled out her competence, which I sensed immediately. It was doubtful she could have risen so quickly through the ranks unless she excelled at her job.

The fact that she was attractive is not what separated her from the other women in the Atlanta concourse at that same moment. There were lots of pretty girls there. Her bearing was as if she was in Command of a U. S. Navy heavy Cruiser; that’s what separated her from the rest.

As I later sat in a window seat of our Boeing 757 being readied for departure to Pittsburgh, I saw that the blond Captain was indeed in charge of a heavy cruiser; a 757-200 (FAA registered as N604DL) parked beside us. I watched her as she climbed down the steps of the boarding platform and performed her inspection walk around the aircraft she would be commanding. If she is like most pilots, she would also be admiring the beautiful machine she had the good fortune to fly, while thinking about her responsibility for the lives of the passengers who would soon be boarding.

N604DL on departure, from the Flight Aware web site.

She must have made that walk thousands of time in her career, but every little part of the aircraft visible to her was examined. The fact that most of those parts loomed far above her attested  to the size of the aircraft, and made her job more difficult. But she took her time, being fully devoted to her work.

I once asked a Captain and First Officer pair how it was decided who would make the walk around the aircraft. The wise-old Captain said it depended on the weather; and the experienced first officer agreed, smiling broadly. That day in Atlanta the weather was fair, and not too hot, but I got the feeling that lady pilot would do that job regardless of the weather.

A Boeing 757 cockpit. Click to enlarge.

As I watched this Delta Captain make her rounds and return up the stairs to her office,  the 757 cockpit, I thought that I had just witnessed a nascent cinematic moment. But this pilot was no movie star, in all probability, although I’m sure she could have been, if that had been her ambition.

And then in a three-second flash of irony, I saw her on the video screen no more than 12 inches away from my face. Our 757 crew was playing a video safety brief, and in the closing frames that blond pilot looked back from her left seat in the cockpit of a Delta jet and said with her easy smile, “Welcome to Delta.”

As I later reached my hotel room in Pittsburg, I opened up Flight Aware on my iPad and found that N604DL was nearing its destination of Las Vegas. I smiled, thinking that Delta’s passengers on that flight were willing to gamble on the slots and card tables, but they didn’t have to gamble on their flight. They had an ace in the cockpit.

If you are interested in a career in commercial aviation, you might find a blog posting on the Delta Airlines web site of interest. It’s written by an African-American female who was a copilot for Delta at the time of the writing. It describes how she ended up in the right seat of a major commercial carrier.

On the Road with 50 cc’s and a Handful of Angels

I began the trip with the following adage firmly in my mind: “It’s easier to get forgiveness than permission.” Admittedly, at the time that apocryphal quote might not yet have been uttered, but I was nevertheless well familiar with the principle.

The trip was an end-of-the-school year ride from downtown Atlanta to Prairie Village, Kansas on a 50 cc piston displacement Honda motorcycle. I don’t know of anyone else who has tried it, but I can attest, in hindsight, that it is a risky idea.

But it was adventuresome, and adventure was what my twenty-one year old mind craved after spending another school year trying to force college physics into my head. But I knew there was no way to get permission. I would just show up at my parent’s doorstep, and accept the consequences later. Considering how it turned out, that was a reasonable plan.

A stroke volume of 50 cc is minuscule for road bikes. It is in fact approximately equal to the cardiac stroke volume of a typical nine-year old child’s heart. No nine-year old I know is capable of carrying a 145 lb college student on his back for over 800 miles. Not even close. But that was what I was asking that little Honda to do, and it made a valiant effort to do just that. Of course I had to help by not exceeding 35 mph.

The logistics had seemed doable; 862 miles at 35 mph yielded about 24 hrs of driving. The Honda dealer advised me to keep the speed no higher than 35 mph since the top speed for the little Honda was 40 mph. I was also advised to stop about every 30 min to an hour to let the engine cool down. That seemed like reasonable advice, to which I adhered religiously, except for one time.

In late May headed northwest I should be able to count on almost 12 hours of daylight. So I would leave Saturday AM, and arrive late Sunday. Just to be sure, I’d allow three days and tell my parents to expect me Monday evening.

They assumed I’d be flying commercial.

Route to the Mississippi River (from Google Earth). Click for a larger image.

Due to the low top speed of the 4-stroke, overhead valve Honda engine, the trip was planned for small, two lane roads. And that path laid out for me a route through small towns of Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, a sliver of Kentucky, and Missouri with colorful names like Natchez Trace, Bible Hill, Howes Mill, and sometimes curious names like Boss, Minimum, Meta, Enon, Chloride, and Topsy. I travelled through towns so small and out-of-the-way that Google’s Street-View cars still haven’t found them all.

A sign of things to come happened soon after I entered hill country. Having spent much of my life to that point in eastern Kansas, I was starved for vertical relief. When I came across an inviting road-cut during one of those down-times, when the engine was cooling, I set about to climb the road-cut, just for the fun of it, and perhaps to scout the road ahead. It was a scramble, loose rocks slipping beneath my feet, but eventually I worked my way to the top. But coming back down proved more daunting. For some reason the slope seemed even more crumbly than on the way up. As I was pondering which way to step, a car, one of the very few I had seen on that road, pulled up below me. The driver asked if I needed help.

How nice. Of course I said I was fine, but thanks, and they drove off. After all, unless they were angels with wings to pluck me off the rocks, what could they do?

As they made their way around the bend, out of sight, my next step was not good, at all. I started sliding, turning around instinctively to grab something solid, and managed to open a 5 in. long tear in my corduroy pants with the only solid rock I unfortunately found. If I had not been wearing tough cloth, that tear would have been in my leg.

Upon reaching the bottom where my bike rested, I motored on, thoroughly embarrassed by my naiveté.

As my first day of travel neared an end in a respectably-sized town, I dragged myself up the steps of an old two-story house with a “room to rent” sign in front of it. And that is where I met my first angel.

As the elderly lady came to the door, she recoiled slightly at the sight of the young man with pants with unintended earthen streaks on them, and a long tear hanging open. After hearing my story, of the young son heading home on a wimp of a scooter, her sense of mothering must have overcome her sense of caution. She fed me and let me shower and sleep in her house that night.

She didn’t have wings, but she might as well have.

Route through Missouri (From Google Earth). Click for a larger image.

I met the second angel the next day, on Sunday. Early that day I ran out of two-lane road. There was simply no way to continue on my way without a hopefully short run on an interstate highway. You may not have noticed, but most interstates in the U.S. have a 40 mph minimum speed limit. My Honda had a 40 mph speed limit too. So I set off, hugging the right edge of the road, just barely meeting the legal speed limit. When semi trucks passed me I was able to draft them for a few seconds, feeling myself accelerated up to maybe 50 mph by the truck’s suction. It was exhilarating.

But probably not too good for the bike. Not long after making my way back to two-lane country roads, the engine began to run roughly. And it’s top speed was declining noticeably. My scooter and I limped into a small town on Sunday afternoon, and I set about to find some help. Stopping at a gas station I was sorely concerned with my seemingly hopeless predicament, until one of the men sitting outside pointed to his small engine repair sign propped in the gas station window. Well, a 50 cc engine is a small engine, and if he was willing to help me out, I was willing to let him.

The fact that his man might have been an angel occurred to me when he started taking apart my little engine, on Sunday afternoon mind you, and found the problem was due to a broken piston ring. No problem, he happened to have a ring that would fit a small Honda piston. What are the odds of that?

I learned a lot that day about small engines, and about the kindness of small town folk who are accustomed to coming to the rescue of those in need. I paid the man the pittance he asked for, to cover the cost of the piston ring, and hit the road an hour or two later with a revived engine.

Hickman Ferry (photo credit Buddy Rogers)

Upon reaching the Mississippi River at Hickman, Kentucky, I and a semitrailer truck were parked at a ferry ramp waiting on the next ferry. We had a long wait ahead of us, and the mid-day heat was becoming oppresive. Just as I was surrendering to the inevitability of a long, hot wait, the truck driver opened up a small access door in the back of his semi and pulled out a cool watermelon. He had an entire load of them, and with a wink he confided that one wouldn’t be missed.

I’ve never had any better watermelon than that one.

On Monday, the last day of my planned trip, I still had 350 miles to cover. At 35 mph it would be doable in daylight  if it weren’t for those incessant cooling down breaks. But as I inched across the map of Missouri I knew I would be arriving in Prairie Village Kansas after dark.

Unfortunately as dusk was approaching, the headlight which had been burning for safety nonstop since my departure from Atlanta, died. Truly, the thought of driving into Kansas City traffic at night without a headlight was simply untenable, not to mention illegal. So I made the decision to press on without the engine cooling spells. I would try to beat nightfall to my doorstep.

Two things brought my trip to a premature end. I pulled into a truck stop in Raytown, Missouri, on the outskirts of Kansas City, as it became fully dark, and as one of the engine valves decided it was too burnt to continue.

The phone call home that night was intense.

Even though my Dad offered to pick me up, I told him I’d make it the rest of the way on my own; which I did. The next morning after a short bus ride home, I walked up to the house and received the dressing down I deserved.

At home at last, Prairie Village, KS. The tear in these same pants had been repaired by the time the photo was taken.

But as the emotion of the moment wore off, I could see a little smile of pride, and wonder, at what his son had done.

My Dad and my bride, after I'd matured a little, and graduated to a 350 cc Honda.

By the way, after the bike was repaired, it was shipped back to Atlanta, not driven.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Going to HEVVN

I know where HEVVN is. I have coordinates for it.

I’m serious.

“HEVVN” is the politically correct, government approved spelling for a place pronounced, as you might expect, “Heaven”.  I’ve been there, and I could go again today if I wanted. But since I’m still a living, breathing person I can’t stay there.

It should come as no surprise to you that HEVVN is not a town or city; it’s nowhere on land. It’s not an island: it’s not on the water. It can best be described as an ephemeral place somewhere in the “air”; in space if you will.

Theoretically, an infinite number of people could be at HEVVN all at the same time, without actually being at the exact same place at the same time. There is, in other words, considerable spatial ambiguity, uncertainty, about where one might be in HEVVN. In an earthly sense, two people at HEVVN might be miles apart, not even able to see each other, not even aware of each other’s presence.

I would guess that on a typical day, thousands arrive at HEVVN: on a slow day, maybe merely hundreds.

If the government admits to a HEVVN, does it admit to a HELL? Well, not exactly. But it does admit to a SATAN.

But don’t worry – if you’re at HEVVN, you won’t be anywhere near SATAN. HEVVN and SATAN are a thousand miles apart.

I’m still being serious…really.

 

 

HEVVN intersection lies in the center of the blue donut. Click for a larger image.

Are you confused? Well, here’s an explanation. HEVVN is a Federal Aviation Administration defined airway intersection used, along with an assigned altitude, to define an aircraft’s position. HEVVN lies roughly ten miles off the coast of the Florida Panhandle, and connects the major flyways of the Florida Panhandle and the north-south air corridors of the Florida penisula. Theoretically many aircraft can simultaneously be at HEVVN, as long as they are separated by at least 500 feet in altitude.

SATAN is a wicked sounding GPS fix a few miles north of the Portsmouth International Airport at Pease Tradeport near Portsmouth, New Hampshire. I am surprised Portsmouth would allow itself to be associated with such a diabolical name, but perhaps the government never told the city elders before it was too late to change the name. Or perhaps the word SATAN no longer engenders the fear and loathing it used to.
SATAN intersection (red triangle). Click for larger image.

Oddly enough, SATAN is included in a much more innocent sounding group of GPS fixes, those defining a GPS approach to runway 16 at Pease Airport.  When cleared for the GPS 16 approach coming from the west, the aircraft is expected to follow sequentially a route to the airport using up to five GPS fixes. Those five fixes, including the two “missed approach” fixes used in case a pilot can’t find the runway due to low clouds, are named thusly:

ITAWT  ITAWA  PUDYE  TTATT  …  IDEED.

Apparently someone at the FAA has a sense of humor.

If you’re not laughing, you might want to say those five words in quick succession. If you’re still puzzled, try repeating it with your best Tweety Bird impression.

After the FAA named a point in space SATAN, someone must have decided some comic relief, à la Warner Brothers, was needed. And a famous quotation from the canary named Tweety Bird somehow seemed appropriate.

After all, Tweety Bird can fly. Right?

 

 

 

 

 

Embarrased by My Too-Smart Phone

Some government meetings require cell phones to be left outside the conference room. We are told it is for security reasons, but I’m convinced it is for our own safety. Smart phones are becoming too darned smart, and any machine that is smarter than its user is dangerous.

Case in point: I recently attended a serious presentation by military flag officers. The meeting wasn’t classified, but it was important. Of course, not wanting to be one of “those people” I had placed my new phone on “stun” – vibrate, before the meeting started. But I did not turn it off. Like most supposedly clever and important people at the meeting I intended to occasionally use the phone to access my email between briefings.

During one such lull between briefings, I noticed a Pandora splash screen briefly pop up; I must have inadvertently touched the on-screen icon with an errant finger. But I quickly shut the application down with the “Home” button. Or so I thought.

If you don’t know, Pandora.com is a site for Internet-accessible music. It’s a convenient way to keep yourself entertained when taking long walks. What I did not know at the time is that the Home button hides the application, but does not shut it down.

As the flag officer started his talk I could hear soft music – some Irish girl singing. Is that part of the talk, I wondered? Then I noticed those in the audience near me were now looking directly at me.

Oh my Gosh, it was coming from my pocket. PANDORA!

I jammed my hand into my pocket, hitting buttons wildly to shut the phone up, but no luck. She kept singing, softly at first but slightly louder with each passing second. Panicked, I left my seat clutching the phone against my body, trying to muffle the sound, and headed for the door, bumping knees and knocking papers off chairs, drawing even more attention.

I refused to look at the General trying to speak over the commotion — he used to like me.

"Strangle that guy!"

By now I’m imagining the other Flag Officers signaling for my elimination.

"Never mind, I'll just shoot him."

 

 

 

 

 

 

Safely outside of the room, it took me at least 3 more minutes before I figured out how to shut that Irish chick up.

Sure enough, at the next break I heard someone asking who that guy was with the phone, and of course I cringed when I heard my name mentioned. In spite of my best efforts, I had become “… that guy!”

It is not an overstatement to say that I now have a well-earned love-hate relationship with my smart phone.

OK, I admit that those file photos above are taken slightly out of context. However, that’s what I thought was going on behind my back. (Photo credits: joyfulpublicspeaking.blogspot.com; stripes.com)

 

To Eat a Mermaid

A three-year old was tasked by her father to gather foodstuffs from the sea and bring them to the kitchen for cooking. She never left the house, but was expected to find items around the house representing sea food. And the cooking was to be “pretend” cooking.

Her first scavenged item was a plush toy crab. “Good choice,” her Father responded proudly. “That will definitely go into our cooking pot.”

And then the child disappeared for a long while. Her father assumed she was looking for clam shells scavenged from the beach.

But instead, she brought back a plushy toy mermaid.

He was horrified. “Oh no, we don’t eat mermaids!”

I’m somewhat relieved that if she ever encounters a real mermaid, she will have learned that the mermaid is at least part-human, and therefore not a food item. But oddly enough, the eating of mermaids has some storied precedence. The best example I’m aware of is the Ningyo, a Japanese variant of the mermaid mythology. The Ningyo is a human-faced fish that some describe as being tasty, and bringing good luck if eaten. Perhaps it was inspired by carp similar to that at the right, which with selective breeding has developed some surprisingly human-like facial characteristics.

As for where the good-luck notion came from, I have no idea, and the three-year old doesn’t know either.

Most adults do not consider a variation in appendages to signify a food item. That is, if a baby has 6 legs, as was recently reported, they are nevertheless human and not food. If they have no normal appendages at all, then they are still obviously very human. Even children with the rare Mermaid syndrome (sirenomelia), where two legs are fused together into a relatively useless Mermaid-like tail, would never be mistaken as anything but wonderfully human.

So I wondered what triggered the thought in a three-year old mind that a mermaid would be edible?

"A Mermaid", 1901, John William Waterhouse, from Wikipedia
Image credit: www.dec.ny.gov

Then I remembered that same three year old has caught little fish, and she remembers the fins and scales, and associated the fish catching with really tasty food. So like Pavlov’s dogs, half a fish might be enough to start the salivation response.

So sorry little mermaid, it doesn’t matter how girlish (or womanly) your top half might be, it’s your fishy half that’s gonna get fried, grilled or blackened if one kid has anything to do with it. My advice to you – stay away from preschoolers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dictation Software – Not for Kids

Contributed by Dragon Boy to http://the-dragon.info/

We have a new game at our house. It’s called, “See What Dragon Speaking Does with the Diction of a Four-Year-Old.”

It’s endlessly entertaining.

It’s my son’s doing, really. I was complaining about how unhealthy it was sitting at a keyboard for seemingly endless hours writing, rather than getting up and moving around. I was considering putting my computer on a treadmill and walking while writing. His response was clever; use dictation software while walking.

That was an idea well worth considering. Fortunately my phone allowed me to download a free copy of Dragon Speaking, and I started experimenting with it. It’s amazingly accurate, and inserts commas, quotation marks and other punctuation as requested by the speaker. It works well with my wife and I, but when our four-year-old granddaughter visited, I learned something about Dragon Speaking that I had not known. It’s not for children.

There is apparently something about pre-schooler speech that the software is not programmed to handle. For instance, “I want an Oreo” became “I want to pick her up”. “I want a doggy” was transcribed as “I can like key time.” “I speak English very good (sic)” became “I ain’t English family game.”

Really?

It seems that the four-year-old spoke better English than the dragon did.

It was pretty weird watching a smart phone write “ain’t” with the proper punctuation for a very improper word. But of course if I were writing a novel about real people, that word would undoubtedly come up quite often, sad to say.

Nevertheless, my initial surprise spurred me on to a semi-scientific study of the phenomenon. (Some might call it a pseudo-scientific study, but the word pseudo is a considerable slur for a scientist, so I ain’t using it.) My plan was to speak a sentence into the phone to confirm that Dragon Speaking would correctly interpret it, then my granddaughter would say the same thing. The results were hilarious.

Under the “Actual” column, below, are my words as translated into text on my phone. The only error, if you could called it that, is when I meant “Sidney” it spelled “Cydni” which is of course identical from a phonics perspective. Under the “Transcribed” column we have the software’s interpretation of the four-year-old’s speech.

Actual                                                             Transcribed

I love flowers.                                                 I laugh laugh.

I like Hello Kitty.                                            I like Atlanta can’t.

Feed me cookies.                                            Can’t are you.

Give me pancakes.                                         Call me home.

I like Cydni (sic) the giraffe.                        Are you guys don’t.

I like school.                                                    or my school

You like the sky.                                              You bye.

I like Octopus.                                                  or I can

And one of the most complete but inexplicable translations:

Daddy is here to pick me up.                         Are you feeling Okay?

A preschooler using an iPhone.

No sentences were included in this listing if we adults did not understand completely what the child was saying. Apparently our brains are much better at interpreting kid-speak than are Dragon brains.

In case you haven’t been around a four-year-old recently, this is what PBS Parents Child Development Tracker has to say about the speech of four-year-olds. “The language skills of four-year-olds expand rapidly. They begin communicating in complex and compound sentences, have very few pronunciation errors and expand their vocabularies daily.”

In other words, four-year-olds may speak with a child’s accent, if you will, but their speech is well-developed in both content and complexity.

Mind you, this posting is not intended in any way as a slight towards the producers of Dragon Naturally Speaking. I have, after all, the free iPhone version of the software. Perhaps if I weren’t too cheap to pay, I might discover that the full version of the software does a better job, and in my judgement even the free version is brilliant. Nor am I poking fun at the speech of children. What I am doing is pointing out a free way to keep your child or grandchild entertained. They seem to find it every bit as amusing as I do.

My granddaughter simply says, laughing, “Silly phone”.

 

Space Wars

I had a dream, and it troubles me.

I had a dream a couple of weeks ago and awoke knowing I had seen something very disturbing, but couldn’t remember what it was. Then on February 21st I had a lucid dream where I realized that what I was seeing was what I’d seen the previous week. Then I understood why I was disturbed.

It was a scene from a vantage point in space. It was cinematic in quality, big screen, IMAX, at least. I was there.

The troubling part was observing a space vehicle moving up to the space station, then seeing the vehicle suddenly yaw its nose away from the station as if slammed by some powerful but invisible force, followed a split second later by the white paint on the space station charring before my eyes. Not all of it, just the part closest to an out of view source of blistering heat. The curved portion on top of the station was spared; from a thermal radiation standpoint it was very realistic.

Curiously, the station was not the ISS: it was much smaller but the markings on the white paint were clearly U.S.. I overhead two men talking on the coms, supposedly ground control, saying the heart rates of the station occupants soared.

It woke me, and I realized the entire dream sequence had lasted about five seconds, at most. It must have been the sauerkraut from the night before.

But what struck me as startling was the news article the next morning about the Chinese preparing for war in space. http://freebeacon.com/dia-director-china-preparing-for-space-warfare/

To quote, “Beijing is developing missiles, electronic jammers, and lasers for use against satellites…The Chinese, as well as the Russians, are also developing space capabilities that interfere with or disable U.S. space-based navigation, communications, and intelligence satellites.”

Suddenly, the thought of either space-based or ground-based attacks on manned vehicles or space stations becomes a frightening possibility.

Then tonight I read that a NASA notebook computer containing codes for controlling the Space Station was stolen.

http://washington.cbslocal.com/2012/03/01/nasa-laptop-stolen-with-command-codes-that-control-space-station/

“These incidents spanned a wide continuum from individuals testing their skill to break into NASA systems, to well-organized criminal enterprises hacking for profit, to intrusions that may have been sponsored by foreign intelligence services seeking to further their countries’ objectives,” Martin said. “Another attack involved Chinese-based IP addresses that gained full access to systems and sensitive user accounts at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.”

We tend to think of space as a neutral environment where brave souls put their lives at risk to be part of man’s push away from our planet. It is an environment for scientific pursuit. Of course we have raised a generation or two on images of space battles where humans are fighting to preserve humanity. There is lots of death and destruction, but it is heroic in scope and detail. If death can be glorious, then dying to protect Mother Earth from Klingons is a glorious way to die.

But what I saw in those five seconds of searing imagery left me with a profound sadness. I had witnessed, so to speak, the end of our honeymoon in space. Man’s evil nature was reaching way beyond our stratosphere.

I put no stock in dreams, at least not  my own. But that particular dream did serve to increase my awareness of the not-so-subtle signs that man is determined to extend his malevolent reach into what was once considered hallowed ground; the firmament, the very heavens we have for so long dreamed of reaching.

And now we would spoil it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I See Dead People – Sort Of

The exit to the Morrison Springs cave. (photo credit: ZoCrowes255)

The young man in a swimming suit was lying lifeless at the bottom of a fissure on the floor of Morrison Springs, a popular underwater cave in Walton County, Florida. If his eyes had been open, he would have been staring straight up at me. But mercifully, his eyes were shut, as in sleep.

My diving buddies from the Georgia Tech Aquajackets dive club and I were breathing air from scuba tanks at about 110 feet sea water. We were in a portion of the cave that received no indirect light from the cave opening. Without the cave lights in many of the diver’s hands there would have been total darkness.

Who knew that on my second so-called “open water” dive I would find myself deeper than 100 feet in a cave, using the dispersed light from my buddies’ dive lights to examine a very fresh looking corpse? He looked to be about our age, late teens, high school or college age. A rock outcropping hid his body from about mid-hip level down. But the top portion of a bathing suit, his lean stomach, chest, and boyish-looking face and head was plainly visible.

There must have been some current at the bottom of the crevice because his brown hair was waving gently, being the only sign of motion from the deathly pale white boy with closed eyes, waiting patiently to be recovered to the surface.

I and the other divers stretched our arms and shoulders as far into the crevice as we dared, reaching towards the young man, hoping we could grab onto some part of his body. But it was futile – he was at least a foot out of our reach. Finally, checking our dive watches, we saw it was time to swim toward the cave entrance and start our ascent.

Since there was no scuba gear on him he must have been a free-diver, a breath-hold diver who entered the cave then passed out and sank to the deepest, most inaccessible portion of the cave. As I and the other divers rose along the limestone borders of the cave I watched the darkness surround the young man’s cold body once again. I felt lonely, almost as if I could feel his spirit’s loneliness.

As I reached the surface I turned to the closest diver, removed my regulator from my mouth, and panted, “How are we going to recover that body?”

His response stunned me.

“What body? That was no body – that was a Navy 6-cell flashlight!

How could it be? I would have signed a sworn affidavit to the police describing everything I had seen, in detail, just as I’ve reported it to you many years later. The visual details, the textures, the emotions will not leave me.

But they were not real.

As for why that happened, the only thing I can assume is that for a nineteen-year old novice diver, descending in the dark to 110 feet, in a cave, might be just a bit more than the diver’s mind is prepared for. The nitrogen in air is narcotic if found in high enough concentration, so I was undoubtedly suffering from nitrogen narcosis. Plus, at the time the entrance to the Spring was macabre, with a large photo of a diver with his back filleted open by a boat propeller, and signs prominently displaying warnings of the large number of fatalities in the cave from poorly trained and equipped divers exceeding their limits.

My mind was prepared to witness tragedy, and the normally mild nitrogen narcosis of 110 feet may have  been just the trigger needed for a vivid hallucination.

I have had no hallucinations since then, from diving or anything else, except for one medical procedure reported on in this blog. But what remains remarkable to me was my absolute conviction that what I had seen in that cave was real. Consequently, I now know very well  that what people testify as being real, whether they are diving or not, may in fact be only imagined.

Google Noodling and other Technological Pleasures

I am easily bored.

Fortunately, I’m also easily entertained. In fact I have no trouble at all entertaining myself, especially if it’s at the expense of new technology. Especially if the technology has big names attached to it like Facebook and Google.

Now don’t misunderstand me. I love and use both Facebook and Google, a lot. But sometimes they just crack me up.

For example, there is a new Facebook app allowing you to leave a message behind after you die.

What a clever idea! No need for séances, or readings by psychic mediums. All you have to do is plan ahead for what you want to say, write it down, then tell your family and trusted friends to inform FB that you are indeed deceased. Voila, you get to have the final words, the last laugh, to have your say without being interrupted.

Of course, if your final thoughts as your life ebbs away are about changing your mind, or regretting what is about to be said, well, there’s simply nothing to be done. The cat will be out of the bag.

And you better not wake up in the morgue chiller if you’ve finally told the world what you think about your in-laws, or the wife, or your boss. You may not be technically dead anymore, but for all practical purposes, you are. Or you’ll wish you were.

But I can’t help thinking how much fun it would be to plan an after-life revenge on someone I consider despicable, but don’t wish physical harm on them. Let’s say their collected body of lies, fabrications and falsehoods have earned them a stint in Hell, but you’re not sure Hell really exists. Or perhaps you’re impatient.

Imagine then a Facebook farce where you reveal that you buried a  small fortune in gold, which is now worth a large fortune, at a vacant lot at some particular GPS coordinates. Of course, you’d not mention that the vacant  lot now had a McMansion built on it, by the very person from whom you seek after-life revenge.

Photo credit: hercules-online.com

Imagine the look on your archenemy’s face when people start gathering in front of his  home with GPS units, and backhoes. Do you think that would make him nervous?

I realize there are some logical inconsistencies with such a fabricated story, but I think you can count on the  ability of most people to dismiss logic if there is believed to be a fortune to  gain.

So thank-you Facebook; no more need for haunting and ectoplasm. Isn’t technology great?

The next technology that really is fun is Google’s screening of  any and all words in your Gmail. There is a way to play games with it —  I call it Google Noodling.

Photo credit http://www.catfishingtipstoday.com/catfish-noodling/

If you’re from the south you should know what noodling is. But if  you’re not, I’ll explain. Noodling is the reaching of bare hands into a catfish hole and hauling out a feisty catfish. It’s rough and tough fishing without a  pole, line, or hook. Your hand is the hook, and you hook the fish by feel through their mouth or gills. It’s a blood sport that Roman gladiators would  have enjoyed.

So, where does Google come in?

Both my wife and I have Gmail accounts, and I noticed when my wife  sent an email to me that there were certain subject relevant advertisements that accompanied that email. We all know by now, or should, that Google  computers read every word of our messages, and uses its proprietary algorithms to select ads that might be of interest to both sender and recipient. When one of those ads are clicked on, money goes into Google’s pocket. So much for privacy.

Enter into the mix my somewhat contrarian mind. I concocted an email from my wife to me, where the scenario is that I’m on travel and she is  complaining about certain female maladies that are irritating her. Well, faster than you can say itch, an ad popped up on the email after it was sent that offered over-the-counter antifungal remedies.

Well, since the ersatz wife had started a supposedly discrete discussion with her husband, I responded in a like manner, but of course with gender-appropriate words thrown in.

Bingo! Ads for things we commonly see on TV appeared in a flash.

Are we sure there is no panel of underpaid girls in Hong Kong intercepting our emails, laughing their butts off while pushing the Cialis ad button? I don’t know; I’m not convinced.

So I decided to run a test. Posing as my wife again, I concocted a fantastic email that combined a set of mixed-gender complaints, as if the person sending the email were a fully developed and functioning hermaphrodite. Then I hit the send button and waited for the first ads to show up. I checked my account — message received, but no ads. I checked her sent mail — message  sent, but no ads showing on the sent mail.

I had my hands in Google’s gills. Their snooping computers were mystified! How delicious, I thought; Google was stumped.

And then it happened. A few minutes later when I rechecked the sent mail it had an ad for a treatment for, of all things, constipation.

Google had the last laugh. Sure, their algorithms were getting ambiguous messages about gender, so the previously targeted ads could not be sent. But I hadn’t thought about the lowest common denominator among the sexes. And after spinning a few million compute cycles thinking, the Google computers decided on a sure course of action.

Those clever devils!

I suppose the message is, new technology is being spawned at a dizzying rate, designed to provide us “features” we never thought we needed, and to keep its inventors in the black, financially. But at the same time these innovations are fodder for the imaginative mind who sees the value in a good laugh. Count me in as one of those minds.

 

 

The Green Flash and Inspiration

Some say it is serendipity. In reality, maybe it is just the human ability to increase awareness once your attention has been attracted. For example, you’re thinking about buying a black Subaru when you suddenly notice how many black Subarus are on the road.

Photo credit, Mila Zinkova.

I had been thinking of late about the Green Flash, a rare optical phenomenon that I experienced once, years ago, on the Pacific shore at Monterey California. It was memorable not only because of its surprising appearance, and its brevity, but because it was one of the most monochromatically pure and intense visions I’ve experienced.

I have since watched many sunsets over the water, trying to witness again what I saw in Monterrey. I recently watched for it from the air, flying towards the Gulf of Mexico as the sun set. I have watched from an elevated pavilion at St. Andrews State Park in Panama City, Florida.

So far, nothing has come even close to matching what I once saw. That is one of the givens for the Green Flash; witnessing it is oftentimes considered a once-in-a-lifetime event.

The closest I’ve come recently was seeing a greenish tint on the top part of the sun as it appeared to be half way below the horizon. My wife confirmed what I was seeing, but the brilliant flash of emerald green I saw in Monterey has eluded me.

And then like the black Subaru, I saw the Green Flash again recently in a rented 2007 movie, “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End.”

But it was not the same. The Green Flash appeared in the movie like the flash from a nuclear explosion, stretching from one side of the screen to the other. There were even sound effects.

That was not the Green Flash I know.

I don’t blame Hollywood for its hyperbole. After all, I don’t think the beauty of what I once saw would convey well on the silver screen, or the TV screen. In fact photographs, such as the ones above or on the Internet fail to capture the essence of it. The brilliance of color from the flash is otherworldly — it cannot be easily reproduced.

I chuckled at the point in the Pirates of the Caribbean script when the statement is made that the Green Flash means a soul is coming back from the dead.

Master Gibbs

Ever  gazed upon the green flash, Master Gibbs?”

“I reckon I’ve seen my fair share. Happens on rare occasion; the last
glimpse of sunset, a green flash shoots up into the sky. Some go their whole lives without ever seeing it. Some claim to have seen it who ain’t. And some say—”

“It signals when a soul comes back to this world, from the dead!”

I’m as intrigued with the paranormal as the next person, but I know what 18th century pirates could not know; the green flash is a physical phenomenon, not a metaphysical one.

According to some bloggers, and Wikipedia, the purported association between souls and the Green Flash was promulgated  by Jules Verne through his fiction. Supposedly Verne claimed it to be an old Scottish legend in his 1882 novel Le Rayon-Vert, according to which, one who has seen the Green Ray is incapable of being “deceived in matters of sentiment,” so that “he who has been fortunate enough once to behold it is enabled to see closely into his own heart and to read the thoughts of others.”

Others have misquoted the passage to say that “if one were to peer in the light of the green flash they would gain the power to read the very souls of other people they met.” But that quotation is a no truer translation from the French.

As I said, Verne’s passage is a fictional myth. So, one good fiction leads to another. And of course a little Hollywood computer graphics and sound effects makes it that much better.

But what inspired me to write about the Green Flash is the resemblance, in my mind at least, between the Green Flash and inspiration.

Inspiration comes to me, and you as well I suspect, in a flash. It may be rare, but like the Green Flash it is all so clear, like a lucid dream; an “aha” moment. It is a revelation, perhaps.

Flashes of inspiration have power; they cause things to happen.  Flashes of inspiration have led me to write poetry, science fiction, and non-fiction. Some would call it the writer’s Muse: I just call it that flash of inspiration that seemingly comes from outside me.

Through a flash of lucidity, inspiration caused me to invent a new type of rebreather underwater breathing apparatus. It also caused me, at a young age, to hop on a tiny 50 cc Honda motor-scooter and ride from Atlanta to almost my destination, Kansas City. (50 cc Honda scooters are not really built for long distance cruising, but that didn’t stop me from trying and almost succeeding.)

Inspiration has caused me to raise my hands to the heavens and feel the very presence of God.

Inspiration has propelled me to pull a union thug out of a courtroom and tell him I forgave him for the assault that broke my jaw. Like the cross-country motor scooter ride, not all inspired events would be considered sane except by the person inspired. But they can be life-changing.

Unlike the Green Flash, inspiration can come anytime, anywhere. But like the emerald flash of the setting sun, inspiration can occur when you least expect it.

Both are gifts to be treasured for a lifetime.