Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Ringing in the New Year

Vacations have one big problem: they go by way too quickly.

We just got back from Miami. As much as my wife and I love heading down to see our family and friends, the drive sucks - plain and simple. 12 hours of monotony and tolls, and right at the end you enter the madness of Miami traffic. It's just incredible that you can drive for 12 hours, and still be within the same state. Other than California, Montana, and Texas, I doubt there's many other states with that much straight-line distance.

Readers of this blog know that when I was asked to make my state selection for the FAA, I chose only Florida, hoping that I'd get one of the many, many facilities within one evening's drive - 4 or 6 hours - of Miami. I found it extremely ironic that they placed me in the one Florida facility that was 12 hours away. While I love living here, when it comes time to drive down to Miami to visit it becomes much less ironic and far more of a pain in the ass. That "irony" manifests itself in a 24 hour round trip, 1300 miles on my only car, six full tanks of gas, and two full days of leave taken up by just the drive.

We chose to head out of here at 3am, so we could arrive in Miami in daylight and spend some time with family after we got there, instead of diving right into bed. While my wife slept the first leg (about 5 hours), I kept myself entertained.

Before we left, I had bought a mounting bracket for my Archos 504 media player. This old player's got a big, beautiful 4.5" screen and 80GB of storage, so - along with all my music - I'd loaded half a season of TV show episodes on it. I installed it on the right side of the steering wheel. On the left, I put the GPS mount for my Lowrance 500 Airmap (which died last year), but dropped my smartphone in it instead. On the cell phone, I loaded up Google Maps and used it as my main navigation source for the trip. I also bought a power converter with two USB slots for my car cigarette lighter, so instead of having multiple power adapters strung all over, I just had two thin USB cables that were easily contained and kept out of the way.

Here's what it looked like at 3:30am, on our way out from Pensacola on I-10. This is the worst part, by the way. The I-10 eastbound stretch is mile after mile of mind-numbing nothingness.

I know people will say that's unsafe. Firstly, it's not like I'm watching the thing the whole time. I really only glance at it periodically, normally when I hear a scene change so I know where the characters are talking (like an office, a headquarters, a restaurant, etc.). Secondly, having it in within my peripheral vision allows me to keep my eyes on the road without having to look down and be distracted. Thirdly, that little device helped keep me completely awake and passed the first 5 hours in no time flat.

Oh look... three hours into the drive and the sun is now just rising... LOL.

In general, I'm a good multitasker in the car. When you live in Miami and are forced to spend hours a day in your car staring at the rear of the car in front of you, you quickly find a way to entertain yourself.

Most of your drive is spent like the following photo. I took this about 6pm on December 30th on Biscayne Boulevard. Note that at least some of the lights are green, yet no one's going anywhere.

Heck, in the days before I had a cell phone, I used to carry a drum machine/synthesizer with me that was about the size of a paperback book (Yamaha QY70). I memorized the layout of the buttons and keys so I could navigate it all by feel. I once wrote the score for a friend's student film over a couple of days' worth of traffic, just creating beats and melodies.

I just do it carefully, and always keep my head up and eyes on the road.

Lightweight Heavies

It's been over a year since I'd seen an aircraft with more than two jet engines and bigger than a "large". Every single airliner that flies into Pensacola is a CRJ or ERJ regional jet, an MD88, a B717, a B738, or a B752. All narrow-bodies, all the time. Heck, yesterday was the first time I'd had to say "Caution wake turbulence" in a long, long time.

As we entered the Miami city limits via the Florida Turnpike, I looked up, and there was a Boeing 747. Then an Airbus A300. Then an Airbus A340. All this heavy metal just floating on into MIA. It was cool seeing these big guys in action. I'd grown up around them and spent plenty of time in them, but it

I'd hoped to have some time to visit Miami TRACON. Unfortunately, the timing didn't pan out. The last time I'd been there was four months before I got hired by the FAA. Seeing it now as a semi-certified controller would have been quite a different perspective. I could have asked more informed questions, at least better ones than "What are those dashed lines leading to the airport?" :)

Gamer's Delight

I'm a fairly avid gamer. I've always loved video games, both playing them and creating them. I'm not a fan of World of Warcraft or any of those other MMORPGs, but I enjoy good adventure and action games, and of course flight simulators. I'm constantly amazed by how much games and consoles have progressed since I first started out on the Atari and the Apple II (both of which we still have at my parents' house, and both of which still work flawlessly).

One of the things we picked up over the Holidays was an Xbox 360. That thing is amazing. We already have a Nintendo Wii that's been overall great, but I'm frankly tired of having to compromise graphic quality and usability. The online component of the Nintendo Wii alone makes me want to throw it out the window, with its poor integration and those ridiculous "friend codes".

Microsoft may be many horrible things, but they've really nailed the Xbox interface and online portion. It simply works beautifully and intuitively. The online gaming portion, Xbox Live makes it so easy to connect with other friends and players. I have friends that often use its voice chat in lieu of a phone. I've also linked the console up with my desktop computer at home via TVersity, a network media streaming program. Basically, I have all my music and downloaded videos on my computer, but the Xbox can read it and play them all back flawlessly over the network. I've also got the Xbox set up with my Netflix account for streaming videos.

As far as specific games, my wife and I have been playing Prince of Persia and Mass Effect. Both are fantastic in completely different ways - PoP for its puzzle-solving and illustrative art style, and ME for its enormous world and sprawling story. I've also been playing a few shooters, such as Call of Duty: World at War and Gears of War. World at War is hella fun. Nothing more relaxing than to come home from a long day at work and shoot some bloke in the head with a virtual Winchester trench gun. :)

I also managed to lose my Guitar Hero: World Tour / Rock Band 2 virginity over the vacation. Between the two games, I found Rock Band far more realistic and fun. I play guitar and bass in real life, so I didn't mess around with the guitar controllers. I did try the vocals for a bit (me doing Beastie Boys... LOL), but mostly played drums. The drums in Rock Band actually sync up with the music, while the Guitar Hero drums are more tuned with the visuals.

My first time at the mic. Yay. "Watcha Want?"

Back in the Groove

After a great few days, now we're back home, I'm back at work, and the Navy's ramping up again. My first couple days back have been pretty good, with only a couple rough spots here or there. Between the holiday traffic slowdown and my vacation, I hadn't talked to an airplane in nearly 2 weeks. I was definitely shaking some rust off.

I'm looking forward to 2009. I'm bringing some new energy to the plate. I'm eager - but not unrealistically eager - to get certified on the Pensacola bank of scopes. I just hope things start clicking more. I've identified several of my problems, such as working speed, and am doing my best to get those sorted.

Anyhow, that's it for now. I've some fresh all-ATC posts in the works. One of them's actually based on something that happened to me today. They'll be up soon.

I hope everyone has a terrific New Year!


Wayne Conrad said...

Unsafe for me? I'd be dead in an hour. Unsafe for an ATC? You can tell the ATC at a party. That's the person who is talking to you while simultaneously listening to every other conversation in the room and pretty much missing nothing. If it's ATC doing stupid car tricks (and you've had plenty of rest so that your multi-tasking skills are up-to-par), I'm not afraid. Watch out for officer friendly, though. If he doesn't like it, he could decide that you don't get off with a warning for that speeding ticket.

jeff said...

If you're watching you media player, you don't always have your eyes on the road. Personally, I think you're fooling yourself about the safety of this practice, but I don't live in FL so have at it.

Wicked Penguin said...

I understand the concern. Let me explain my reasoning and technique.

The fear of something unexpected - like a deer or whatever - always keeps my eyes on the road. Like I said, I don't really "watch it". I very occasionally glance over at it just to get a feel for where the characters are. "Oh ,they're in a restaurant now." or "Ok, they've gone back to character X's house." And by having it at eye-level prevents me from having to glance down, which would be more disorienting.

I've done many a road trip, and I always have a problem staying awake and alert. After a few hours, I'm fighting to stay up. My dad can drive 13 hours without a break. I can't do that.

I'm fully aware that there are other people on the road next to me. I want to arrive safe and sound, and want everyone around me to do so as well. Without something to keep me occupied - other than counting the hypnotic flicking of white and yellow lines going by - I'll doze off or start daydreaming. And I find that more dangerous.

My issue is that I always have to be doing something. I have a hard time sitting still, and even listening to music will bore me after a while. Audiobooks would put me right to sleep. So... I need something a little more stimulating when I'm alone in the car. The media player helps keep my attention focused and my mind going on something.

I personally think this is safer than those folks who run around in rush hour stop-and-go traffic, eating, talking on a cell phone, putting on makeup, and fighting with a cup of coffee, all at the same time. Their eyes are hardly ever on the road and they're constantly, physically distracted. How many of those people do you see during the morning drive?

I never have to shift my eyes very much. Also, the Miami drive is the only time I've ever done this, because it's a long distance drive. I don't use the mount for in-city driving. I also choose shows that are not action-intensive and actually require a viewer to watch.

So... that's the reasoning. I know people will disagree with this, but I'd rather be fully awake and focused on the drive than bored and dozing off.

Anonymous said...

Why dont you put that PPL to good use and fly yourself down to Miami?


DaveG said...

If I may suggest it, I really enjoyed Brothers in Arms: Hell's Highway.

Anonymous said...

Unsafe for me? I'd be dead in an hour. Unsafe for an ATC? You can tell the ATC at a party.

car games

motorcycle games said...

well this whole idea is nuts.