Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Good Riddance

Don't let the door hit your ass on the way out. I'd burn you, but I think all that accumulated hate inside of you might pollute the atmosphere like Chernobyl.

Friday, September 11, 2009

On a Quiet Morning...

Eight years ago, I awoke to a pounding on my bedroom door. "Turn on the TV!" my mother-in law - who my wife and I were staying with at the time - yelled in Spanish. She's a very mellow person usually. Something was obviously up.

I stumbled out of bed and grabbed the remote. What could be so important that-

Oh God.

Twin towers aflame. Smoke billowing for miles in a plume so huge it could be seen from space. How could both towers be on fire? Then they reran the clips of UAL175 streaking along, banking, correcting. My gut wrenched as I saw the huge Boeing swallowed by the tower and a huge ball of ugly flame belch out of the building. Eyewitnesses said another one had hit the first tower.

Two airplanes? This was no accident. We were under attack. I immediately thought of Tom Clancy's Debt of Honor. The anger punched me hard.

I woke my wife up. We both sat, dumbfounded and helpless, as people struggled to survive a thousand miles away while metal wilted before the heat of flaming jet fuel. Firemen rushed to the rescue. People hovered in windows, waving frantically, trapped between a fiery death or a fall to Earth. Some held hands and leapt, together in their last moments, choosing their fate. Heroism and tragedy intertwined.

Those buildings were so indescribably tall and majestic, and being a child of the 80's I could never picture NYC without them. I remember reading about the B-25 that slammed into the Empire State Building in 1945. That was a 20 ton bomber crashing into a concrete and steel building, not a 150 ton airliner. But, surely, building technology had come a long way since those days.

Then came the first collapse. A short time later, the second. And we could only watch and hope that someone - somehow - had made it out of there alive.

I'd only visited New York once since I was a small child. In May 2001, my wife and I hooked up with my parents and sister in Philadelphia and took a whirlwind tour of the NE United States. Eight states in three days. My wife had never been to NYC before, and we saw a lot of things very quickly.

However, my strongest memories are of the Twins. I recall standing beside them, looking up, and feeling so very insignificant. They seemed to go on forever.

The only camera I had on me then was a DV video camera that also took 1024x768 stills, a pitiful resolution by today's standards. I had a wide-angle attachment for it as well. Here are the pics I shot on that beautiful day in May.

(Here's what the sphere looks like now. It actually survived the collapse and will be placed in the 9/11 memorial when it's built.)

Those are just a little reminder of how things were eight years and one day ago.

A few years later, I went on a class trip to the D.C. area. We hit every type of ATC facility: Washington National Airport Control Tower, Potomac TRACON, Washington Center, and - lastly - the Air Traffic Systems Command Center.

If you haven't seen United 93, you should. It's a powerful film and does a good job of showing what air traffic controllers do and how they react to unusual situations. While actors portray the heroes and terrorists who died aboard the aircraft, many of the folks on the ground - including ATC, military, government - are the actual people who were working that day. That includes the controllers who were on the frequencies and were the first people in the country to realize something was seriously wrong. Also, in tune with its accuracy, no other film has done as good a job presenting the "look" of ATC facilities.

The order to land every non-military aircraft in the United States airspace originated in the Command Center - given by 1st-day-on-the-job director Ben Sliney. Controllers from around the country managed to land every airplane within two hours, a fact that the media certainly noticed in a number of post 9/11 reports.

While visiting the Command Center was certainly a "big picture" look at the National Airspace System's normal daily ebb and flow of ground stops and delays, I also found it interesting to be in a place where a significant piece of ATC history originated.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Resting Up

The missus and I just returned from Dragon*Con 2009, the creative/sci-fi convention in Atlanta. I was feeling crappy before we headed out, and over the past couple of days it's developed into a full-blown cold. So, I'll be taking a little time off writing for the rest of this week.

We did have a great time. I spent about 40% of the time at various creative writing panels, on everything from writing accurate military characters to the different factors that affect whether or not a book becomes a bestseller.

Here are some of the authors who conducted the panels I attended. There was a whole lot of talent and experience packed in every room, folks who've been in the writing industry since the day before forever.
  • Charlaine Harris: Author of the Sookie Stackhouse novels, aka the basis for HBO's awesome show True Blood.
  • Mike Mignola: Creator of Hellboy.
  • Timothy Zahn: Author of a gazillion Star Wars universe books and other sci-fi novels.
  • Kevin J. Anderson: Author of the Dune prequels (along with Brian Herbert).
  • Richelle Mead: Author of the Succubus series. I've never read them, but my wife and sister are huge fans.
  • Peter David: Author of over 70 novels and 1000 comics in a ton of different markets.
I also got to watch and meet some of my favorite indie bands - The Ghosts Project, Abney Park, and Faith and the Muse. Excellent performances by all.

And, I had a walk-by encounter with The Guild's Felicia Day in the Art Gallery. Even though I'm not an MMO player myself, I love her web series (and of course Doctor Horrible's Sing-a-Long Blog). She is so very, very cute in person.

For the sci-fi fans out there - and not that bullcrap SyFy thing....eck - we went to a Babylon 5 panel and a Battlestar Galactica panel. The B5 one was fantastic, with five of the major stars of the show in attendance. If you've never seen the show, once you get past the corny mid-90's 3D graphics and focus on the story and characters, you'll find one of the best dramas ever written in any genre. It actually took me until about episode 20-something to realize how good it was. Unlike Star Trek's crappy standalone "alien of the week" episodes, B5 is all about an ongoing storyline and fully realized character arcs.

The BSG panel was hella fun as well. The actors who played Laura Roslin, Saul Tigh, Ellen Tigh, Tom Zarek, "Dee" Dualla, Kat, Sam, and Felix Gaeta were there. Great group of people, and they dropped some hints about the upcoming BSG movie The Plan.

The only problems - with both the BSG panel and the B5 group - were the few audience members who insisted on asking some seriously ridiculous questions and making outlandish comments. I was reminded of this clip from William Shatner's famous SNL skit, directed at detail-obsessed Trekkies who seem to think the show was real. It was really, really just like that. It's like, "People, it was a show - a great show, yes - but nonetheless, just a frakking show..." Seriously guys, did your parents not socialize you? Did you spend the past 20 years in grandma's basement?

*Sigh*. Sci-fi convention stereotypes exist for a reason, I guess. Galaxy Quest does tend to be pretty accurate.

But anyways, I'm going to hit the sack. My wife doesn't have to work tomorrow. I do. Meh. Let's see how I feel in the AM. I'd rather not be sneezing all over the ARTS keyboards. They're disgusting enough as it is...

Heck, that's probably where I got this bug. There isn't enough hand sanitizer in the world to clean up after using those keyboards.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Seventy Years

Seven decades ago today, Germany ignited the fires of World War II by shelling - and then invading - Poland. To say the world was forever changed pays poor respect to the tens of millions of people who perished in the carnage that ensued.

In the midst of the destruction, new, terrible words were born that have since left an indelible mark on the world's lexicon.
Such small words with such gruesome connotations.

In somewhat related news, my WWII story "Day 483" has made it to the top ten stories of all time on For those who haven't read it yet, click here. It's a tale of ordinary citizens surviving the darkest hours of WWII's Eastern Front.

Some commenters have called it a horror story. I don't agree - horror stories are fantasy. What happened on the Eastern Front goes far beyond what fiction can conjure.

Nightly LOL

I'm working Flight Data and simultaneously monitoring the one radar position we have open. The phone rings at the supervisor's desk and the sup picks up. It's the operations office for a regional air carrier. They have a flight arriving here in about fifteen minutes and apparently the flight's gate has been changed. They ask us to pass the information on to the pilot.

Why they called us, I have no idea. I've yet to see someone issue a "taxi to ramp" instruction from a radar position, but we've got the information. The radar controller agrees to pass it on.

Shortly thereafter, the plane gets handed off to us.

RGL3421: "Approach, Regional 3421 with you descending to 11,000 with Bravo."
Controller: "Regional 3421, Approach, roger. Descend and maintain 3,000."
RGL3421: "Down to 3,000, RGL3421."
Controller: "Oh, RGL3421, I'm not sure why this got passed to me, but your gate's apparently been changed. It's now G9."
RGL3421: "Errr, G9? Roger, 3421."

- A minute or so passes -

RGL3421: "Approach, you did say G9?"
Controller: "Uh, RGL3421, like I said, that's what got passed to me. It's G9."
RGL3421 (laughing): "Yeah, we were just discussing that and, uh, your airport's only got eight gates."

- We all crack up. A few seconds pass. -

Controller (deadpan): "Well, just look for the guy with the flashy lights."
RGL3421 (laughing): "Yeah, we'll do that. If that doesn't work, then we've got some real problems!"