Archive for January, 2008

California Pictures

30 January 2008 at 9:22 am
by Berck

There really aren’t many. We left the camera in Dave’s apartment on the really photo-worthy day. I posted a few in the gallery, though there’s only one good one. And here Dave iPhoned Jonah.

Be sure to wear some flowers in your hair

29 January 2008 at 8:52 pm
by Jonah

In the morning we got up and out in time to make it to a restaurant that serves Dim Sum on Sunday mornings as they opened. I’ve never had Dim Sum, and I can now say that I love it. Chinese women circled the restaurant carrying trays of little covered baskets with food inside. They would tell us what delicacies they held, but of course we couldn’t understand what they were saying in their heavily accented English. So they would open up a basket to display their wares, and we would guess whether it would be tasty or not. We ate all sorts of dumplings some dinner rolls that actually were stuffed with minced meat, a green vegetable that looked like a weed and tasted like grass but came with a yummy thick, sticky brown sauce to dip it in, squares of slightly sweet paste with small chunks of meat in it, a plate overflowing with calamari, green beans in a delicious sauce, and other things. I wanted to try to the chicken feet, but I would have had to have eaten the whole basket myself. We ate and ate and then were sorry we couldn’t sample some things because we already had too much on the table. Fortunately, almost everything came in threes, so there was one for each of us. There was also hot sauce and some mustard with amazing sinus clearing properties. Forks were nowhere to be seen, but we managed just fine except for the slippery round green vegetable that I just ate with my fingers.

Afterward, after having only a pot of tea to share to drink, we stopped at a gas station to fill up Dave’s car with insanely expensive Californian gas and grab some Cokes. Then it was on to “SF” with the top down to the SFMOMA. It has a very nice collection. Some of my favorites were a portrait of Truman Capote by Irving Penn, a guy who creates huge backlit photos of staged scenes, basically carefully creating a realistic painting but without the paint, and a Japanese lady who creates “class photos” where she plays all of the students and the teacher by shooting herself in different hairdos, uniform arrangements, and expressions. There was also a good assemblage of canonical modern art from Matisse to O’Keeffe to Rothko to Warhol, even one of Duchamp’s many Fountains. As usual, I had to wait for Berck to finish, so I deposited myself in front of one of the video displays, an interesting one showing adolescents outside a club, instructed to be in front of a camera for several minutes at a time, a study in the uneasiness of the space between childhood and adulthood.

When we had exhausted the exhibits, we went to the Exploratorium, a huge science museum packed with kids mashing the buttons on all of the interactive displays. Still, there were more exhibits than kids, so there was always something interesting to see. My favorite was the heart beating in the fertilized chicken egg. I’ll have to dig out a magnifying glass next time I bake.

We had to leave before too long to make it to our last restaurant, the famous San Tung 2. (I don’t think #1 exists.) I’d discovered this place on a Google search for “crack chicken.” The wet dry-fried chicken wings were indeed good, think General Tso’s wings, but weren’t what I’d call addictive. The hot and sour soup was crammed with solids including “tree fungus” that tasted good but was the consistency of what the fungus you see on trees is what you’d imagine is like. The noodles with black bean sauce were only good after adding soy and hot sauce. But the fried dumplings… those were delicious, even if they didn’t give us any dumpling sauce. Again we were not offered forks but were given a pot of tea.

We ate hurriedly and left to make sure we got to the airport in plenty of time. Security didn’t take any time at all, and then we checked the monitors. Our plane was an hour and a half late arriving. We had a couple beers and found a quiet corner of the airport with a power outlet to finish watching the movie we’d started on the way in, then began another. We didn’t get off the ground until 9. We finally got home at 1:30 am. I drank a lot of tea the next day at work to stay awake. Last night we went to bed at 8. I didn’t wake up until my alarm went off at 7.

There are pictures, but Berck is controlling them. So you’ll have to ask him if you want to see any.

San Francisco Bay Area Adventures, Day 1

28 January 2008 at 7:22 pm
by Jonah

We are currently stuck in the San Francisco airport, our flight delayed an hour and a half. This is a much nicer airport than San Jose, where we flew into. There, even though we were on a 757, we had to walk down a portable walkway and through the rain to the gate. Yes, there was 100% chance of rain on Friday, and it was indeed raining. But Dave picked us up outside without any trouble and took us straight to his favorite Indian place, the Amber restaurant.

It was a Friday night, and the lobby was jammed with people waiting to be seated. One whole wall was covered in Zagat plaques. We finally got seated, then had to wait even longer for our menus. I wanted to try a mint, lemon drink, but our waiter wouldn’t let me. “Have you had it before? I don’t think you’ll like it.” So I ordered a chai and immediately discredited us as stupid Americans who don’t wait until after dinner to drink tea. It was the best chai I’d ever tasted, though. Berck couldn’t find lamb vindaloo on the menu, but he asked, and our waiter said, “Yes, of course, we can make lamb vindaloo.” We also ordered a couple vegetable samosas (delicious) and a mixed meat appetizer consisting of a skillet of sizzling onions with chunks of lamb, ground lamb, and chicken. The ground lamb was delicious, especially in the dark plum sauce, and the chicken was tender and juicy and cooked just right. But the lamb cubes… oh, it was the best lamb Berck and I had ever tasted. It was cooked just right with a perfect amount of seasoning. Along with the lamb vindaloo, we had the best chicken tikki marsala we’d ever had and some average spinach and cheese, which we hadn’t planned on ordering, but the waiter asked, “Aren’t you going to order a vegetable?” and then tried to push the sautéed okra. Berck was thrilled with his lamb vindaloo, declaring it the best he’d ever tasted. I’m not a huge fan of lamb vindaloo. I like hot, but I like lots of other flavors mixed in too and thereby delighted by the chicken.

After supper Dave took us on a walking tour of Stanford, where he graduated from law school, in the dark and rain. It was a light northwest rain, and we had on our waterproof jackets. We had a beer at his favorite dive and then went to his apartment nearby. Dave’s apartment has one bedroom, in which is his bed and a dresser. The living room has a table and four chairs, a couch, a desk and chair, two bookcases and an entertainment center with a huge flat screen. It’s very much a bachelor pad, especially for a young associate who spends most of his time at the office. It was very late, so I went to bed, while Berck and Dave stayed up talking.

We woke up at 7 in the morning when my mom text messaged Berck. She’d left me a message on my phone the night before, but it never showed that I had a voice mail until the next morning when I turned my phone on after turning it off overnight. Berck wouldn’t let me go back to sleep, and we wanted to let Dave sleep in, so Berck surfed the Internet and I read a Buffy graphic novel in Dave’s room.

When we were all ready to go, we stopped at the store and bought some water and Wheat Thins. Then we headed up into the hills in Dave’s BMW 330 convertible. The sky was completely overcast, but it wasn’t raining, so we put the top down and then enjoyed the ride as Dave “carved up” a wonderfully twisty road. Being pushed back into your comfortably firm leather seat by accelerating uphill is a great feeling. The only complaint I had about the car was the non-existent legroom in the back. I finally stretched one leg across the back seat and wedged it against the driver’s door.

We disembarked at a trail head and headed down into a beautiful valley. The hills were covered in thick, long grass, while the valley was home to sprawling canopied trees covered in fern-like moss. It looked a lot like the mountains of North Carolina except without the dense undergrowth. Then it was steeply back up again, and I couldn’t keep up with the boys anymore. When I finally did arrive at the top, I was rewarded with Wheat Thins and an amazing view of the Bay. The rest of our six mile hike was easy.

Next we drove to the coast, and Dave was a good sport and kept the top down, even though it was windy and chilly. I liked having the top out of the way so I could see the redwoods as we drove through them, even if I had to put on my hood and snap closed my collar to keep the wind from flogging me with it. We stopped at a rare beach lagoon amongst the cliffs, and Berck dipped his foot into the Pacific. We climbed a nearby hill and admired the Pacific’s waves crashing into the cliffs stretching in either direction.

Next it was across the Bay Bridge into Berkeley where we ate at Zachary’s Chicago Pizza, which also had a wall covered in Zagat plaques. The stuffed crust pizza was delicious, and we barely managed to finish a medium. Dave drove us up to the university science building for the sunset (he knew what time it was supposed to set by checking on his iPhone), and even though it was still too overcast to see the sun actually set, it was still a beautiful view.

Next we found a parking place down by the main part of the campus, and Dave showed us the free space. It was full of rainwater, so we decided it was in international waters. Then we walked up to the tower, which was busy carilloning and admired the view from its base. The architect positioned it to look straight out through the Golden Gate, long before a bridge was built across it. We walked back down into Berkeley town to a music store and browsed, then walked back to the car, admiring the amazing selection of restaurants to choose from. There were Nepalese, Burmese, Vietnamese, Chinese, Mexican, Italian, and the list went on and on. Back in the car we drove to downtown Berkeley as opposed to campus side Berkeley and found a brewery. I ordered a red, and Berck ordered a black, but we discovered we liked each other’s better. A band was setting up to play outside, but it started to drizzle, so they packed up to play inside. It was the first time it had rained on us all day, even with a forecast of 80% chance of rain.

Berck was admiring all of the “amazing” pizzas being carried by us as we sipped our beer, so Dave decreed it was time for burritos. We drove back across the Bay Bridge, this time having to stop and pay four dollars. They have it right and figure that if you’re going across the bridge one direction, you’re most likely going to have to go back one of these days, so they only bother to charge you once. It really does make more sense than anything else. Dave drove us into the Mission District and warned us not to leave any valuables in the car. Then we walked a couple of blocks to a Mexican place with an assembly line of very fast moving Latinos behind the counter. There were no Zagat plaques but there was a CitySearch award and what looked like a very old plaque from the International Artist’s Club for “BEST TACO.” Dave recommended the Super Burrito with carne asado, but you could choose any meat, which were all listed in Spanish then translated into English. They included “beef head meat,” and “TRIPAS,” which looked like it had been added later and was not translated. I was very tempted to order “beef head meat,” but they were just chopping up several pounds of extremely tasty looking slices of meat. I ordered my Super Burrito with the stuff they were cutting up. The guy taking my order, glanced over, nodded, and said, “Beef.” So I ended up with the same thing as the boys. We also all three got Mexican Cokes. Berck collected all three salsas for us, but the burritos were so tasty, I didn’t bother with them. There was that yummy beef, deliciously seasoned whole pinto beans, sour cream, cheese, slices of perfectly ripe avocado, a little rice all wrapped in a soft, slightly grilled tortilla. It was indeed an excellent burrito and well worth a drive into the Mission District at night. Dave watched Berck inhale the last corner of his burrito and proclaimed that he’d never seen anyone finish a burrito faster than he could. Berck answered that, if being a pilot didn’t work out, he was going into competitive eating.

With full bellies, we headed south again to Palo Alto for gelato. It was very, very good gelato for the States, even if you could get it in a waffle cone (I highly recommend it). By now it was raining pretty steadily, but we found shelter beneath a tree, so our ice cream didn’t get too wet. Finally, we were back home at the apartment. I took a shower, read a paragraph of my Heinlein paperback, and fell straight asleep.

Next: Day 2

If you’re going to San Francisco…

25 January 2008 at 2:44 pm
by Jonah

We’re off to San Jose for the weekend to visit Dave. Forecast is rain, a large percent chance of rain, and a larger percent chance of rain.

We hope to go hiking and eat some good ethnic food.


17 January 2008 at 4:25 pm
by Berck

[Note: This entry back-dated.]

Since I got my crew badge, I can theoretically ride in the cockpit of airliners. I got up early yesterday morning and had Jonah drive me to the airport. The weather folks said there was a 100% chance of snow the night before, and it did snow, but not much. I’d been worried that the flight I wanted to get on would be delayed, and at the very least, need de-icing. Turns out the ceiling was 600 feet with 3 miles visibility, which was plenty good enough to take off. Even good enough to land.

The gate agent was very skeptical about my plot, and didn’t seem to understand I didn’t want a seat in the back of the aircraft, but rather *wanted* to ride up front. She finally let me board after everyone else. I asked the flight attendant if I could take a left into the cockpit instead of a right, while showing her my badge. She nodded, and I was surprised to see 4 stripes on the shoulder of the fellow in the right seat. He introduced himself as Mike, and Cindy (who also had 4 bars on her shoulder) was sitting in the left seat. It turned out he’s a check airman. Cindy was completing Captain upgrade IOE (Initial Operating Experience) which explained the plethora of bars in the cockpit.

I stowed my stuff in the cabin, grabbed my sunglasses even though it was overcast with light snow, and plugged in my headset. Cindy briefed me on the cockpit door and oxygen mask, then briefed Mike on the takeoff, who had a few questions. I didn’t catch the whole briefing as I was getting settled, but I gathered that they’d be doing a full power takeoff because of the gusty crosswinds, reported wind shear, and anti-ice bleeds. Cindy headed out and checked the wings one last time to make sure the little bits of snow we’d seen weren’t adhering to the wings at all, otherwise we’d need to deice. There wasn’t, and we all strapped in. The flight attendant closed the main passenger door, and verified with the cockpit that the proximity sensors agreed before she shut the cockpit door. I locked the super-duper-TSA-mandated-terrorist-proof-kevlar door.

We had a substantial tailwind, so they got the ground crew to push us back and aimed the aircraft into the wind before starting an engine. Jet engines don’t like to start when air is going through them backwards. As they started the right engine, I quickly started noticing differences between this CRJ-900 and the CRJ-200 I’d been studying. (The plan is that I do my simulator stuff and check ride in the CRJ-200. Then we’ll get a day of powerpoint presentations about how the bigger aircraft are different, and supposedly that’s enough to teach us to fly it.) I noticed there wasn’t a choice of Ignition A or B, since there were no ignition switches at all, except one for continuous ignition. I figured this meant the computer handled it. The engine spun up very slowly, and while N2 (the core) was over 20%, there was still 0 N1 (which meant the fan wasn’t turning) when they added fuel. It lit off immediately, but took its time spinning up. They remarked it was some of the slowest they’d ever seen it spin up, it was so cold out. The oil temperature was reading -19C and the oil pressure was in the high caution range because, at that temperature, the stuff is sludge. They were about to start the second engine, when ground control advised that we’d have a ground delay, so the pilots elected to not start the second engine for fear of burning too much fuel before we could go. They made an announcement to the passengers and were about to kick back and relax when ATC asked if they’d accept a delay over some intermediate waypoint, and they agreed to that in order to get off the ground ASAP. They started the left engine pronto, but still taxied single-engine until the right one heated up a bit. Mike coached Cindy on taxi technique a bit, since it was still pretty new to her. (Captains do all the taxiing since the steering tiller is on their side.) There’s a lot to it when you’re moving an 86 passenger 90,000lb chunk of metal with wings around.

The takeoff happened a lot faster than I’d expected. I was amazed at how you couldn’t really hear the engines at all. V1, VR and V2 callouts all happened in a blur and we were immediately in the clouds. In what seemed like no time at all, we were in cruise at something like 32,000 ft. I asked quite a few questions once the cockpit workload had gotten reduced to nothing more than answering the occasional radio call and monitoring the autopilot to make sure it wasn’t doing anything stupid. The clouds were gone by the time we got to New Mexico, though the ground was covered in snow. On the way into Phoenix, they showed me how you can use the FMS to tell you how fast you have to descend to make a crossing restriction. We also had a speed restriction, and I asked how they planned to make that, and they showed me how you can insert a waypoint just before the crossing restriction, tell the computer to hit the designated altitude at that waypoint, then you’ve got the space between to slow down to the assigned speed. Nifty stuff.

We were assigned a visual approach into Phoenix, which they backed up with the ILS, and left the autopilot on until a few hundred feet. There wasn’t a lot of drama in the landing, power back to idle about the time the radar altimeter said “Fifty,” just a little bit of a flare instead of flying it all the way into the ground. She made it look awfully easy, but after having seen a couple of fellow newbies do it in the sim, I knew it was going to take a lot of getting used to.

We turned off the runway at what seemed like a million miles an hour, and there wasn’t much traffic as we taxied to the gate. Engines shut down, I opened the cockpit door and thanked them for the ride. I got into the terminal with just enough time to hit the bathroom and get to the gate for a flight going to Yuma just as it was boarding. I’d picked a Yuma flight because it was short and would get me back in time to catch lunch with Todd.

The Yuma trip was about the right length. No real time in cruise, so things were always busy. I helped fill out the trip can as well as make a few radio calls to the company and even made the cabin PA announcement from the cockpit. Despite my endless experience giving PA’s to aircraft cabins, I was strangely nervous about doing it while I couldn’t see the folks I was talking to.

There was no gate assignment coming into Yuma, as there’s only one. The pilots advised that I get off in order to get the gate’s paperwork straight about the return flight. Unfortunately, there’s no way to get off the plane without them making me leave the secured area. And then I had to wait for the TSA to get off their fat lazy asses and open the security checkpoint. Seriously, they only screen passengers about 30 minutes before a scheduled departure, security is “closed” the rest of the time. With 6 of them, it didn’t seem like it would be a huge imposition for a couple of them to screen people all the time. I was not happy, and they demanded to see my boarding pass despite the fact that I had no such thing. Eventually, they let me back through, and I got back on the plane.

Todd and I got pizza for lunch and hung out in his apartment for a few hours before I headed back to the Springs. The aircraft on the flight back had a deferred pack, which meant we were limited to 25,000 ft. That means we used more fuel and took longer to get home (jets are much faster the higher they go, because the air is thinner… thus a given airspeed gives you a much faster speed across the ground). It turns out we had to drop down to 23,000ft due to an Air Force refueling training practice going on in the area.

Jonah picked me up from the airport a little after 9:30pm. It was cold and I was exhausted– and I hadn’t even done anything!