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Life

Heathrow to Bastia

After a few days preparation, I joined my Dad and his friends online last night for my first experience “flying” online. Twice a week the group meet up to fly between two locations around the world, using a variety of flight simulators – which through the miracles of modern software and connectivity, allow them to appear within each other’s games, and to talk to one another.

You might think it would be enough for them to operate the ridiculously accurate aircraft together and have some fun chattering while doing so – and you would be wrong. Two of the group work as air traffic controllers during the evening – alternating between the various hats involved in directing the big jets around the world – from ground, to departures, to control centres, to arrivals, tower, and back to ground.

I hadn’t planned on doing any talking at all over the radio while joining them for their flight – I was no more than an interested onlooker. Sure, I put some time into learning the systems of the plane I was flying to make sure I could get it from A to B (a Boeing 737-800 – in the picture accompanying the post) – programming the route into the on-board computers, and operating the autopilot – but other than that it was all pretty much “seat of pants” stuff.

I think I got away with it. It’s amazing how quickly you can learn quite a lot when thrown in at the deep end. Operating the aircraft wasn’t the problem (well, it kind of was, but I’ll get to that) – talking on the radio was. There is a very specific language used in communication with air traffic control – and the people I joined knew it, were practiced at it, and were comfortable with it. I kind of did my best, and it wasn’t that good. I’m tempted to read up on the correct phraseology ready for a “next time”, but in reality I don’t know when next time might be – work and home life have been all consuming recently.

I had a few glitches with the plane on-route – mostly because I’ve paid the absolute minimum to get to where I am. The plane I used came free with the simulator, and it has some – how can you put this – idiocyncracies?

The flight management computer crashed while sitting on the tarmac at Heathrow, causing me to re-load the entire simulator while everybody else was busy chattering among themselves, and re-input the entire flight plan. While on approach to Bastia airport in Corsica at the end of the flight, it went on the fritz again – turning half of the cockpit into a fruit machine, and somehow stopping the airbrakes from deploying, and the wheelbrakes from engaging at all. Long story short – I arrived very fast, and went on something of a gardening expedition.

I’m going to use a different aircraft next time – possibly a commercial one that’s – you know – been tested…

Anyway.

Here are some photos of the flight, which took about four hours, end-to-end:

Could this be a new hobby? Maybe.

For those that are interested, the simulator is X-Plane, the ATC voice software was TeamSpeak, I used a route planner called LittleNavMap, and a piece of software called JoinFS enabled us to see each other’s aircraft across three or four different flight simulator platforms.

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Life

Uncomplicated

A fellow blogger commented about the uncomplicated nature of my life today, and I couldn’t help smiling. My life appears uncomplicated, because that’s how I write about it. I suppose compared to many, my life is uncomplicated though. I’m wondering what qualifies as complicated now though.

In the blog, I am me – that’s my real name in the browser address bar, and in the title at the top of the page. Sure, I’ve experimented with pen names and pseudonyms in the past, but I always end up returning to “me”. I’m not clever or skillful enough to write through somebody else’s eyes – or at least that’s what I like to tell myself while qualifying why I’ve still not knuckled down and started writing that novel.

There’s a lot about real life that I don’t share on the blog. Nothing about work. Nothing really about the kids lives any more – their lives became their own quite some time ago. I will admit to grimacing when I see other parents splash their children’s lives all over social media. Some seem to live through their children, and some seem to use their children as a platform. It’s all very strange.

So what does this place end up being? A journal. A simple, uncomplicated journal of the days of my life. I often worry that the little things don’t add up to very much, but continue writing anyway, because what else am I going to do? Perhaps choosing to be “just me” is partly driven by laziness. I don’t have to craft deep posts – I just record. I suppose the blog is uncomplicated in that regard.

Seventeen years. This is the seventeenth year that I’ve been emptying my head into the keyboard. There were a couple of years before that, and I recently discovered a little of them on a ZIP disk attached to the iMac. One day I’ll fish them from the abyss and wince at my long forgotten words.

Categories
Life

Running, Motorbikes, and Pretend Plane Crashes

I’m at the stage of having fallen off the blogging horse where I’m starting to wander around looking for the horse, shouting it’s name from time to time – hoping it will come clip-clopping around the corner from a nearby saloon bar. Actually, I think cowboys whistle for their horse in movies, don’t they ?

Maybe blogging works like whistling up the wind. Maybe if I whistle, the words will begin to appear once again. I wonder if I have to whistle a particular tune ?

Anyway. Today was Monday. A fairly average Monday, if I’m honest.

I scraped myself out of bed at 7am, and met my eldest daughter in the kitchen – already dressed, preparing to go for a run. She has recently discovered that some of her clothes don’t fit any more – so it having a mad health kick to reverse the situation. Of course she discovered perhaps twenty minutes later that running several miles around town is much harder work and less pleasurable than watching Netflix.

I’ve run for two consecutive days now, and my shins have begun complaining about it. A dull ache has returned that hasn’t been there for over a decade. I’m ignoring it, but I know exactly what it is – I have “hyper-flexibility” (or some other such idiotic condition) – meaning my joints are a bit more bendy than they should be. While this doesn’t mean I’m the next Mr Fantastic, it does mean that too much running causes my legs to hurt. It’s as good an excuse as any to have tomorrow off.

I wasn’t supposed to be working today at all, but ended up helping out with a few bits and pieces. My commute is of course hilariously short – about ten steps from the kitchen to the junk room.

What else has been going on?

Oh yes – our middle daughter – she of Rugby and cooking fame in the hereabouts – has been bought a motorcycle. She starts college in September, a few miles out of town. She’s not old enough to learn to drive yet, but is old enough for a 50cc scooter. I imagine (hope) she will use it to get to rugby training when the weather is nice too. Before being let loose on it, we’re forcing her to do a training course. My other half is already threatening to borrow it to get to work.

I looked at getting a scooter for myself a few years ago, but ultimately decided that cycling to the office is a better idea long-term. If not for cycling (and now running) I would end up putting all sorts of weight on. Talking of cycling – I should get out on the bike in the morning, and go for a ride – stop the cycling muscles from checking out completely.

Finally, I’ve continued messing around with flight simulators in the quieter moments of the last few days. It turns out the flying bit is the easy bit – it was always the easy bit – it’s the “doing what you’re supposed to be doing” that takes some learning – flying departures and approaches “by the book”.

I kind of a have a scary story about the simulator too – that happened last night, and took me a while to calm down from, which is ridiculous, because IT’S A VIDEO GAME!

In order to learn more about the procedural stuff, I have been hopping from airport to airport in the simulator, working my way down the coast of Alaska, Canada, the US, across to the US east coast, and then out to Cuba. Last night I setup a flight plan from Havana to Gustavo Rizo – from one end of Cuba to the other.

To make the flight more interesting, I set the time in the simulator to the dark of night, the weather to overcast, filed the flight plan, tuned the radio to the computer-generated air traffic controllers, and set off.

Everything was going SO well. An hour into the flight I had flown the length of Cuba, and was descending into the pattern at Gustova Rizo – following instructions to descend first to 5000ft, and then on the base leg of the pattern, to 2000ft. I couldn’t see anything outside, so blindly followed instructions.

Suddenly every warning light in the cockpit lit up like a christmas tree, and the flight management computer started shouting “WARNING! PULL UP! WARNING! TOO LOW! WARNING PULL UP!”. Before I had a chance to react, there was a horrible scraping sound, then a few seconds of silence, then a sickening crunch sound, and the cockpit went dark.

Flight over.

I went to bed, wondering what on earth had happened, and needed to calm down. I was genuinely shaken up, even though it was a simulator. This morning, I created a new flight – from the destination airport, and flew the route in reverse – looking at the GPS track to figure out where I had been.

The computer generated air traffic control had generated it’s own “standard” approach pattern, because the database of known “standard approaches” didn’t cover the exact airport I was landing at. Unfortunately the flight simulator wasn’t clever enough to figure out that the approach might lead directly through the 3000ft high hills a few miles south of the runway. I had essentially glanced off the highest peak while descending through the clouds in the dark, and ended up in the forest a few hundred yards further on.

It was galling really – if I had been earlier or later making my turn, I would have missed the hill – but no, I was doing exactly what the simulator air traffic controller was telling me to do, exactly when they told me to do it.

So yes. Anyway. Enough about that – before I bore you to death.

The reason for messing around with the simulator at all is to get good enough at it to do a flight with my Dad. Since retiring, he spends his free time doing virtual flights in a flight simulator with a group of friends around the country. They meet up online a couple of times each week, and “fly” a pre-determined route. One of them even acts as air traffic control – managing the queue for departure and arrival. And that’s the bit I’m still terrible at – saying the right thing to the controllers. Once I can do that, I can do a simulated flight with them, and no doubt be mocked mercilessly for any mistakes I make.

I’ll let you know how it goes, if and when it happens.

Categories
Life

Saturday Morning

Yesterday evening I posted something vaguely political on Facebook, and almost immediately regretted it – not because of the subject matter of my post – because of the mob mentality of many of those that responded.

Why do so many people only see the world from their perspective? Why do so few people consider the bigger picture? It almost seemed that many had been bottling up personal frustrations about anything and everything, and had been looking for an opportunity to vent bile.

Although I managed to halt most of the idiocy, and open a few people’s eyes, I can safely say that I never want to become a politician. Imagine what it must be like – where you balance the advice of expert analysis to make life changing decisions, and no matter what you do, a proportion of those effected will suddenly become much more qualified than the career scientists, economists, biologists, or whoever else about whatever decision you have made.

Anyway.

It’s Saturday morning. I’m holed up in the study, tapping away on the keyboard of the twenty year old iMac, writing this into a text editor most people have not seen for a decade. After saving the words I will copy them over to a file share on the Raspberry Pi, and then check them into a Git repository on the internet. From there I will be able to grab them on the PC across the room, and pollute the world wide web with them.

It sounds insane, but it stops me from becoming distracted mid-sentence, opening a browser tab, and jumping down some rabbit hole or other. I know I’m my own worst enemy.

Yesterday I got out of the house for a few hours with our youngest daughter, and went for a walk in the sunshine (read: baking furnace in the sky). We walked over a nearby hill that looks out over town, and then out along the river and back – about twelve kilometres or so. Along the way we saw geese, cows, and all manner of idiotic people disregarding social distancing rules. There seems to be a link with money and idiocy – the 1% that own the river-side houses seemed to be taking no notice at all of any of the guidance – with friends visiting, children playing in huge groups – you end up having to compartmentalise them in your head, and try to take no notice.

I find myself compartmentalising a lot recently.

Today is a quiet day. The washing machine is running, the sun is shining, my middle daughter is continuing to paint miniature soldiers, and I’m hoping to watch the SpaceX launch later. In a little while I’ll call my parents to see how they are doing, and then the day is my own. I’m thinking a video game, or a book.

We all know I’ll just end up down an internet rabbit hole, don’t we.

Categories
Life

Running and Working

Slowly but surely, I’m losing track of the day of the week. I’m only working three days a week at the moment – Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday – so my weekends have become longer than my working week. After decades working five days a week, it’s a bit of a shock to the system.

I didn’t help that I went to bed at 2am last night. I somehow scraped myself out of bed this morning, and went for a run – I looked in on our youngest daughter, but all I could get from her was a muffled groan about something or other. I asked for a final time if she was running or not – yes or no – and she shook her head into the pillow.

So we lasted three weeks of “Couch to 5K” runs until I found myself as the “last person standing”. Rather than continue on with the programme alone, I decided to just “go for a run” this morning – to remind my body what a longer run feels like. I ran the same route we have been doing recently, but without any walking at all – and of course the weather cooperated by trying to cook me slowly throughout the run. I kind of surprised myself though – and survived, even after so little sleep.

The rest of the day has been filled with conference calls, emails, writing documents, and jumping down development rabbit holes. Pretty standard stuff.

I can’t help wondering if our ways of working and living have changed for the better in some ways – for many companies, the only reason they have an office is convention, and lack of trust in their own staff. I think perhaps the last few months have made many realise that their fears were unfounded – and that the internet, and platforms such as Office 365, GSuite, Teams, Zoom, Slack, and so on have made remote working a viable alternative.

I guess I’m lucky because I have no problem working alone – I don’t really rely on anybody else for anything, whereas I know others do. There’s going to be a huge problem bringing new starts up-to-speed, and perhaps recruitment will look much more towards self sufficiency as a desirable trait.

Here’s the thing though – if I’m going to end up sitting in the junk room for months of the year, perhaps it’s time to declutter, and decorate it.

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Life

Stupid O’clock

It’s heading towards 1:30am, and somehow I’m still up – which is ridiculous, given that I’m supposed to be going running with my youngest daughter early tomorrow morning. Can I survive on six hours sleep? I’m sure I’ll find out.

After work this evening I spent an hour sitting outside with my middle daughter, painting undercoat onto miniature soldiers. I bought a Warhammer starter set for her earlier in the year, after spectacularly unsuccessfully setting out to find a new board game. I think I wrote about it on the blog at the time.

It’s surprisingly therapeutic – covering little plastic figures with paint. I’m not sure why. While we sat, and thought about nothing more than what we were doing, she told me all about them – they are “Stormcast Eternals”, and “Night-something-or-others” (I apologise in advance if you know anything about any of this). After dinner I did a little digging on the internet, and found some books full of lore about the universe the figures inhabit.

I can see the whole thing being a gigantic slippery slope – for me more than her. I might have ordered some base boards, and paint to make scenery late tonight – she doesn’t know yet.

What else has been going on around here ? Not much really. Running, chores, playing video games, working, painting little soldiers, watching movies, playing board games, and still not reading any books.

I’m still not missing blogging every day. There must be something wrong with me (or something finally right with me, depending on your point of view).

Anyway. Bedtime.

Categories
Life

Pretending to Fly

I’m not sure that I have written so little for quite some time. Perhaps years. I haven’t so much fallen off the blogging horse, as taken the wheels off the wagon, and re-purposed the chassis for some other purpose (firewood springs to mind).

There are all sorts of thoughts swimming around my head about the future. Is this the end of my writing a daily journal? Perhaps. Is it a reflection on life slowing down, and realising that some things might be more important than telling a daily story where nothing much happens? Probably. Perhaps I’m finally realising that I don’t have to be out here, scribbling incessant posts every day – recording anything and everything. Perhaps a little now and again is enough.

In other news, I have more evidence that I’m living in a TV show.

I went for a walk with my daughter this morning – along the river to a nearby town, across the hills, and home again. We saw very little evidence of other people until we reached a road junction not far from home – a junction where I have always joked about unwittingly starring in my own show. Having not seen any cars for several hours, we approached the junction, and my daughter announced “cue the cars” – and out of nowhere, we coud not cross the road – four cars passed in a train – one behind the other. I burst out laughing, and pointed into the distance in all directions – there were no other cars in sight for perhaps a quarter of a mile in any direction.

If I AM starring in my own TV show, it would explain a LOT of things.

In yet more news, I’ve been playing with pretend aeroplane simulators again. I was talking to my Dad the other day about the fun he has “flying” online with his friends, and it sparked something inside me. Over the weekend I have taught myself how to navigate via GPS (I already knew how to use VORs, NDBs, DME etc), and had all sorts of fun pretending to fly from pretend airport to pretend airport in a light aircraft.

So there you have it. While not writing endless platitudes about very little, I have been pretending to pilot light aircraft, and inventing challenges for myself. When I finally get around to flying with my Dad’s friends, somehow I don’t think they’ll find my radio skills very humorous – “Heathrow Control, would like to order a deep pan pepperoni for pick up – approaching from the south west at 100 knots, ETA 30 minutes. Juliet Bravo 73 Over.”…

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Life

If Only We Had Some Cookies

My youngest daughter’s school has been taking part in a huge effort to rack up as many kilometres as possible in physical exercise while in lockdown – by either walking, running, or cycling. Each day after our Couch to 5K runs she has been emailing the distance covered to her teachers, who have been compiling the results, and letting everybody know how many kilometres were left to reach the target. Last night the remaining target stood at about 49 kilometres.

This morning I set out on bicycles with Miss 15, with the intention of lopping as many kilometres off the total as possible in one go.

I had agreed to cycle around town with her – perhaps doing 10 kilometres or so. While cycling out towards a nearby town, it occurred to her that we might visit her school. Great idea – except her school is quite some distance away.

“Are you really sure? – it’s a long way.” (this was one of those “are you really sure” conversations, where the parent is actually thinking about themselves, but trying to make it sound like concern for their child)

“Yeah”

And so the epic journey began – cycling across the county to her school – a twenty eight kilometre round trip. I think the biggest shock to me was the amount of traffic on the roads. It would appear that pandemic really doesn’t exist any more for a lot of people. We saw car parks filled to bursting, and queues of people at many of the shops we passed along our way.

I know people joke about Darwin taking care of those that either believe the pandemic is a hoax, or massively over-blown, but trust me – I know several people that have had (still have) the virus, and it’s nothing to joke about.

Perhaps the biggest annoyance is the citizen journalists that are jumping on the anti-establishment band-wagon at the moment to gain traffic, and therefore advertising money. They are cyncically playing to people’s frustrations, peddling fear, uncertainly, doubt, and just about every anti-establishment fiction, or distortion of statistics they can dig up and fashion to fit their agenda. It’s not helping anybody.

Anyway. I bought some coffee earlier. We ran out. I’m thinking about installing a panic button in the kitchen – one of those Amazon “instant order” buttons – specifically for coffee.

If only we had some cookies.

Categories
Life

Missing Days

I think it’s fair to say I’ve well and truly fallen off the blogging horse. After several years posting almost every day, I’ve dropped back to posting every few days, and it feels strangely fine. Nobody has come after me with a pitchfork (yet).

I’m sitting in the junk room for the first time in three days. It’s just getting dark outside, and I’m wondering what I will fill the next four days with – I’m not due back in the office until Tuesday next week.

I’m still running with my youngest daughter every other morning – working our way through the “Couch to 5K” programme. She has unwittingly become something of a superstar at school – they are taking part in a challenge where all pupils are asked to walk, run or cycle, and to submit their miles towards an overall total. We are heading out on bicycles in the morning to finish the challenge in style – it finishes at noon – so will hopefully add quite a few kilometres to the final total.

It will surprise nobody to discover that I still haven’t read any of the colossal mountain of unread books that I listed at the start of the coronavirus lock-down. Evenings have been spent watching movies, playing board games, meddling with computers, or running quizzes on Zoom. Days off have been spent fighting with our jungle of a garden.

I am starting to wonder how difficult it will be to resume normal life. For years our live has run on rails – working all week, doing chores throughout most evenings, then running ragged most weekends taking the children to sporting fixtures, washing kit, buying groceries, and so on. I’m not entirely sure how we did it, because even with days to burn, we’re still somehow managing to fill them.

Anyway. It’s getting late. Perhaps a glass of wine, and then bed.

p.s. I’ve been listening to a lot of Katherine Jenkins recently. I’m not entirely sure why. I didn’t used to like her voice, but it’s grown on me.