TV Show Review: Revolution (Warning: Ranty)

I almost stopped watching this show over the opening. Right here at 0:41: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y4Bq-h2JCSE

If you go to 0:41, you will see a jumbo jet spinning to the ground.

Let me explain why I raged over this. The premise of the show is something happened that caused all electricity to stop working. Later in the show, it’s explained that there are nanobots in the air, absorbing all electrical current. This means computers won’t work, cars that run on gasoline don’t run, etc.

Okay, I can suspend disbelief for that. In fact, I’m a really easy person for the most part to convince, because I always want to let myself sink into a story, and will happily go with the story as long as it’s internally consistent.

Whoever came up with the jet spinning out of control clearly seems to think that electricity has something to do with lift. It doesn’t. That’s not what happens to a plane when you have an electrical failure unless the pilots are complete frelling asshats.

Engine failures are something pilots are drilled on – to adjust the speed of the plane to maximize the distance you can cover, and try to reach something flat enough to make a decently smooth crash landing. Gimli Glider anyone? If the engine fails in an aeroplane, it does not suddenly drop like a stone or spin out of control like crazy.

That’s an engine failure though. That’s assuming that what happened would cause the engine to fail. An electrical failure does not cause an engine failure in an aeroplane. An electrical failure is an electrical failure. Your electronics will stop working. With the Gimli Glider, the battery eventually ran down, and they were stuck using a ram turbine to power the hydraulics that moved the control surfaces. That’s likely to fail under the circumstances of the show’s premise as well, so I can believe that the pilots would have lost control of the plane entirely. However, they’re more likely to end up in a spiral dive then. That spin? Completely implausible. They’d definitely be in a shitty position – trying to make a landing with no control over the plane, or next to none, over ground that appears as nothing but black, since all the lights on the ground are out, and it’s dark. They will probably crash if they try to land, but they won’t spin. Those planes are built to be aerodynamically stable, and resist spinning.

But here’s the kicker, and you probably haven’t even thought about this yet. Okay, so presumably the plane is in this death spin because of a lack of any electricity working. It’s affected by this no electricity phenomenon, right?

THEN WHY ARE THE POSITION LIGHTS STILL ON?

Why? Because it’s night, and we wouldn’t be able to see the plane in it’s dramatically implausible spin if there wasn’t something lighting it up, and clearly that’s more important than internal consistency to the premise.

Ugh.

This is particularly bad because this is the opening scene, and the scene introducing the premise, so the audience is using everything they see right now to interpret how the premise works.

Anyway, that’s why I almost stopped watching the show.

Now to why I kept watching the show: Rachel. And some Charlie, but mostly Rachel. She’s introduced as a damsel in distress. She’s a prisoner of the Big Bad, and the characters have to rescue her. She falls nicely into the mother-desperately-trying-to-protect-her-children trope. She’s also a scientist, so she’s uber smart, which is also cool.

And they’ll play up all these elements, and then suddenly remind you that she’s also freakin’ badass. Give her a gun, and she’s not the sort of woman who stands at the back whimpering, hoping she’s not forced to make the decision to pull the trigger on someone and then when she is, can’t bring herself to take a life. No, that’s her husband. Rachel? She will shoot your ass. She gets to be brainy, a middle aged mother, and still gets to be a fighter.

And Charlie’s her daughter, and because Charlie is introduced first, you don’t realize right away that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree when it comes to badassery. Charlie is kind of another subversion of a trope, because she’s the protective character who’s sworn to look after her younger, sickly brother (he suffers from activity induced asthma). The trope is just gender swapped. She’s an archer, so right away has warrior characteristics. She gets a romantic subplot, but it doesn’t overshadow anything else about her.

There’s another warrior female character too, so there’s three major female characters who kick butt. They didn’t just go with the token honorary male character, they’ve got three of them. And the male characters, the writers weren’t afraid to make them weak – Rachel’s husband, and then the teacher character are both non-fighter types out of their element.

Anyway, I’m kind of glad I got over my rage over that four second clip of the plane spinning. The male to female roles are well balanced, and the women in the plot are there as more than arm candy to the male characters. And of course I’m a sucker for post-apocalyptic settings.

And it’s on Netflix, for Americans and Canadians who can hack American Netflix.

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Thoughts On Talking To ATC

When I got my licence I kind of thought posting would get a little sparse as I ran out of new things to talk about, but as you can all see, I haven’t. A lot of the things that were new before, now I’ve had time to think about it, and get used to it, and discuss it with other pilots, and now I have more thoughts about it. One of the things that comes up a lot is ATC.

There’s the stereotypes. People make jokes about how ATC are all snarky assholes, and how they think that pilots are all incompetent morons.

Obviously that’s not the reality. I mean, there’s the odd pilot out there that does something dumb. And student pilots will screw things up lots. I know I’ve made mistakes, and when that happens, it’s impressive how ATC takes it in stride. They are in a position where they could draw everyone’s attention to a pilot’s mistakes, but they never do. They do their best to allow pilots to save face.

At St. Andrews, ATC there knows there’s two flight schools on site, and there’s almost always going to be someone flying around their airport with very little experience. ATC at the neighboring airports also knows the registrations for all the school’s planes. It can be a little unnerving for ATC at Winnipeg International Airport to ask you straight up if you have an instructor on board, but I realize it’s the registration that tips them off that there’s probably someone relatively inexperienced at the controls, and it’s helpful for them to know that. I’ve been to a couple of presentations by air traffic controllers, and they pay attention to how confident a pilot sounds on the radio, and adjust their handling of that pilot if they sound uncertain.

They always emphasize in those presentations is not to be embarrassed that ATC is aware that you’re inexperienced, because ATC is there to look out for you. They’ll help keep you from crashing into other planes. This is always a good thing. ATC, if you tell them you’re an inexperienced pilot as you’re going into a busy airport, that makes them very happy, because then they know they’ve got someone they should keep a closer eye on, and they can do a little handholding, like calling your base turn or vectoring you into the circuit (giving you specific headings to turn to as you go along.)

It’s a little strange to be talking to a disembodied voice. A lot of new pilots take a while before their instructor gets them making radio calls at all because the student may be that uncomfortable with it. I’ve spent the last ten years doing tech support over the phone, so I’m used to the disembodied voice. Even so, this is a little bit different. I’m now talking to someone who can see me, but I can’t see them.

Well, they’re in the tower, and I can see the tower, so I guess I can see them just as well as they can see me, but still, it’s weird. Sitting ready for takeoff, and haven’t quite managed to squeek in my radio call between five other planes in the circuit, and ATC addresses me and asks if I’m ready to take-off. Or like in Brandon, I asked where to park to get fuel, and he says, “See that pump about fifty feet in front of you?”

The thing to remember, if you’re a pilot that’s nervous about talking to ATC, is they’re just people. They’re not mean – I’ve never had ATC be mean to me, they’ve always been professional. Sometimes they sound grumpy, but hey, who sounds perky all the time? They’re working shift work, give them a break.

And as grumpy as they might sound, you’re not bothering them by talking to them. Like me at my job, I get people apologizing for bothering me when they call in, and I’m like, dude, you’re not bothering me, I get paid to do this. ATC is there to do a job, and talking to you is their job. They’re not scary. They’re there to help us.

In Which Our Heroine Gets To Be All Dieselpunky Wench-With-A-Wrench Mechanic Girl

This weekend I spent helping our volunteer AME (aircraft mechanical engineer), Jim Aitken work on the Cessna 150, C-FLUG that I wrote about previously. There’s a lot of work to be done on the plane, and They’ve already done tons of work so far. It’s not yet legal to take into Class C airspace – we need a mode C transponder (a transponder to make us display with a code on the radar for ATC, and an encoder to transmit our altitude for ATC on their screens).

But they’ve got a radio in there now. One that works properly, and where you can make out what people are saying.

Anyway, they’ve asked us girls to come out and help with the work that needs to be done. There’s tons of jobs that are simple to do, that require an AME to sign off on them, but that we can do the heavy lifting. And things like putting on weather stripping. And jobs that just take two people – one to hold things from one side and one to tighten the nuts.

So I helped with lots of things. Removing and re-installing the compass so it could be painted (bare metal parts reflect the sun in the pilot’s eyes.) Installed a block heater, and a new sensor for the fuel gauge.

The volt meter I did the better part of the hands on installation because it required getting behind the instrument panel, and I’m small and flexible. Jim gave me instructions and I attached things where he told me. There were here-touch-this-wire-to-this-copper-bit-*sparks-fly* moments, but I managed to succeed in not electrocuting myself. It made me think of work, where I walk people through connecting cables in the right ports, and as I looked at all the wires back there going every which way, though my head went the thousand times I’ve had a customer tell me “I don’t know anything about any of these wires.” Only with customers, all the wires mostly only fit in one port, and the ports are labeled, usually with specific colours.

These wires were not colour coded. The ends didn’t fit in ports. The ends didn’t even have terminations…Jim was crimping the terminations on them as we went along connecting them. I have a sense of how data signals work, but I don’t know electricity. I know only enough to not want to mess around with it. I don’t know enough to know what’s safe and what’s not, so I don’t touch it. I will plug in a power cord, and I stop there.

The weird thing was with all of that, I didn’t feel out of my element. It was nice that Jim doesn’t coddle us – he assumes we’re smart people and competent. I’ve always been handy around the house – I grew up with my Dad after all. My Dad built the house I grew up in. He likes inventing machinery to use with his beekeeping, or modifying things made for something else to work for him with the bees. I grew up with him building things, welding new pieces on things according to what he needed, fixing things. I guess I just grew up with him doing so many of the sort of things people hire someone to do, and not assuming one had to be something special to do that. Grew up thinking everybody’s dad could build a house. Just normal stuff for me.

I think that’s why I gravitate toward the dieselpunk subgenre. Not because of any nostalgia for the architecture or fascination with design. It’s just a setting I can imagine clearly. It’s familiar and comfortable for me.

Anyway, I’ve enjoyed it, and look forward to doing it again – I want to see the transponder installed, if I get the chance.

Book Review: Mockingjay

People warned me that I might not like how this story ends. I have really mixed feelings about this book. It has some aspects that kind of drag – I get that Katniss is suffering from some pretty severe PTSD, and through the whole book, she’s barely holding it together. It does get to be a bit much, though, and I wonder if it might have been better written in third person point of view, and switch POV characters every so often, to give us a break from Katniss’s slow mental degradation. It wasn’t a problem in book one – it wasn’t old then. But in book two it was getting old, and in book three it gets tiresome. The author had already established that this was a first person, single POV series in book one, though, and it was probably too late to change it. I think that’s why many people have found the movie, especially the second one now, more palatable. The movies don’t drag you through Katniss’s mental anguish ad-nauseum, however plausible that mental anguish is.

The story itself – I though was great. The last book really puts the finishing nails on a theme, and it’s not just a theme about oppression, or poor versus rich, or even about reality TV. It’s a theme about media, and the massive amounts of power that control over information gives the people who have it. In this book, Katniss is no longer a pawn of the Capitol, she’s been rescued and brought to district thirteen. Where now she’s a pawn for district thirteen.

Her act of defiance in book one makes her a mascot for rebellion in book two, which she desperately needs to suppress, but fails miserably. Now in book three, she’s asked to embrace that role, but finds, as in book two, that she can’t act to save her life. They end up taking her into combat situations in order to force something genuine out of her, because her acting is so terrible, they can’t otherwise put together any footage of her that would inspire people.

So now we have the Capitol and District Thirteen in a media battle, with Beetee periodically wresting control of the airwaves to broadcast inspiring footage of Katniss, while the Capitol is trying to vilify her.

I couldn’t help but think that District Thirteen’s leader was given a name like “Coin”, with it’s capitalist connotations deliberately as foreshadowing.

I won’t bother spoiling the climax, but the climax was great, as was the followup to it.

Then there was these last five pages tacked on the end that fucking ruined it all.

*spoiler alert*

Of course she had to resolve the Peeta/Gayle thing, right?

No. No, she didn’t. Katniss spent the entire story progressing towards a mental state where I couldn’t believe she could ever have a healthy relationship with anyone, let alone either of them. The story ends with her a shattered human being, the world and the war having left her that way. She gave more than her life, she gave her sanity, to fight for a better world, and she paid a price and that’s the way the story ends.

And then there’s the last five pages that basically go “And then a couple years later, I got over it, Peeta was still around so we got married and had kids and lived happily ever after. Gayle? Who’s Gayle?”

I felt betrayed by the author, but have a theory. My theory is that the author submitted the manuscript without that tacked on the end. And my theory is that her editor or agent told her, “You have too many fans who won’t be satisfied with that ending. You have to resolve the Peeta/Gayle thing.” And I think they made her add that. Or maybe it wasn’t her editor, maybe she just felt so much pressure from fans to give Katniss a happy ending, that she caved, even though she knew how the story should really end. Because that bit on the end feels tacked on as an afterthought – it’s so out of sync with the rest of the book, it doesn’t feel like it’s part of the same story.

That’s what I think, and I’m just going to keep imagining the book without that bullshit last couple pages.

C-FLUG

A little while ago, Bill Vandenburg donated a plane (Cessna 150) to the local RAA (Recreational Aircraft Association) chapter. There’s a licenced AME (Aircraft Mechanical Engineer), Jim Aitken who’s donating his time to fix it up. They’ve got it fixed up, and it’s being made available for female pilots who want to fly it. Women who want to fly it have to be members of the 99’s, local and national RAA, and the Springfield Flying Club, and are chipping in on the insurance, and get fuel for club prices. Kind of like joint ownership, almost, only the plane is officially owned by the RAA, and the women flying it are paying whatever expenses to keep it in the air.

It’s not for training, but to make things like commercial time-building more affordable for women pilots, and for women who would like to stay involved in aviation – stay current, but wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford it. When Jill first invited me to join in on the deal, I was a little stressed out at the time, what with Nathan getting pneumonia, and then Nathan getting pneumonia again, and I really couldn’t cope with figuring out how much it was going to cost to buy into it. Plus, a 172 is nicer to take passengers flying in, and I had hoped to have passengers chip in for fuel sometimes to help make it more affordable.

But lucky for me, Jill didn’t give up, and a bit later let me know there was a fuel scholarship available. Quite frankly, none of my friends are any more financially stable than I am (who is these days?) and while I want to take them flying, they’re not able to chip in for gas much. I realized how much cheaper it would be to fly this plane. I have about fifty hours of solo time to build up, including around thirty hours of cross country, and if I did it all in this plane, it would end up saving me around $6000.

Jill is awesome. She’s friendly and welcoming, and one of those people who just loves everyone. She took me flying in her little open cockpit biplane just before my flight test, and her compliments on my flying were a real confidence booster. Sometimes I get shy and even if I really do want to get involved in something, sometimes it takes someone like that to drag me into it. I’m glad there’s still people like her in the world.

Anyway, I got the paperwork done, and headed out for Lyncrest airport. There’s actually two airports inside Winnipeg city limits. CYWG, and CJL5. Lyncrest is down at the south end of the city, and it has two little grass runways – nothing paved or anything fancy like that. The taxiways are marked with little flags that stick out of the snow. There was snow the day before, and here I assumed that grass runways were just closed for the winter right?

Ha. Not in Canada. They pack down any finger drifts, and you drive out and make sure things are okay before you go to make your take-off run, but a couple inches of snow, pft, that’s not gonna ground us. And we don’t even have tundra tires.

So I get out to see the plane, and here I thought the thirty year old cessna 152’s at Harv’s Air were old. This thing is apparently fifty nine years old. She’s a venerable old lady, C-FLUG is. But people don’t treat planes like they do cars. There isn’t the consumerist push of insurance companies to get rid of older cars, and write them off if there’s even a little bit of damage. Planes, if the thing will still fly, someone will happily fly it, and if it won’t someone will usually fix it. This one’s been fixed up nicely, but still, some of the instrumentation is entertainingly primitive. The radio was a jury rigged handheld plugged into an intercom. There were wires all over the cockpit. Someone’s donated a proper radio, and it’ll be installed shortly,

Anyway, taxiing through snow is interesting. It’s not like a car, where you need traction on the wheels for forward movement. You have the propeller on the front pulling forward, so it’s rather more like taking an untrained puppy for a walk and it’s constantly yanking on the leash in the general direction of forward. And then the wheels slide around, and you learn exactly why soft field techniques are what they are. It’s also much easier to remember to keep back pressure on the elevator when you realize how much difference it makes on how badly the nosewheel digs into the snow.

So we’re lining up on the runway, getting ready to take off, and the checkout pilot who was helping me get familiar with the plane says “Oh, another thing I should mention – this plane has a funny habit of the engine failing on take-off.”

Good to know, I said. He gave me a little more description, and right away I realized that was what they were talking about in the emails when they said the old girl loves lots of carb heat. When the engine’s running at low RPM’s the engine gets cooler because of the vaporization of the fuel going through the carburetor, and if you don’t apply carb heat, then apply full power, the engine can be too cold and fail. Normally you wouldn’t use carb heat on the ground because we all know that bypasses the filter and you can end up the with propeller throwing grit from the ground into the engine. But in this case, if you don’t, you can end up with an engine failure on take-off.

And I know what everyone’s going to say. “Whoa, dude, they’ve gotta fix that!”

It’s fine. You just have to know the machine, and treat it with loving kindness. Again, it’s not like a car. In a car, you can usually hop into any car and drive it, as long as it’s not standard. Planes, especially old ones, I think, they develop character, and it’s part of their charm.

Anyway, we take off, and the snow really drags at the wheels. Suddenly all that soft field techniques you learned in your private training – it’s not that it didn’t make sense before, but it’s one thing to practice soft field technique on a paved runway, and a whole other thing entirely to get to do it on a real soft field. It’s easy to remember to keep the back pressure on the elevator when the plane slows or stops if you let the weight come down on the nosewheel.

I’ve done a fair bit of landing and takeoff practice now in the 150, and I’m getting lots more comfortable with it, and the flaps and such.

The flaps. They’re not electric like the 152s. They’re operated with a big lever between the seats. They go up to forty degrees instead of just thirty like the 152s, so I guess if you’ve got a short runway on a windless day, you can jack them all the way. They’re kind of a bastard to get that last ten degrees, though, because you’re fighting the airflow. We did one approach with an overshoot with full flaps, just for the experience, and the experience getting them back up too, in the overshoot.

Another thing the checkout pilot taught me is the trick for if you’re having trouble getting the plane to lift off, if the field is soft, and slowing you down badly, with the manual flaps, you can take the lever and just jack it suddenly to give it a quick extra bit of lift to pop it off the ground, faster than the drag the extra flaps causes can slow you down.

So yeah. Grass covered in packed snow. Fun stuff. I feel so frelling Canadian right now.