Video Games: A Metaphor For Dispatching

I’ve been at the new job a little bit now, done job shadowing and on my own now. It’s a new experience – it’s a position with a lot more responsibility than I’ve ever had before. I’m literally in a position to make decisions that can cost or save the company thousands of dollars. It’s a small company, five planes, and I’m in charge of receiving calls from the ambulance dispatchers that take basically 911 calls from outside of Winnipeg, and sending the planes to pick up patients.

It sounds simple, but there’s a fair bit of strategy to it. Because legally, the pilots can work a maximum of fourteen hours consecutively before they have to be given a minimum of eight hours consecutive rest, plus we give them a little on top of that for transit time. Add to that the complication of some of the crews being based at our crew houses up North because the closer they are to where we’ll need to pick up patients, the more likely we are to be assigned the trip, and the more money the company makes.

There’s a type of game – board game or video game – called “worker placement games.” It will be based around units being used to build things, or collect resources that are then used to build things, and generally there’s a map and proximity to the resources has to be taken into consideration when working out strategy. Limits will be worked into the game mechanics on how long it takes to complete a task, or make a trip to the resource cache and back. In many games, the workers will need rest, or your fighters will need to return to someplace to be healed up before they can be sent out to fight again.

Very early on, I realized this whole dispatch thing, when the guy training me described the strategy involved in moving our planes into position, arranging schedules and calling out crews, I can think of it as a game – the goal being preventing the company from missing out on getting trips by having our crew held up unnecessarily or having crews called in and their fourteen hour duty day start but them sit around twiddling their thumbs rather than flying, and helping them make money by having our crews in position to get to patients quickly and relaying estimated times of arrival so that crews rendezvous with ground transportation efficiently.

The only thing missing is tallying up scores at the end of the game and seeing who wins.

I’d love to get on as a pilot here – the idea of having a job where I’m helping people has always appealed to me, and that’s one of the reasons I want to fly a water bomber some day. But I need 500 hours to get on as a Medevac pilot, so I’m looking for something part time, now that I have more time and energy to handle a possible second job.

In the meantime, and I’m enjoying working here, and not just because I’m not in a call centre. I’m being told that I’m doing well, and everyone seems to like me here, and my training went super quick.

But the company itself it very different than what I’m used to. I’m used to big companies now, with management being impersonal. Here, co-workers have described it as being like a big family. Everyone knows everyone, and it seems like the owners care about their employees. It’s a small company, and there’s no union like at MTS, but they don’t use the absence of a union to take advantage of employees and be hard-asses. Instead, they use the absence of a union to take advantage of opportunities to reward hard work and give employees a bit of a break when they know an individual could use it.

On top of that, it’s not as exhausting as the call centre work, so I have more time and energy left over for writing and other hobbies. Money is tight, so I’m helping my dad out with the bees for some extra cash, and looking into selling my art for the first time – I’m making Ukranian Easter eggs, or Pysanky, which are not just for easter, but traditional gifts for many occasions. And despite money being tight, I’m much happier where I am. I think I’d rather be homeless at this point than go back to the call centre. We will manage.

Advertisements

Gearing Up for Keycon

I can usually only manage one con a year, and last year I hit When Words Collide in Calgary, but this year I’m broke, so hometown con again this year.

The good news is I’ve been emailing back and forth with the programming committee, pushing for more serious writing related programming. There was some talk of not wanting to get too technical and have the panels end up not being of interest to non-writers.  I pointed out that the two need not be mutually exclusive, one can have the fluff panels and fan panels for non writers, and the nitty gritty technical panels for the writers. I also mentioned that there have been complaints about there not being enough serious writing panels in previous years, as well as the amount of positive feedback programming committees have received in years when they have had a good amount of serious writing panels. They were easily convinced and literary paneling this year is looking fantastic.

So, the panels I will be on:

Religion and SF & F with Lindsay Kitson, Sherry Peters and Daria Patrie: From Piers Anthony’s Incarnations of Immortality to David Webber’s Honor Harrington Series, from Michael Carpenter in Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files to Bobby Dollar in The Dirty Streets of Heaven, and many more novels, religion has played a key part in SF&F literature. What part does religion have in the world building process? How has religion been used as a central theme or as an allegory in SF&F? How are religions portrayed? Should writers and readers alike be concerned about cultural appropriation when some religions are used in a book?

Alternative Aviation in Science Fiction with Timothy Gwyn: From Autogyros to Zeppelins: a catalogue of unusual aircraft past, present and future. A look at the strengths and weaknesses of each, plus how much technology is needed to build them, and how well they fit into different sub-genres of SF. Examples from noteworthy fiction, and how they played a role in plot or worldbuilding. Do you need air transportation in the age of steam, or on an alien world? Alternative aviation may hold the answers you’re looking for. Remember: getting there is half the fun! (I’m not so much on this panel, as manning the projector and heckling.)

How to Edit Your Own Work, and Why You Need an Editor with Lindsay Kitson, J. Boone Dryden, Diane Walton and Daria Patrie: The trick to writing is re-writing. Our panelists will share a few tips on editing your own work, and will go over what an editor will do with your work. Also, is the editor always right? What happens if you disagree with your editor?

Point of View with Gerald Brandt, Melinda Friesen, Lindsay Kitson, and Daria Patrie: What writing point of view is most often found in SF&F literature and why? How does point of view change the narrative or style of the story? Is it more difficult to write a certain point of view?

Women in Speculative Fiction with Kelley Armstrong, Tamsen McDonough, Lindsay Kitson, and Van Kunder: Join our panelists as they explore how female characters have been portrayed in books and on film in the past and present, and how women have been involved in their respective fields over time. Is Speculative Fiction on the leading edge of equality? Or is there still a long way to go?

Critique Group Survival with Lindsay Kitson and Daria Patrie: So you’re ready to share what you’ve written with others and get feedback on it. How do you find a critique group? How do you know if you’ve got a good one? How do critiquing meetings go, and how to you contribute effectively? And when is it time to move on to a different group? Bonus content: How to start your own critique group!

Aviation and Believable Airships and Aircraft in Science Fiction with Timothy Gwyn and Lindsay Kitson:. An interactive session with two pilots who are also writers. Lindsay Kitson and Timothy Gwyn tackle the credible and incredible in aviation fact and fiction. Learn how getting aviation right can enhance your story. Some pointers on how to keep it real with aircraft and airship scenes that actually work. (This one’s going to be fun, and there will be at least one signed pre-release copy of Tim’s book, Avians, as a prize for whoever gets the most questions right!)

The timetable is tentative and incomplete so far, but this is the earliest I recall them ever  having it available before the con, so that bodes well for how organized they are this year. What they have so far can be viewed here. Looking over it, I can see some other panels already that I’d like to hit.

Looking forward to seeing everyone there!

Avians – Cover Reveal

You might recall I mentioned one of the members of my critique group was getting published, and I promised to post more when there were further developments. Well it’s getting closer to his publication date, and he’s got a cover reveal post on his blog right here. 

I read this in it’s infancy a few years ago, and while it needed work at that point – every novel does at that stage – I whipped through it as fast as I used to read authors like Lloyd Alexander and Monica Hughes. Actually, I think Monica Hughes would be the author I’d compare him to – YA, but with serious themes and without the preoccupation with romance that a lot of YA fiction with female focal point characters seems to feature these days.

And I can’t say 100% for sure that I didn’t read it that fast because it revolved around aviation, but that can’t have been the only factor, because I’ve picked up some other books revolving around aviation, and not devoured them that quickly. The characters and world are engaging and imaginative, the plot had a solid foundation, and meaningful themes. It pulled me in, even at the stage I saw it, and I look forward to seeing it again in it’s polished form.

If you like aviation and YA books, or if you have daughters you’d like to inspire with a book that’s about young girls having adventures and not obsessing over boys, check it out!

Also, Timothy will be at Keycon this coming May, as will I and my close friend Daria Patrie, who is a Master in Creative Writing, so come see our panels. I’ve been in touch with the programming committee and it sounds like the writing panels will be exceptional this year.

Taking The Plunge – New Job

My call centre job is one that pays decently well, so I’ve known for a long time that whenever I ended up getting a job in the aviation industry, it was going to be a pay cut, and a fairly massive one. Which is scary, with a lot of debt, but I’m very grateful that my Dad is in a position to help me out so I’m not afraid my husband and I will end up on the street or anything while I transition to a completely new industry.

So it’s scary, leaving my decent wage job for something minimum wage, and I wanted to wait until I’d passed all my tests before starting to search. Which I’ve done now.

Most pilots don’t get their first job in the industry flying. Usually they start by getting their foot in the door with a company by taking a job on the ground, typically either working the ramp, loading cargo, fueling planes, etc, or dispatching.

Apparently I interview well. Most of the time, if I an get an interview, I get the job. I was taught basic manners and stuff and that goes over well.

I put out a bunch of resume’s and after all of a week of searching, a friend passed my resume on to management at a local Medevac company, and they called me in for an interview for a position dispatching.

Now, at least in this setting, the dispatcher is kind of the central nervous system of the company, responsible for knowing where all the planes are at a given time, receiving estimated arrival times and passing them on to parties who need them, relaying details of trips to pilots and medics to send them on their way to pick up patients. A lot of responsibility for an entry level position.

I remember years ago, I was working back at EDS, another call centre, and a call came out for applications for a position within the project called “Incident Problem Management”. My manager suggested I apply.

I hadn’t even considered it. It didn’t sound like anything I was qualified to do, though I really didn’t have any clue what was involved. I was just a phone monkey – in no way whatsoever, did I think I had a chance at getting that position; for sure there was someone more qualified than me.

But they interviewed me and gave me the position. Now, in my head, they sat down in a room and went, “You know what? I think we should take a shot on Lindsay – give her a chance, what do you think?”

My friends, who have worked with me in the past told me the conversation likely went more like “Lindsay’s demonstrated she’s competent and doesn’t slack off, we want her.”

My duties turned out to be monitoring ticket queues and acting on patterns I saw that could indicate a major problem, and facilitating communication between departments in order resolve issues in the company’s IT environment as they arose.

I did do well, and when the company lost the project to a lower bidder and the position disappeared, I soon got a supervisor position in another project within the company based on my performance in the IPM position.

Fast forward to now, interviewing for the dispatcher position, which is a job with huge responsibility, despite being an entry level position. But I listened to the description of the job and realized, I can totally do this. In fact, I’m literally their ideal candidate, and when I described by previous job experience, I got the sense the manager interviewing me realized that too.

So I was offered the job on the spot, and now I’m dispatching for Sky North.

A Humble Plea

It’s my last day doing tech support in a call centre.

I will do a post about my new job shortly, but before I get on to that, I have some things to say.

I’ve left with the standard two weeks notice so I can be recommended for re-hire, and MTS is likely to hire me back on if I had to go crawling back….

But I really frickin’ don’t want to.

Don’t get me wrong – MTS has been really good to me, and my managers have done all they can to not stand in my way as I’ve worked on my licences and ratings. No, what makes call centres a meat grinder that the average employee lasts six months; a place where you can get stress leave easier than just about any job short of air traffic control – what makes me so glad to never have to go back there…

That’s the customers.

Not all the customers, but enough of them. So on behalf of my co-workers, who are great people and more patient than a lot of the people they have to deal with deserve, a humble plea:

When they ask you for your name, please give them your name – the name you think the account might be under. There’s no need to ask what name we’re looking for, that only makes you sound suspicious. The rep asked for your name. If you have a deep, masculine voice, and you say your name is Brenda, most of us would rather misgender you because you can’t answer a simple question than misgender some poor trans person who can.

If you don’t understand the technology you’re calling about or why you’re being asked to do something, don’t get angry and tell my friends that they don’t know what they’re doing.

If you have one of my female friends on the line, or one of my friends who has an accent, don’t make them convince you that they’re competent. I’ll let you in on a little secret. Anyone that can be identified as a minority over the phone constantly has to persuade people (male and female customers alike) that they know what they’re doing before they can get someone to follow their directions. If they’re not smart, they get abuse so bad, they don’t make it long in tech support, while if customers have a guy without an accent on the phone, he can be completely clueless and they’ll happily follow directions without question. So if you have a woman or someone with an accent on the phone, chances are you have someone who knows their shit.

It’s okay if you don’t know anything about the technology my friends are helping you troubleshoot – they don’t need you to. Often the hardest part of troubleshooting is convincing you that you can do it. Please don’t play stupid to try and avoid having to do the troubleshooting – we know exactly how complex the tasks are that we’re asking you to perform, and you’re not going to convince them that unplugging a cord from the back of a box from the port labelled power, waiting ten seconds, then plugging it back in, is incalculably complex to the point that you shouldn’t be expected to attempt it. They’re just going to come to the conclusion that you’re either incalculably lazy or in calculably stupid. I have walked stroke survivors and people with obvious intellectual disabilities through tv troubleshooting and got them going over the phone. Seriously, the biggest deciding factor is most often not your competence, it’s your compliance.

On that note, please pay attention. I’m used to having to repeat pretty much everything I say at least three times, so if my friends sound like they’re tired of repeating themselves, it’s probably because you weren’t listening the first two times they said what they’re saying now.

If we ask you do do something, it’s safe to assume it’s for one of two reasons – either my friends hope it will fix the problem, or they hope that it will give them information that will help determine what the problem is so they know what needs to be done to fix it. If you don’t understand why you’re being asked to do something, and you don’t understand the explanation when you ask, please, just do it. My friends want to help you, but they can’t if you dig your heels in and refuse to let them.

Likewise, please don’t have a fit and refuse to do any further troubleshooting because the first thing my friends tried didn’t instantly fix it. Often there’s multiple steps to a task, and it’s not going to be a magical push-this-button-and-it-starts-working fix.

Often,you’re able to give my friends so little information about the problem we need to do diagnostic steps to figure out what you’re even describing. Please don’t get angry when they ask you to elaborate. There are too many things that can go wrong with a computer and internet for you to be able to go “That thing’s happening again” and us know exactly what you’re talking about.

Please don’t demand my friends tell you what you’re supposed to do with your kids while you wait for your tv service to be repaired. We provide tv service, not child care. You’re just turning yourself into a joke. Likewise, don’t ask them how you’re going to get assignments turned in to professors or work assignments that you need internet access to work on. Take some personal responsibility people.

I feel like this statement often falls on deaf ears, but please remember that my friends on the other end of the phone are frickin’ human beings and deserve to be treated with respect. Don’t fool yourself into thinking bullying will magically get your internet or tv working without you having to follow instructions. If you do and they hang up on you, you deserve it.

Please don’t yell. Please don’t call my friends names or belittle them. Please don’t cry. If it’s for legit reasons, like you’re calling in to change the name on your account because your husband just passed away, we’re cool with you crying about that, and we try to be sensitive as much as we can, but it’s really hard to be sympathetic to someone crying over their tv not working when we don’t even have cable.

My friends are good people, and they spend their days dealing with near-constant abuse. Give them a break if they sound tired. Look up the term “emotional labour” and understand there’s an intense amount of that involved in tech support. Look up “hang up on abuse” and listen to some of the nasty things customer service reps get told over the phone on a regular basis. My friends are expected to hop on the phone and basically treat you as if you were our old friend and they’re happy to talk you, not just doing a job. Imagine you’re getting on the phone with your own friend and they sound exhausted, irritable, even and you can tell they’ve had a long day. You’d give them a break, rather than making their life more difficult.

We’re all human, just trying to get by. Be nice to one another, people.

Thoughts on International Womens Day

a93bb57cc620e67a1e0d8bcec2bc389f

I’m a little late for International Womens Day, and I wasn’t able to do much to commemorate it because it was my first day at a new job (not a flying position yet, but a foot in the door – more on that in another post). But it’s still Women In Aviation Worldwide Week, and I have some thoughts.

As I got closer and closer to finishing training – at least the training I wanted to get done before starting to look for a flying job, I got thinking about a lot of things. One of them is how I’ve realized other people look at this whole journey I’ve undertaken.

One female co-worker commented that I was such an inspiration. “You decided you wanted to be a pilot, and you just went out and did it,” she said.

But that same co-worker had a daughter who was around three or four, and one day she asked me if I could take her daughter flying sometime. Because she’d been talking to her daughter and realized that little girl, not even school aged, had already absorbed the message from the world that girls could not be pilots and she wanted to make sure her daughter didn’t grow up believing things like that .

I never met a female pilot until I met my instructor. I heard the “You can be anything you want to be” and the “We need more female pilots” said, but something always told me that was a message for other people. People who were cooler than me.

But when I did hit that point where someone suggested that could apply specifically to me, there were a few things that primed me to be ready to believe it. And one of them was my Mom.

I know how tough my own life has been, supporting my husband and myself on my own income, but my Mom, when she left my Dad, had two little kids to look after. Maybe only 50% of the time, because they shared custody, but still. And once she was on her own, she didn’t just coast on alimony. She went to university and followed her own dream of becoming a teacher.

She wasn’t afraid of things being hard. Or maybe she was, but she didn’t let that stop her. But I think back to when I was deciding whether or not I believed in myself enough to embark on the journey I’ve been on the last four years, and wonder if I’d have decided I could do it if I’d had the sort of mother who would have gone back to a relationship that was unhealthy because she was too afraid to go it alone. If I hadn’t had a mother show me how to be brave.

But I did. I’d seen a woman make it on her own. And it makes me realize how important it is for young women to see positive examples, and examples of what they can be. And to talk to other women who have been through what they’re looking at going through. Who can tell them that it’s worth everything they’re going to sacrifice for it, and that it’s worse not to try.

So I’ve come to realize when people say I’m an inspiration, it’s not just a trite comment. Every mother will be an inspiration to her daughter, whether she’s a positive inspiration or a negative one. It’s a huge responsibility that all of us as women have to show the next generation of girls what they can do.

Writing About Aeroplanes: You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

I started writing stories about pilots before becoming an actual pilot myself, which is kind of an interesting contrast to Timothy Gwyn, who started writing after establishing a career in aviation. I imagine he didn’t make a lot of the silly mistakes I did.

Part of the problem is when you start researching planes and flying, there’s lots of talk about design, and neat things like, I learned early on how the radial engines gave way in design to the sleeker in-line positioning of the pistons to reduce drag, and I’d learned how many crew were needed in a Lancaster Bomber and what their positions were from when the Lanc visited Winnipeg last. But when it came to the basics, I had learned about the Bernoulli principle, and I understood the control surfaces and how they worked, that the rudder was controlled by pedals, while the elevator and ailerons were connected to the stick or control column.

That was…it.

So I go off on my merry way writing my novel, and then I bring it to a critique group where one member had got his private pilot’s licence many years before, and he pointed out some of my incorrect assumptions about how planes work.*

Oh. Well that is very helpful. It was one of those things, I just would never have thought to ask.

I tried to do more research, but I kept finding that the basics were hard to find resources on. The information online about aviation tends to be geared towards people who already know how to fly a plane and the info presented only builds on that. I could have looked up the answers to specific questions, but I didn’t know enough to know what questions to ask.

Fast forward to where I had decided I was seriously going to make a go of becoming a commercial pilot and I’m out at St. Andrews for my first ever flight, and we’re doing the walk-around, and my instructor is pointing out all the plane parts. I’m like, I can tell you all the things I know about airplanes – ok, propeller, fuselage, rudder, elevator, ailerons. That’s it. Oh, wheels! Yep, those are wheels.

Good job, she says, except those aren’t the ailerons, actually, those are the flaps.

The what? In all my reading about aeroplanes, this term had not come up. Or if it had, it wasn’t explained, and I just assumed it was some kind of auxiliary fancy thing that the big planes had. I’d been on jets, you know when you look out the windows at the wings and there’s these little squares that lift up on different parts of the wing?**

I had always intended to hunt down a pilot to help me edit my story, and it turned out I didn’t actually do that badly – fixing my mistakes didn’t break my novel’s plot, it was just touch-ups here and there.

But as a pilot now, the amount of knowledge I have to pour into a novel about pilots affects the type of stories I’m telling now. It’s not just a mode of transportation, or a mount to ride into combat anymore – they’re complex and I have a way more detailed understanding of how I can use these things to almost, but not quite kill my characters.

That and an understanding of the diversity of aircraft and features available, and enough knowledge to not put a feature on an aircraft that’s unrealistic. I mean, a Cessna 150 is not going to have autopilot installed. It is possible to have a plane without flaps, but I know enough not to make it a large one, and know what that means for the plane. I know the differences in ground handling between tricycle and conventional landing gear now and can throw that into a story, or simply portray it accurately. I know enough to describe accurately the characteristics of a good versus a bad landing.

I know what’s dangerous, and what seems dangerous but isn’t actually a big deal. Like, you see videos of WWII planes being started by hand-swinging the prop so often you’d think that wasn’t big deal, but that’s one of those things that kills people or takes limbs if you aren’t careful. Whereas, doing spins was something so easy to do and recover from, I was doing it in my first week of flying, and doing it solo in my first hundred hours with my instructor’s blessing, but it’s something that people think must be horribly dangerous.

There’s just so much to know about aviation, and I’m still a rookie low-hours pilot looking for my first job.

So how do you get that base level of knowledge if you want to write about pilots without becoming a pilot yourself. Well, there will be snobs who will say, just go get your private license, but not everyone has that kind of money kicking around.

One great way would be to take a ground school course. Most schools offer it in a classroom setting, but there are online versions as well – my school’s online ground school is Transport Canada approved. There are textbooks available too – the one my school uses is called “From The Ground Up”. It starts assuming no knowledge of aviation. There are others, and this one is specific for Canada, though that’s mainly only relevant for the air law side of things.

The other thing you can do that’s not horrifically expensive is most schools offer a “Discovery Flight”, which is just an introductory flight that goes over the basics, they take you up in the aeroplane and let you fly it, show you some of the basic maneuvers. There’s some real danger in going this route though – huge risk you might realize you love it and need to get your licence. Take precautions.***

On that note, I can confirm my attendance at Keycon this year. Timothey Gwyn will be there too, and I hope to do at least one panel covering a lot of these sort of topics for writers who might be interested in writing about aviation. Hope to see you there!

 

*Apparently, planes taxiing are propelled by their propellers, same as in the air – there’s no power transfer to the wheels to move them on the ground. Who knew.
**Ladies and gentlemen – those are spoilers. The flaps, incidentally, are the things that extend and curl downward in preparation for landing.
***Just kidding, do it, it’s amazing!