Sunday, April 27, 2008

Airport chronicles

I dropped my oldest son off at the airport this afternoon; he's heading to Las Vegas for week-long Microsoft conference. I'm back home but following his flight on FlightAware. Why do I do that? For the same reason you watch your loved ones go through security, just to make sure they get through OK, and you don't turn to head back to the car until you can't see them anymore.

As I watched today, a man about my age and his wife took up their post near me.

"You just want to hold on to every last moment," he said to me.

"Yeah," I said, as I turned and headed for the garage. "I know."

Saturday, April 26, 2008

The home in your heart

Some browsers won't display this properly but this is an essay I wrote for the day job. Find it here. Judging by the response, I'm in the minority... again.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

The Field of Dreams

There are moments when all you can do is smile at your good fortune. And there are days when you feel guilty for jamming so many moments into a day.

I spent most of the day working on the RV out at the hangar I rent at Fleming Field in South St. Paul (KSGS). I spent most of the day smiling.

I've read an occasional builder log online where the builder complains that people kept stopping by the hangar to see his project, so he couldn't get anything done. I didn't get that much done today, but I'm not going to complain. As the RV continues to grow, each dream is being realized; one of them was to have a project in a hangar, and have people stop by to introduce themselves, and to sit and watch planes in their native environment.

After a day of scratching my head yesterday over the various configurations that could spring out of the very, very poor Van's instructions for the brake and wheel pants bracket on the 7A landing gear, I called up Walter Tondu's excellent site (See landing gear info here) and within a couple of minutes, I had all the answers. Walter is one of the truly good people in the RV community and although I've pulled back from the online forums, exchanging the occasional e-mail and story with builders is always inspiring. It was a pleasure meeting him at the RV BBQ at Oshkosh I put on (but am taking the year off putting on this year; maybe next year).

And so today, I headed back out to the hangar and when I turned the corner on Cessna Lane, I knew I was in for a good day. An RV-9A was sitting outside, waiting for its owner to take it for its first ride of the spring. The morning 40 degree temperatures and clouds were clearing, so I opened up the door on the hangar.

As the RV-9A came taxiing by, and the owner looked inside, then braked and shut off his engine. He and I had the same reaction about each other's plane: "An RV!!"

His name is Bruce and he moved up from Iowa, and just picked this airport out of his hat to house his plane. He was on his way down to Airlake and asked if I wanted a ride. I did, but I also needed to do some work. I gave him a tour of the project and then Vince drove up. Vince is building a QB RV-7 and he needed to look at my rollbar again to see how something works. Imagine that, people are looking at my work to see how something is done. You can't beat that with a stick.

After a half hour or so of standing out in the "street," talking RVs, I announced I had to get back to work. Bruce had to get down to Lakeville, Vince had to go wrestle a rollbar, and I had to get some bearings packed with grease.

One of the smartest moves I ever made was putting one of those EAA Chapter 1000 workbenches on casters, so I could move it out near the door and work while watching planes take off and land. What an inspiration it is to hear and see planes while working. Why didn't I do this years ago? (Answer: because of the $220 a month rent!).

I plugged in the iPod and sang along, as usual, to the steady stream of Sprinsgteen, Clapton, Norah Jones, B.B. King, ZZ Top and AC/DC. They're the soundtrack of my project.

Wipaire's Facility
As I started dispensing grease, I thought I heard something and looked up and "Ray" was driving by in his van on his way to the hangar. I met Ray yesterday. "Hi Bob," I heard him say over "Hard Times" by Clapton, as he waved. "Hey, Ray," I said. Hmmm, Bob and Ray. I like meeting my neighbors and this is becoming the best place in the world to spend a beautiful Sunday afternoon.

As I finished packing a bearing, I realized I'm now the old guy with a greasy rag hanging out the back of his jeans. Cool, I always wanted to be that guy; the guy with a plane in a hangar at an airport, while watching planes, and talking to people passing by.

One of Wipaire's big amphibs came roaring over. Is he on a upwind leg? Then I saw the wind had shifted slightly and a Cessna was landing opposite him. He must've gone around. Fun times at an uncontrolled field.

SGS Terminal
And so it went all afternoon, all sorts of planes to watch, plus the base-to-final turn for MSP is directly overhead. Can it get any better?

South St. Paul is a cool, little airport. It's not one of the Metropolitan Airports Commission relievers. It's a former Navy field (George Bush the elder learned to fly here) that was deeded to the city in exchange for keeping it an airport. Wipaire has a nice facility here, partly in old World War II hangars. Ballistic Recovery Systems, the Cirrus parachute people, are also on the field. They're building a big new facility nearby, too. The Commemorative Air Force is here and there's a couple of really cool turbo prop firefighting antiques. I don't know what they are (see picture) but they roar like a Mustang on floats.

We have a nice little terminal with wireless on those rare occasions when I feel like doing some work (I have to actually go to work to work, mostly).

I Packed the bearings, got the wheel put together and the tube put in the tire. Hey I've got a wheel!! Whoo hoo. I mounted the wheel and dragged the whole contraption around the hangar; then spun in circles pretending it was taking off... airborne for a second, and then landing. Man, that makes me dizzy.

I started on the left side and realized I needed some 1/4" washers. I know I've got some stuck somewhere, but Wipaire has a parts counter that's open on Sunday, so I walked over and saw Linda, the woman who loves soaring. She set me up with some washers and some Torque seal and I walked in the warm sunshine back to work.

I was having so much fun, watching airplane, singing to myself and occasionally talking to folks, that I had to call home. I felt guilty having so much fun watching airplanes, singing to myself and occasionally talking. My wife told me to get back at it. I went back at it, occasionally laughing like James Earl Jones as he entered the corn field in Field of Dreams.

By 5 I reached my self-imposed 'quittin' time,' so I picked up and swept up after deciding repacking another bearing can wait to another day.

I can't wait.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

A Day in the Life of a Blogger

Today was the first test of the "new gig" at work, covering breaking news via blog. In my case, this is "News Cut" at Minnesota Public Radio. As people get more used to blogs, telling stories incrementally becomes a faster -- and in many ways a more complete -- way to get lots of information to people on their timetable, rather than waiting until reporters , umm, research, report, write and eventually -- if you're listening at just the right time -- deliver the information.

I think the two methods are most compatible in radio and I'm thrilled that Minnesota Public Radio is courageous enough to try it. Not many mainstream media folks will say to its newsroom blogger, "go do your own show and make it interesting." Traditionally in mainstream media, nothing ends up on the blog that hasn't first been on the radio (or TV or newspaper) or isn't gathered primarily for the purpose of getting on the radio (or TV or newspaper).

The MPR way allows me to actually have conversations with the audience, have them ask the questions, and then I go find the answers. That is then sprinkled around thenuts-and-bolts of a breaking story.

Believe me, I've had my share of sleepless nights wondering whether this sort of thing can work, but today convinced me of some of the possibilities. In a market like this, a reporter usually works one angle. This method makes the blogger more like a "talk show," turning from one angle to another and then another and then another (this is the old "talk show," not the current "let's set fire to a cross on somebody's lawn" version of a talk show).

So what was I able to do? Over the last 24 hours, I:

**Get an analyst at Clark University to give me first impressions

**Provide an immediate FAQ on what the merger means to people.

**Live blog the investor conference call

**Live blog -- sort of -- the news conference

**Examine the "branding" issue and why it's important for a merging company to get rid of the old logo,colors and message of the company being taken over.

**Find out about the frequent flier programs and what people should do to maximize their miles' worth.

**Provide an interview with an economist about what investors were saying about this in helping the stocks to tank.

**Put together an admittedly "turdy little piece" on repainting airplanes.

**Examine the influence of Southwest Airlines, consider the future of regional airlines, and answer a few more questions from the audience.

You know what? For one person, that's a hell of a good day's work. And it's the way a typical day used to be for us newspeople in small market radio in the old days; still, I think, the best form of radio, may it rest in peace.

Oh, and I threw a bone to the core medium, in this segment with Tom Crann on All Things Considered (Listen here in mp3 format).

Man this was a fun day!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Stirrings from the Empty Cubicle

I have no reason for posting this other than I didn't want it to go to waste, even though it should.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

The bias against pilots

The captain of the ship carrying millions of gallons of oil that smacked into the Bay Bridge in San Francisco last year was able to pilot his ship even though he was taking medication for depression.

If you even whisper the word "depression," the FAA will ground you.

Who's the the bigger threat?

Friday, April 04, 2008

The only thing we have to fear ...

These are two very nice people I met over at a truck stop in Somerset, Wisconsin today. Carma and Danny Glascock of Jermyn, Texas are independent truckers and I found them today for a piece I wanted to write on what it's like to be a trucker when the price of everything is going through the roof. The piece is posted on News Cut, my day job.

Spending much of my morning finding them and talking to them is one of the reasons I like my job so much. I'd like to do more of it; stories of everyday people doing everyday things. Their stories are compelling and if I can find enough of them, maybe MPR will see fit to keep me employed.

It's funny how I've come full circle in this business because back in 1978 -- has it really been 30 years? -- my career got propelled a bit by a story wrote after spending a night at the West Stockbridge Truck Plaza in Massachusetts -- a night in which independent truckers all across the country pulled their rigs off the road and went on a nationwide strike.

I tell stories differently than a lot of newspeople; rather than talk to a bunch of different people and get quick quotes from each of them, I try to find one person (or in this case, one couple) and tell so much about them, that the big hairy issue at the heart of it is more understandable to the reader, even though I just tell a story about one person doing what one person does every day.

If I were to interview me, it'd be a story about the older American worker, and what happens when an economy heads south. These are scary, scary times for a lot of people, and for older workers in particular. I know. I'm one, and the situation is scaring me me to death.

My industry is dying and I'm feeling like the steelworkers of the '60s and '70s did. Today the New York Times/CBS poll showed 81% of those surveyed think the country is on the wrong track and more than half are concerned about losing their jobs.

It's not as if I haven't seen a recession before. But I haven't seen one before as a 54 year old in a dying business, where there are no more opportunities in the only thing I know how to do. It keeps me up at night. It keeps me thinking about it when I should be thinking about other things. And there are millions of people just like me all across this land.

We tell ourselves that worrying doesn't help, but that doesn't help.

Here's hoping the recession is a short one. Here's hoping we all come through it OK. Here's to the Glascocks of Jermyn, Texas. Safe travels to you both, and to you all.