Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Pilots Earning Their Pay

The flight crew of a LOT Polish Airlines 767 made a successful gear-up landing the other day. Kudos to the pilots for exhibiting great airmanship and to the cabin crew for evacuating everyone safely.


A flight instructor once told me that any landing you can walk away from is a good landing. After seeing this video, I would agree.

-Dr. Dave

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Awesomeness of Science: Quantum Locking Explanation

Check out this amazing video below!

What's going on? I'm not an expert, but I know the basics.

The floating disk is made of superconducting materials.

A superconductor is a material that, when cooled to very low temperatures, has no electrical resistance, meaning electricity flows freely. The electricity in a superconductor doesn't decay as it would in a normal conductor (like a copper wire).

Superconductors also expel magnetic fields (for those of you keeping tabs, this is called the Meissner effect). And, when placed above a magnet, a superconductor will appear to float. Why? A loop of wire (or a superconductor) when placed in a magnetic field, creates an electric current which induces a repelling magnetic field. (Think of it as trying to put the same pole of two different magnets together.)

But what causes the device to stay fixed in space?

The clever creators of the quantum locking device built areas into the disk where superconductivity is destroyed. This causes the superconducting wafer to "feel" the effects of the magnet in specific places. So when the magnet moves, the superconductor moves with it, but overall, it appears locked in space.

What's the vapor coming off the disk?

That's nitrogen gas. To activate the superconducting properties of the wafer, it is dipped into liquid nitrogen, which is extremely cold (about -200 C).

Very cool! (Pun intended)

-Dr. Dave

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Weather Flying Challenge

It's a crummy day in Chicago. The winds are gusting, the clouds are low, it's cold and raining.

Did I mention it's windy? It's so windy that my office building creaks and groans with each gust of wind.

Of course, my first thought in weather like this "I wonder what it would be like to fly and land in this weather?"

Yup, I think about flying in challenging weather.

Of course, I would never take a small plane up in such extreme conditions. Why? The kinds of aircraft I can afford to fly don't stand a chance against Mother Nature's awesome power.

So instead, I'll download the latest weather on to my desktop flight simulator and I'll launch into the virtual skies in the safety and warmth of my home. It's not the same, but it's safer than real deal.

-Dr. Dave

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Taxes: Make 'em equal!

It's safe to categorize my political views as liberal. I believe in healthcare for all, quality public education, and reliable public transportation.

I also think everyone should be taxed equally. Rich or poor, everyone should pay the same rate. And close all loopholes! Just because someone is successful, doesn't imply they owe a greater percentage of their income to the government. If everyone paid the same rate, then it's fair. What a concept!

-Dr. Dave

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

All talk, no walk. Enough already!

All too often I hear talk that outstrips actual ability. Why settle for talker? Do-ers are better. I hear complaints, yet no one dares to call offenders out.

I do.

When interviewing potential team members, I have a reputation for being tough. I ask for proof of skill. Words on a resume are not enough.

A team is a unit that shares successes and failures. There's no time for incompetence, backstabbing or finger pointing. Life is not like Mr. Trump's Apprentice. To my dismay, the backstabbing that is so rife on the show is commonplace. I don't want someone like that on my team. Petty squabbles and laziness are unacceptable.

And so I invest time to seek the right person. Yes, it is an investment. Hiring the right person leads to better productivity. And better quality of life at work. Making a good hire is about improving a team, not filling an empty slot.

-Dr. Dave

Friday, July 22, 2011

Farewell space shuttle program, we shall miss you!

The safe landing of shuttle Atlantis marked the end of an impressive spacecraft. To think that the shuttle was designed as a follow up to the Apollo missions in the late 1970s is impressive. With modern advances in aerospace technology, I can only imagine what the future will hold. (I hope there is a replacement!)

A Brief History

The Mercury project proved the rockets to safely launch man into orbit, as well as the systems to track and safely recover both astronaut and capsule. Project Gemini, with two men aboard, tested man's ability to work and endure long periods in space, and illuminated the complexities of orbital mechanics. These missions paved the way for Project Apollo, which culminated in several successful moon landings.

Having "won" the space race, NASA set its sights on a different goal, a reusable spacecraft. Each Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo spacecraft was one-use only. This was an expensive approach. Can you imagine buying a new car everytime you need to make a long car trip? The space shuttle concept embraced the reusable philosophy that is commonplace today.

Unlike spacecraft of the era, the space shuttle looked like a conventional aircraft. US and Soviet (now Russia) spacecraft designs that evolved during the space race relied on a capsule to launch astronauts into orbit. And the modern day Chinese space capsule is similar in design to the present Russian Soyuz. But the space shuttle was unique in that it took off like a rocket and landed like a plane.

And over the span of 30 years, many successes were quietly celebrated, but the loss of two craft and crew were loudly mourned. I remember exactly where I was during the Challenger and Colombia disasters. Lessons were learned the hard way. It was a wake up call and a reminder that there's nothing routine about spaceflight. Mistakes were made, lessons were learned, but we moved forward. We're Americans, it's what we do.

Watching a Magical Shuttle Launch

On an early April morning morning in 2010, my new bride and I were taking portraits at Disney's Magic Kingdom Park. (We were married a few days earlier. It was awesome!) While standing atop the castle, I turned around to see the shuttle ascending into the dark morning sky. Unfortunately, I didn't have a camera, but I'll never forget the image. And my new wife held my hand, knowing how important it was for me to see it. What a great way to start a marriage!

I checked off two items on my bucket list that weekend (wife and shuttle).

-Dr. Dave

Monday, July 18, 2011

Heat, humidity, and fog? Chicago weather strikes again!

Aside from flying planes, the next best thing about being a pilot is having an understanding of weather. And after living in Chicago for almost a decade, I’ve come to appreciate the variety and speed at which the weather changes. Chicago’s weather is predictable in its unpredictability. In terms of aviation, it can be challenging, but having this knowledge simply makes me a pilot with variety of experience. I'm not just a fair-weather weekend warrior.

Predictable Weather Patterns

The past several days have been hot and humid. This is a cause for concern to a pilot as a plane’s flight performance will suffer (hot, humid air is less dense than cold, dry air so engines and wings don’t perform optimally). If that weren’t enough, the likelihood of clouds that can grow into thunderstorms increase, and, under the right conditions, fog can form. Yup, fog can form on a hot day in Chicago.

So, how does it form?

Lake Michigan is east of Chicago, and the prevailing winds often come from the northwest or southwest. Winds from the northeast (a lake breeze) is less common.

After several unseasonably hot days, the lake water is warmed and saturates the air with water vapor in a manner similar to steam rising from a boiling pot of water. When winds shifts and a lake breeze is established, the air over lake cools to the dew point and the water vapor condenses to form low clouds or fog.

When conditions are right, the northeast wind will blow fog banks over parts of the city’s lake front. How long the fog lasts is determined by the temperature, humidity, and wind. Sometimes the fog barely lasts an hour, whereas other days (especially in the spring and fall) it can last a whole day.

Dr. Dave

Thursday, July 14, 2011

To drink, or not to drink? Why I prefer to avoid alcohol.

Unlike the era portrayed in AMC's Mad Men, alcohol consumption during work hours is taboo in today's modern world. But after work hours, it's common to see professionals get together for a drink or two at the local watering hole.

No thanks, I say. I'm not a teetotaler, but I rarely drink.


Before I turned 21 (legal drinking age in the US) my reason for avoiding alcohol was simple:  I thought my mom would kill me if I ever came home drunk. But something happened when I was 19 that made an indelible impression on my attitude towards alcohol consumption.

In the Shadow of a Doctor

I thought I wanted to be a doctor when I was in college. One summer I had the chance to shadow specialists in cardiology, oncology, orthopedics, and pediatrics to see what a week in their life was like.

One morning, a cardiologist and I made patient rounds. I watched and listened as he worked. Most of the patients in his care were older, but one patient was much younger. He was in his forties, obese, had severe diabetes and a bad heart. And judging by the purple hue of his leg, he was not going to have it for too long. The cardiologist confirmed my suspicion.

With the check-up complete, the cardiologist turned to leave the room, but the patient grabbed my arm and asked me to stay for a few minutes. He had tears in eyes so I stayed back. He looked at me and then told me his story, which went something like…

"When I was young, I looked just like you. I was tall, athletic, and I thought I was indestructible! I drank, got drunk a lot, and I always felt fine a few days later. And so I drank, and drank, and drank. Then the day came when I couldn't live without drinking. As I got older, I gained weight, became sick, had a heart attack, and now I'm going to lose my leg! And for what? Nothing!! I lost my wife, my kids, my family because of alcohol."

Although the words seem like cautionary prose from a bad made-for-TV movie, it was real. It was a moving moment. And then he said…

"Look kid, promise me one thing. Don't get drunk. It's not worth it. Just look at me! Look at what I've become! I know I'm not going to live long, so learn from my mistakes. Just promise me you won't get drunk. It's just not worth it."

He had a determined look in his eyes. I made a promise, he thanked me, and I went on my way. But I was unable to shake the imagine of him lying in bed telling me his story and the promise I made. That moment was the most memorable and thought provoking episode from that entire experience.

As life went on, I kept my word. Whenever I was offered alcohol, my mind would bring up the image of the patient (I have a good memory), and I would respectfully refuse.

But the workplace doesn't look too kindly upon those who don't drink after hours. I don't like these antiquated social customs, but if I have to carry a drink to fit in, so be it. I just sip or dilute while everyone else does as they please. I know I don't need alcohol to have a good time to help me unwind after a stressful day; I rely on my hobbies for that. Plus my mind stays sharp. And besides, I've seen how much "fun" people have when they are hungover, so it's a win-win in my book!

I made my promise over a decade ago. And despite the social pressures to drink, I'm proud to say I have never been drunk.

Dr. Dave

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Why I don't complain about weather-related flight delays

Chicago weather is synonymous with summer thunderstorms and heavy winter snowfalls. The city is home to 2 major (and very busy) airports, so when the weather takes a turn for the worse, flight delays mount; with prolonged weather challenges, the chances of a flight cancellation rise. The worst days are when the effect spreads across the country. Been there, done that.

Weather, smeather! What's the big deal?

Commercial jets are most vulnerable to the effects of severe weather when flown low and slow, which corresponds to every takeoff and landing. Most people don't know that ice accumulation on a wing can cause a plane to stall and crash at normal takeoff speeds, or that the effects of the winds from a thunderstorm can cause a large jet to fall from sky while attempting to landing.

Ground-based weather effects like rain, snow and wind are familiar, but all bets are off once you take to the air. Yes, it's probable that you could successfully drive a car through torrential rains, heavy snows, or gale-force winds using extreme caution. But a pilot attempting to fly an airplane through the same weather would be lucky to survive. Why?

Gravity keeps a car firmly attached to the ground, but an airborne plane is constantly fighting gravity's pull. With one poorly timed gust of wind, burst of rain, or patch of icy atmosphere, a plane can instantly lose the ability to fly (called a stall) and gravity wins. Yes, in most cases stall recovery is possible, but sufficient speed and altitude are required, both which are lacking when a plane flies low and slow.

So when I'm traveling for work or pleasure, I always remind myself that weather delays are implemented for safety reasons. Instead, I read a book or walk around the terminal. Yes, I will arrive late, but in this case it is better to be late than to risk never arriving at all.

Dr. Dave

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Put a ring on it: chemistry/aviation geek style!

When picking my ring for my wedding ceremony, my family and in-laws were insisting that I wear gold. I'm Indian, so I was not surprised. Most Indians I know received gold jewelery as part of their wedding ceremony and many sport gold rings. Is it tradition? I can't really say--I'm not traditional, so I'm the wrong person to ask--but I know it's common.

I believe that a man's wedding ring reflects loyalty, reliability, strength, trust, and love. And over the years, the dings and dents it accumulates reflects experience. It's a symbol of a strong and lasting bond.

So when it came time for me to choose, I selected a metal alloy that reflects my beliefs: aerospace grade titanium alloy. Naturally.

Titanium alloys exhibit great strength and resist corrosion, fatigue, cracks, and deformation at high temperatures. In fact, part of the success of the Mach 3+ SR-71 Blackbird spy plane can be attributed to the extensive use of exotic (at the time) titanium alloys throughout its structure. Today, titanium alloys are used in on modern commercial airliners on several high-stress parts (especially in the engines).

Yes, I think it's cool to have a ring made from spy plane metal on my finger. In doing so, I satisfied my inner chemistry/aviation geek (it's my ring, after all). But ultimately, I selected a titanium alloy because is reliable and strong, which reflect my relationship with my wife.

As for the dings and dents, since I've known my wife for over a decade before we were married, I ordered ball peen finish to remind me of our years of friendship.

And in case you are wondering, I ordered my ring from Boone Rings. I don't receive any kickbacks if you buy a ring from them. I'm just a satisfied customer who wants to spread the word.

Dr. Dave

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Genius or in tune with Nature?

A recent "Nova Science Now" episode about bird songs brought back memories of my graduate education in synthetic organic chemistry. What do bird songs have to do with chemistry? Nothing, except...

Bird songs are complex, but when songs were replayed at a slower speeds, many sounded like classical music. One bird song example sounded like the main theme Beethoven's Fifth Symphony!

What this episode implied is that Beethoven was inspired by a bird (Nature) and ran with the idea to compose his Fifth Symphony. The bird existed long before Beethoven, so it's very likely he sought inspiration from Nature. For this we call him a musical genius.

OK, so what does this have to do with chemistry?

Nature is the largest chemical factory in existence. Over eons, Nature made a fascinating array of molecules rich in structural diversity and biological activity. Some molecules may even cure the most insidious diseases know to man and it is the role of a synthetic organic chemist to make these molecules.

It takes a lot of knowledge, skill, planning, and some luck to assemble a complex molecule. A synthetic organic chemist must sort through thousands of reactions to determine the correct order of assembly. Most reactions don't apply and those that do are often frought with limitiations. It's science and art, and it's not an easy task.

Oftentimes, an organic chemist will enlist the help of Nature. Through bioanalytical chemistry, we can understand Nature's approach to complex molecule construction and substitute our own laboratory surrogates for each reaction. In many cases, laboratory surrogates for Nature's reactions do not exist. Rather than seeing this as a limitation, it serves as inspiration to create new chemistry.

So just like Beethoven, chemists are also inspired by Nature!

Indeed, Nature's approach to chemistry has inspired the creation of several amazing chemical reactions that makes the rapid construction of interesting molecules possible. Ultimately this translates into improved efficiency for the synthesis of modern medicines.

Nature continues to perform reactions that amazes and inspires even the most experienced chemists. It makes sense, Nature has a several hundred million years head start!

Dr. Dave

Friday, June 10, 2011

Dusting off my wings; train the way you fly, fly the way you train

Flying is my passion. As it is an expensive passion, I decided to ground myself so I could focus on more important matters: my wedding and buying a home.

My wife (who is also my best friend) knows my passion for flight and has been encouraging me to take to the skies once again for some time now. Yes, I'd like to go flying, but Chicago's weather and my free time are rarely in sync. My gut tells me they have formed an unholy alliance to keep me grounded. I've been distracting myself by playing guitar, drawing and painting. These hobbies help, but I'd rather be flying.

Microsoft Flight Simulator: My Flying Surrogate

I've played versions of Microsoft Flight Simulator since I was in the 4th grade. When I started my instrument flight training some 15 years later, I realized that it was more that just a game: it's a training tool. In fact, after every instrument flying lesson in an airplane, I would repeat the same lesson on my flight simulator.

I flew the simulator the way I was trained to fly the plane. I did everything the same, from using my checklists to tuning VORs and everything in-between. Plus, I always set the inflight visibility to a half mile just so I could force myself to fly by instruments.

Training to a high standard on the simulator made my flight training seem easy by comparison. Even the flight examiner was impressed that I passed the instrument checkride at the FAA minimum experience requirements!

To this day, I still use my desktop flight simulator to keep my instrument flying skills sharp; however, I am concerned that I'm not training in the plane I normally fly: a Diamond Star DA40 with a G1000 panel. The plane is technologically advanced, meaning it has a lot of fancy gizmos and gadgets that can make long distance flying easier, but it requires knowing how to interact with the flight computer. I'm computer savvy, but staring at a computer screen while flying through the air is a problem in my book.

Don't get me wrong, the Diamond Star still flies like any other airplane. I can navigate "old school" using VORs (I use them to back up GPS data), but my concern is that I can't practice the way I fly. I guess that's what the real plane is for, but I would feel better if I could fly like I train and train like I fly. Not only is it safer, it's considerably less expensive.

Dr. Dave

Posted via email from Dr. Dave Science

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Exam Taking Philosophy: Pick the low-hanging fruit; don't dwell

The sweet siren song of summer vacation beckons, but before you can succumb to its tune, final exams block your path. Ah, the memories...

Exam Strategy 101
After all the studying is done and the books and notes are set aside, the only thing that's left is to rock the exam. Ithe sciences, a killer strategy makes your studying count.

Having been a chemistry instructor at the university level (which means I have written exams), I recommend ploughing through each page and pick off the questions you know how to answer. Not only will you knock a lot of questions out of the way, but you will also get a feel-good mental boost.

Pay attention to problems throughout the exam because little clues may trigger your studying memory. Numerous times during chemistry and physics exams, I often found clues in later problems that help solve the ones I could not.

My last bit of advice works best for people who trust themselves: once you are certain of your response, don't second guess yourself. I knew many students who changed a correct answer to a wrong one. Trust your instincts. Unless you are 100% certain an answer is wrong, don't change it.

Happy studying!

Dr. Dave

Posted via email from Dr. Dave Science

Friday, March 11, 2011

Huge Earthquake in Japan

I woke up this morning to news of the devastating earthquake in Japan. Seismologists report the quake was a magnitude 8.9! My jaw dropped when I heard this. Why? I experienced the 6.9 Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989. Everything shook for about 15-20 seconds and it caused significant damage. The earthquake that hit Japan today measures about 900 times stronger. Yes, 900 times stronger! It appeared to last about 30 seconds, and then the area was hit by tsunamis. Several aftershocks measuring greater than 6.0 were reported. Keep in mind that earthquakes measuring 6.0 and great are considered significant.

Several major earthquakes in the span of a few hours, and yet many buildings remain standing? This is a testament to advanced engineering. But science aside, I truly hope the Japanese people recover quickly from the devastating effects.

Dr. Dave

Posted via email from Dr. Dave Science

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Overweight: Been There, Done That

Although currently I don't look like it, I struggled with my weight as a child and teenager. Rotund is a good word to describe my former physical appearance. It was difficult being overweight, as most kids teased those who did not "fit in"; being a nerd only served to compound my problem. Frankly, I'm glad I did not "fit in" because I imagine it must have been boring to be the same as everyone else, but I must admit that I'm glad I am no longer overweight.

Where Did They Come From?
I don't recall seeing as many overweight people 10 or 15 years ago as I do now. I am puzzled. Seriously, why the sudden increase in the obesity rate? I only ask because being overweight or obese is associated with a host of significant secondary health problems such as diabetes and heart disease. Both require medication to maintain a patient's health, but for most overweight people, a proper diet and exercise (eat less, move more) could help them to reduce their amount of medication. In fact, some folks may no longer require medication once they reach a healthy weight. Common sense tells me a healthy diet and exercise could reduce the cost of health care!

A Food Philosophy That Works
I have been able to maintain a healthy weight for 10+ years through proper diet and exercise. My philosophy is to eat less and move more. When I dine, I eat until I am no longer hungry rather than eating until I feel full. It was difficult at first, but after a few weeks I adapted. After each meal my hunger is satisfied and I don't feel stuffed. Yes, I eat frequently (mainly snacks), but I see it as a bonus since I get to sample many flavors throughout the day. I don't cut junk or fast food from my diet, but I do limit my portions. I guess the bottom line is that a healthy diet does not mean cutting the foods you like. Instead, go ahead and eat the foods you like, but eat less of it.

I ultimately hope the American public attacks the obesity epidemic head-on. There's too much at stake!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

The Great Chicago Blizzard of 2011- Want Proof?

This image from NASA shows just how massive the storm was the hit the Midwest. Watch out east coast!

Dr. Dave

Posted via email from Dr. Dave Science

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Great Chicago Blizzard of 2011?

The weather is pretty rough out in Chicago. Visibility is about 1/2 mile, the snow is falling horizontally, and it's COLD! I can hear the wind howl against my windows. I hope they hold.

Although I have lived in Chicago for nearly a decade, to date the only blizzards I have experienced are from Dairy Queen. But I'm not worried. I'm prepared (food, water, alternate heat source, etc.). Despite the creaking and groaning, I'm looking forward to my first blizzard. I've experienced major typhoons, monsoons, and earthquakes. I guess I can now add a blizzard to the list.

But what makes a blizzard? According to the National Weather Service, if the wintry weather meets the following criteria:

-Visibility reduced to 1/4 mile
-Sustained winds of 35 mph
-3 hours or more in duration

...then it's a blizzard!

Plus, tonight we might have thundersnow. Wow!

Dr. Dave

Posted via email from Dr. Dave Science

Monday, January 3, 2011

New Year's Resolutions: If you fail, get up and do it again!

Happy 2011 everyone! Well, it's that time of year when millions make the promise of self-improvement. Unfortunately, most of these promises are broken by the time February rolls around.

I think New Year's resolutions are good in principle. The desire to better oneself is noble, but why wait for a specific date to implement it? If change is truly important, start immediately.

Finally, always remember that anything worth doing will be difficult to achieve, so expect failure. Experience tells me life's most important lessons are born from failure than success. When you fail (not if), acknowledge it and try again. Let willpower maintain your momentum and keep moving forward. Every little step counts!

Of course, once your goal is met, you will have achieved much more than a target. Positive changes instills positive traits, so embrace change and become the best version of yourself for 2011 and beyond!

Dr. Dave

Posted via email from Dr. Dave Science