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