Saturday, December 22, 2012

Flying in Frightful Weather

There's an old adage in aviation: It's better be down here wishing you were up there rather than being up there wishing you were down here.

Today is one of those days. You can barely see the buildings in downtown Chicago. That's some serious IFR!

My inner aviator wishes I could be flying. Why? I want to be a better pilot! I can handle low fog layers, but I don't have much experience with wet/icy and windy weather. Maybe that's a good thing.

I know my limitations. As a low-time pilot, I'd never fly in such scuzzy weather alone or with family, especially in an ill-equipped aircraft.

In such situations, an experienced flight instructor is valuable. There's so much to learn, and I'd like to do so without twisting metal.

Dr. Dave

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Great food advice...from a rat

Ratatouille, the Disney/Pixar film about a rat who dreams of being a French chef, is one of my favorites. The artwork is exquisite and the story is creative. A great combination!

Remy, the protagonist rat, and I have similar food philosophy:

"If you are what you eat, then I only want to eat the good stuff."

Essentially it's a quality over quantity approach. No, I'm not a food snob. I simply try to avoid foods that contain heavily processed ingredients.

Not only is it good for me, it tastes good, too!

Dr. Dave

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

America, it's time to talk

Two gun rampages in 2 weeks. One in Colorado movie theater by a mentally unstable man and another in a place of Sikh worship by an alleged white supremacist.

Seriously, what's going on?

What bothers me beyond the violence is the news cycle. For a few days, the mainstream media will cover these terrible stories, and then allow them fade away in favor of fluff pieces about celebrity gossip and rumor. A community has been shaken by acts of violence, but the rest of America doesn't care after a week because a celebrity did something stupid.

Our priorities are misplaced. Are our collective memories so short that we don't care about our fellow Americans?

We need to have a real national discussion about violence. Stop worrying about other countries and make America great again!

Monday, July 30, 2012

No Money in Politics

What would our political system be like if donations and lobbyist were banned?

Imagine, any candidate running for office would receive a fixed sum to run their campaign. No donations. None. Zip.

If that doesn't fly, then what if candidates had to wear logos of all their donors, like NASCAR? Hmmm...

Tuesday, July 24, 2012


I was shaken awake by the sound of thunder and heavy rain. But I'll take a natural alarm over a mechanical buzzer any day.

Thunderstorms command respect. It's humbling to know that heat, moisture and unstable air under the right atmospheric conditions can create a punch-packing storm. But it's even more humbling to consider that all storm systems begin life as microscopic specs of dust upon which water vapor condenses to form clouds.

Monday, July 23, 2012

No News Is Good News

I went camping over the weekend, away from TV, phone and internet. I was unplugged and it was a welcome relief from the constant barrage of sadness and woe we call news. The news makes me wonder what's wrong with the world. It is enough to drive anyone mad! Heck, I get worked up just thinking about it!

But for a few days I went off the grid. The wind through the trees said everything is okay. Each night I fell asleep to a symphony of crickets. The call of birds and the sound of the rain was my alarm clock. Everything was right with the world. It felt good.

I need to unplug more often.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Making Math Easier: Break It Down

I taught my young cousin my multiplication shortcut last night.

For example, what's an easy way to solve 12 X 11?

As a refresher, 12 and 11 are "factors", and the answer is the called the "product."

1. Ask yourself, what 2 or more numbers add up to the first factor and are easy to multiply?

In this example, I know 10+2=12, and that both 10 and 2 are easy numbers to multiply with any factor.

2. Multiply each number by the second factor.

In our example, multiply 10 and 2 by 11:

10 X 11=110
2 X 11=22

3. Add the products


And there you have it!

The example above is an easy and gets the point across. I still use this trick when I need to multiply numbers and don't have a calculator (like when I'm flying a plane).

Math tricks are not for everyone, but if it works and helps a student overcome a hurdle, then use it. There's no harm in doing things differently.

-Dr. Dave

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

A Trip Down Memory Lane

I write for a living. And I have this blog to thank. Well, not this blog in it's current form.

I started many years ago when my girlfriend's cousin, a 10-year old, asked me how a hot air balloon worked. Although I knew the answer, it was challenging to explain. I had to think of an easy explanation because I didn't want his response to be a blank stare.

I thought about my response, created my blog, wrote a post and sent him a link. He understood it, so I knew I was doing something right.

He asked me more questions and I wrote more posts. Eventually I received questions from readers and I wrote more posts.

A few years later, I attended a job fair, and as it turns out, a representative from medical writing firm had seen my blog. I interviewed weeks later and was offered a position as a medical writer.

Since then, I haven't devoted much time to blogging. My girlfriend became my wife and we bought a home. It's the way life goes.

I hope to write more. It'll probably be less about science and more about life.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Checklists from Memory: A Good Flying Practice?

I learned to fly out of Oakland International Airport, a Class C airport located under San Francisco's Class B airspace. It was a busy environment, and oftentimes strict adherence to the checklist was not possible on departure. I had to rely on memory, which is good for a pilot who flies frequent, but can be troublesome for a pilot who does not (that would be me).

What to do?

As I gained experience multiple piston engine aircraft, I noticed commonalities between each aircraft's climb checklist. So, to make fly easier, I thought up the following rhyming memory aid:


Each word is an aid to trigger specific actions for different aircraft systems. For example, after take-off when climbing out, I run the memory checklist as follows:

Power - Set throttles to climb manifold pressure, set prop lever to climb RPM
Pump - Turn off fuel pump(s)
Clean - Select/verify flaps up, verify gear is up, close cowl flaps
Lean - Set mixture lever (as required)
Pitch- Pitch for climb-out airspeed
Switch - Turn off landing lights

I've used this generic checklist while flying Cessna 172s and 182s, Diamond DA40 Diamond Stars, and even PA44 Piper Seminole (a light twin). It simplifies the transition from take-off to climb out while negotiating busy airspace.

Even when I'm not flying a real airplane, I use the same memory checklist when I practice flying on my desktop simulator. (I regularly practice IFR flying on the stock Beechcraft Baron on Microsoft Flight Simulator 2004.) Training reinforces both good and bad habits. So train the way you fly, and fly the way your train. Discover your own good flying habits.

-Dr. Dave

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Movies, Science and Nostalgia

In Woody Allen's Oscar-nominated film Midnight in Paris, protagonist Gil Pender, a successful but unfulfilled American screenwriter, is enamored with the city, its scenery, history and people. So great is his love for Paris that he wishes to uproot and move into tiny apartment, just as his literary heroes did in the 1920s.

Gil believes no time was finer than Paris in the 1920s, in fact, if he could, he would travel back in time. The film captures the romance of nostalgia, an idealized view of the past. It is a concept to which most dreamers can relate.

I daydream frequently, usually about flying, but after watching the movie (twice) I've been preoccupied with the plot. The subject matter spoke to me. I am a dreamer, and can relate to Gil. Nostalgia is alluring. In fact, I chose to earn a PhD in organic chemistry rather than continue in immunology and medicine partly because of a nostalgia factor.

Nostalgia and organic chemistry? How so?

Organic chemistry is about the chemistry of carbon, the element upon which life is based. Don't confuse it with the term "organic," it's bandied about in the context of food and lifestyle, but unrelated to the scientific discipline.

What drew me in to organic chemistry was a branch called total synthesis. It's best described as the synthesis of complicated molecules. It is both an art and a science. And it's challenging.

Total synthesis had it's heyday in the 1950s through the 1980s. And what a fascinating history it had! It was a time when clever chemists made incredibly complicated molecules, such as penicillin, Vitamin B, and quinine, using simple tools. It was a perfect union of skill, curiosity, creativity, patience, deduction, and determination. The work of these intrepid chemist at the forefront of organic chemistry helped make modern medicine what it is today.

Fast forward to 2012, and although total synthesis continues on, it does not have the romantic allure it once did. There are fewer practitioners of pure total synthesis. And former practitioners often combine their projects with biology- or nano-technology. It makes sense if you want funding, as the disciplines are intertwined, so it's a sensible approach.

As for my own path, I chose a graduate project in total synthesis not because it was easy, but because it was hard. It was my own personal mission to the moon. It was as far as I could get from immunology, but "do-able" nonetheless.

And there was the nostalgia.

I often thought of the organic chemists who came before me, and of the knowledge I gained from their efforts. The technology that came about from their efforts made my work incredibly efficient by their standards. What once took many chemists months to accomplish may now take one chemist a handful of days.

Would I want to be an organic chemist in the heyday of total synthesis? Probably. If only time travel were possible, right? But if it were, I'd buy lottery tickets.