Superstitious nonsense

*sigh* At one time the Arab world was at the forefront of scientific literacy and achievement. Then they fell into an abyss of superstition, fear and ignorance that plagues them to this day.

Just because we (America) are on top today, does not mean that the same thing can’t happen to us. We really, really have to guard against this kind of nonsense.

I can’t verify if this article is true or not, but based on the Bush administration’s previous meddling in NASA science publications and this blog entry on Phil Plait’s “Bad Astronomy” blog I am pretty confident it is accurate.

Park Service Can’t Give Official Age Of Grand Canyon For Fear Of Offending Creationists…

Flying to Buffalo – pt 4

Continued from part 3.

I contacted my Plane Rental company and they offered to send over an IFR rated pilot in a powerful plane (Piper Aztec) to pick us up. This left our little Warrior at Knoxville airport to be picked up the following weekend.

I had never flown before in IMC in a GA airplane. The altitude assigned to us by Atlanta radio had us right at the tops of the clouds, so we would occasionally be above a valley of cloud and sometimes we were plowing through mountains of white fluff lit by moonlight. The effect was surreal and wonderful.

Overall this was a tremendous learning experience, our plane did not have any autopilot so I was able to hone my basic handling skills. Flying into more complex airspace than normal (C class, TRSA) and pushing myself to take advantage of the services offered have made me MUCH more comfortable with taking advantage of such facilities so that I will do so without hesitation in the future. The in-cockpit weather is a great tool and I think I will keep that subscription, however I will definitely be availing myself of the weather information services both on the ground and in the air on a much more frequent basis than before.

Mich is a great flying companion, she will voice her opinion when she doesn’t understand something or feels there may be an issue but she is cool about the realities of GA flying – i.e. sometimes you just can’t get where you’re going. Of course, bribing her with a nice hotel room never hurts 🙂.

1810This trip also underscored the need to attain my IFR certificate if I am to use the plane in any practical sense for getting places, that and getting checked out in more powerful aircraft will make this hobby a lot more practical for our vacation aspirations.



Flying to Buffalo – pt 3

Continued from part 2.

The return trip, if anything, was more enlightening. After a thorough weather briefing we ended up lifting off at about 4:30 in the afternoon from Erie. Our home airport was supposed to have high ceilings and be otherwise fine for landing at our proposed arrival time.

We elected to stop in West Virginia again as we liked the FBO and fuel prices were reasonable. This time I got a full weather briefing and found that Gwinnett was positively socked in. Low ceilings and poor visibility meant that it was unlikely that we would be able to land when we arrived. That and flying over the North Georgia mountains in the dark in uncertain weather led me to decide to stay overnight in West Virginia.

The next morning, the forecast for Gwinnett showed modest ceilings that were to improve to about 6,000 feet before we intended to arrive there.

By now most of those creaky old skills that I had learned in my flying lessons were coming back to me and I was taking advantage of all the facilities available to me. I had filed a VFR flight plan, was taking full advantage of flight following and was talking with flightwatch to receive updated forecasts to augment my in-cockpit information.

These are valuable tools that tend not to be used so much when you just fly locally and I needed to prod myself to take advantage of them and have now added them to my personal checklist as *must have* items for any cross country flight (i.e. more than 50 miles).

We arrived at Knoxville airport without incident. The ceilings had NOT risen above 7,000 as I was expecting and I could see that the North Georgia Mountains were impassible for VFR flight. So I decided to skirt around them by amending my flight plan to jog over to Chattanooga and then head South to home.

A few minutes later, what I had assumed from the distance to be just lower visibility mist turned out to be a wall of fog (picture the sandstorm scene from the movie “Sahara”) that extended from the ground right up to the cloud ceiling above. *sigh* there was nothing for it but to turn back to Knoxville and land.

Continued in part 4…

Flying to Buffalo – pt 2

Continued from part 1.

In my original planning I had figured on just under 3 hours for us to get to our gas stop. After 3 hours at ground speed of around 75 knots we still has a ways to go to our gas stop. Frankly, by now nature was calling rather urgently. So we put down at a small airport in Northern Kentucky and took care of business. I then decided to call ahead to our gas stop to ensure they would still be open when we got there. Hmmm.. no answer. It turns out that a LOT of FBOs were closed on Thanksgiving day. This is something that I still can’t get used to, the complete shut down of America on Thanksgiving.

So I diverted instead to my alternate airport, class C Tyson airport in West Virginia and refueled there instead. The FBO (Tac Air) was great and got me on my way in short order. It was dark by the time we landed. At that point I *should* have gotten an updated weather briefing to get the forecast for our destination airport, but I was still relying on my original briefing forecast plus my current in-cockpit weather which was telling me all was (and was going to be) well.

Lesson learned, while we were airborne on the first part of our flight, a dense fog advisory had been issued for the entire area South-East of  Lake Erie. New personal rule, never pass up the chance to get an updated weather briefing while on the ground.

Our flight toward KIAG was relatively uneventful, the in-cockpit weather was a great boon to night flying as I could “see” cloud piecemeal cover that I’d otherwise have begun to fly into and then would have had to guess at the best diversions to make (go under, over or around).  Approaching the Southern end of Lake Erie I could see the updated METAR for KIAG was showing marginal conditions for cloud cover but visibility was still OK. Not knowing about the fog advisory I figured this is something that would probably blow over soon and I’d just keep an eye on it. Shortly after that I saw the updated METARs for KIAG and the surrounding airports degrade into IFR and then low IFR conditions. Translation: we couldn’t land at any of them.  I could see the trend moving from the Eastern shore westward.

So we resigned ourselves to the fact that, whatever system was causing the poor visibility, it was not going away anytime soon. The best thing we could do was hunker down for the night and finish the trip in the morning. Looking inland we found an airport with fuel and an AOPA listing for decent hotel facilities and started heading that way. Calling ahead to let them know we were en-route, we got the bad news from them that they had neglected to update their METAR and that they too were socked in.

So I turned around and ended up heading to Tom Ridge airport in Erie, Pennsylvania. They turned up the landing lights to make their runway more visible to us and we landed there without incident. It was about 10:15 pm by this point. The guy at the GA FBO (North Coast Air) had heard us receiving clearance to land and had hung around to wait for us (Thank You!) as he was originally going to close an hour early due to Thanksgiving.

He got us a room at a local hotel and they sent a shuttle to come pick us up.

The next morning, the fog was as thick as pea soup. It had been forecast to lift by about  11 am so we made our way to the airport for then. Later the forecast was changed such that the fog was supposed to lift by 1:30 in the afternoon but when 1:00 rolled around and it was still 1/16 mile visibility and not improving at all we elected to rent a car and just leave the plane in Erie until our return trip.

Of course, while I was kicking the tires of our rental car after signing all the papers, the fog and clouds all dissipated leaving behind gorgeous blue skies. *sigh* c’est la vie.

The drive to Toronto from Erie was about 5 hours. Overall, had we driven from Atlanta we would have arrived at almost exactly the same time as we did on this trip.

Continued in part 3…


Flying to Buffalo – pt 1

1807 The plan was simple, we’d fly ourselves from Atlanta, Georgia to Buffalo, New York, rent a car and drive to Toronto during our American Thanksgiving holiday.    

Part of our incentive was to avoid the traffic issues that go along with the busiest travel time of the year, another part was to not patronize the airlines while they continue to allow the TSA to bully them into bizarre, idiotic and ineffective measures that supposedly would provide for our safety.

We had deemed the trip an “optional” one. If the weather was bad or if we decided for whatever reason to stop there were no commitments that would tempt us to continue onward. This helped greatly in preventing get-there-itis.

I had also picked up “Anywhere Map”’s in cockpit Weather (Nexrad, Metar, lightening strikes) package. This would complement my usual weather briefing by allowing me to see weather conditions as they develop in near real-time.

There had been a storm that had largely affected the North-East. It had caused that terrible weather for New York’s Thanksgiving day parade and had pretty much cleared all the clouds away from the North-South corridor that we wanted to fly to the west of the Appalachian mountains. Unfortunately, this same system was responsible for Southerly winds that would ultimately result in strong headwinds for our Northbound journey.

The plan had been to take off from our home airport in Gwinnett at about 10 am do a gas stop at KGAS and then land in Buffalo (actually Niagara Regional Airport – KIAG) sometime between 4 and 6 pm. I knew the headwinds were going to be a factor but I really hadn’t counted on how much of an impact they would ultimately have. In typical Bourassa fashion, we actually did not lift off until closer to 12:30 pm.

Typically I like to spend no more than about 2-3 hours in the air more for passenger comfort than for safety. This plane, a Piper Warrior II has about 4 ½ hours of flying endurance even allowing for the minimum 1 hour fuel buffer that I always land with.

Continued in part 2…

Time Magazine’s Article – “Why We Worry About The Things We Shouldn’t… …And Ignore The Things We Should”

Time magazine tends to cater to a pretty credulous mindset. If I want solid reporting and analysis of world events I favor “The Economist”, but I was pointed to “Time’s” December 4, 2006 cover story by a blog entry on Phil Plait’s “Bad Astronomy” blog.

I fly airplanes, I shoot guns, I don’t smoke and I do exercise. Mostly, however, I manage risk. Understanding what is safe and what is really dangerous, not just emotionally appealing, is key to focusing on and dealing with the real issues that face us today.

We really need to get a grip on the things that we allow our public leaders use to divert us from the real issues. Check out this article for some perspective.

Carl Sagan remembered

This is the 10th anniversary of Carl Sagan’s death (Dec. 20, 1996) and if you’re in the blogosphere you’ll likely see many of the science-oriented sites post entries about this sad milestone.

There is not much that I can say that has not already been posted before about Dr. Sagan’s role in growing our knowledge about the planets and moons of our local solar system as well as in popularizing the Cosmos in general. Click here for his Wikipedia entry.

My own experience with Dr. Sagan’s work began way back in 1989 when I was on vacation in Morocco for a couple of weeks. That was one of the first vacations I’d ever been on where I was truly a “stranger in a strange land”. There were a couple of French TV stations available from France in the North, but most channels were in Arabic (Berber, I believe). There happened to be a copy of Carl Sagan’s book “Cosmos” available, and over the course of those two weeks I managed to read it cover to cover.

While I enjoyed that experience immensely, it is not for that work that I really respect Dr. Sagan. I disagreed with some of his stances on political issues (nuclear holocaust and environmental concerns chief among those),  but I greatly respected the skepticism and mental rigour that he expressed so clearly in my favorite of his works, “The Demon Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the dark”. I have this book on audio tape and feel it is a must read / listen for anybody interested in understanding what skepticism is really about.

I truly regret that Dr. Sagan can no longer produce such wonderful and thought provoking works anymore and that he is not able to see the incredible discoveries we’ve made both within our own solar system and throughout the Cosmos over the past few years.

Wine Tasting (from July, 2006)

We got some friends together to do a wine tasting party while in Toronto this past July. The theme was *supposed* to be “Canadian Shiraz’s”. But *some* folks didn’t read their email and we had a slightly broader Spectrum.

The wines sampled were “Naked Grape (Unoaked)” (Canadian), “Jackson-Triggs Proprietor’s Selection” (Canadian) and “Paringa – 2003” (Australian).


I personally was unable to render a quantitative distinction between the wines but ultimately I rated them, from favorite to less-so: Naked Grape, Paringa, Jackson-Triggs.

Mich’s ratings were: Jackson-Triggs and the other two tied for second place.

As a group (myself not included as I was doing the poll taking) we blindly re-tasted the wines and:

3 of the 5 chose Paringa as the favorite (one vote each for the other two), then for second place Naked Grape won 3 votes, Paringa second and no votes for Jackson-Triggs. Finally 4 folks chose Jackson triggs as their third choice with one person choosing Naked Grape for this honor.