Friday, March 21, 2014

On the mystery of the missing airplane…




We are currently getting a lesson in how big the earth is, and how small a jet plane is, even a Boeing 777…  my thoughts…

This is also a lesson in the behavior of the media when a story, however compelling lacks facts… or hard information…  In the absence of information we (especially the blogger sphere, but also the news media) collectively resort to fiction.

Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 disappeared on March 8th… now 2 weeks past… the lack of information has lead to theories… and revelations…  and occasionally truths… (my favorite truth an article from the New York Times, March 20th ‘The Technology Is Out There,’ but Satellites Don’t Track Jets ) 

It is useful to understand what we know… what has been reported (aka a maybe) and what we don’t know…  in the form of a time line…  (The New York Times has a good article on what we know I consider this article to be as close to hard facts that are publicly available… Fox News, not so much)

March 8th
12:41 am - Jet takes off from Kuala Lumpur
1:07 am – ACARS (note 1 below) system makes (last) transmission, it is scheduled to next
                transmit at 1:37
1:19 am - Last communication from plane, (believed) by co-pilot “All right, good night.”
1:21 am - Transponder stops transmitting
(note the order of the last two items above… they are frequently reported in reverse order in media reports)
After 1:21 -  this is a significant point in the narrative… from this point on facts are
           less certain
1:37 am – ACARS fails to send scheduled transmission (see note 2)
About 2:15+ – Malaysian Military radars track a plane, believed to be flt 370 as it flies west,
climbs to 45,000’, then descends to 23,000’ and flies out over Indian Ocean.  Some reports say that the military radar also tracked the plane as it made a nearly 180 degree left turn back towards Malaysia.
7:45 am Malaysia Airlines announces they have lost contact with the aircraft
About 8:15 am – last satellite transmission from engine reporting system.  (note 4)
Between 8:30 am 9:15 am – the plane would have exhausted its fuel (assuming it was still
                flying)

Note 1, this aircraft had at least three automatic communication systems, 1) the transponder works with ground based radars, transmitting identification information about the aircraft, and amplifying its radar signature, 2) the ACARS or Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System is an automated system which communicates with the ground every 30 minutes or  after certain events like landing or taking off, and 3) the engines are equipped with an automated system engine reporting system which reports their status through a satellite based system.
Note 2, There is some debate about whether the ARARS system can be turned off completely see this article
Note 3,  The sensationalist news media seems to be upset with the lack of detail associated with the Malaysian Military reports and their failure to sramble fighter planes to intersept the “unknown plane”.  We tend to forget that military radar, and its capabilities are national secreats, and in publishing reports of what was seen they Malaysian government is publishing information of interest to the militaries of the neighboring counties.  Similarly it is possible (even likely) that militarily radars in  Indonesia, Thailand, India or other countries may have “seen” this plane at some point.  It is possible (even likely) that that information is either being withheld for reasons of national security, or is available to searchers, but not publicly.
Note 4  This is reported by the news media as two arcs, one of which the plane crossed at the time of the final transmission.  Some reports seem to confuse the contact arcs with a possible flight path.  They are not… they represent a pair of lines. One of which the plane was crossing at the time of that transmission.  Being a detail freak, I would love to see the arcs for the previous transmissions, but they have apparently not been published.

Beyond the facts there are theory’s… some well thought out, some wacky… from here on we have left the world of facts… So, the options are (behind door No. 1?)

Scenario 1 - The plane broke up and crashed over Gulf of Thailand at about 1:30 am… This is the simplest explanation, consistent with the last radio contact and the transponder cut off.  The lack of wreckage Malaysian military radar observations and certain US statements about “not seeing an explosion” via observation ( aka spy) satellites suggest that we should look elsewhere.
Scenario 2 – The plane was intentionally diverted, either by the flight crew or by others.  The timing and location of the disappearance is consistent with that moment, when transitioning from one air traffic control center to another in a different country when a plane’s disappearance would be least likely to be noticed.  Motives could be suicide (but if so, why not just crash the aircraft in the Gulf of Thailand as in scenario 1) political (if so why no public message?) ransom (again, why no demand?) or political (a government diverting the plane to arrest someone on board?)  Proponents of this theory suggest the climb to 45,000’ may have been to take the plane to an altitude at which if cabin pressure was lost the passengers would be incompacitated or even die)   If such a diversion happened, then we might expect to find the plane sitting on the ground at some remote airstrip… This of course is the favorite of the families who have home that somehow their loved ones are still alive.  Lack of communication by those who might have diverted the plane argue against this.
Scenario 3 – Mechanical emergency, most likely a fire causing the crew to shut down electrical systems in an attempt to stop the fire.  Those favoring this scenario suggest that after shutting down the electrical systems (and communications) before being overcome by smoke leaving the plane to fly on auto pilot until it runs out of fuel.  This is commonly reported as the Zombie plane or ghost plane theory.  This is consistent with the recent reports from the Australian Government of sighting of possible debris which might be from flt 370 (note that the preceding sentence has 3 qualifiers… separating the statement for from statement of fact, “reports, possible and might)”  It is possible that debris may be found in coming days, and that debris may be identified as coming from flt 370… at that point the reports can be considered factual… until then they are at best reports or at worse speculation…)

Other theories…  (and even fewer facts)
The plane was hit by a meteor – Statistically unlikely… but if so, see scenario 1 above…
The plane was taken by a government conspiracy… see scenario 2
The plane was taken by aliens... I will let this stand on its own merits… just saying…
My favorite theory…  The plane crash landed on a beach on an uncharted island, where passengers will encounter a polar bear… alternately the creators of the TV show “Lost” are trying to increase sales of the DVD’s of the show…


Thursday, March 20, 2014

Spring…




Today is the first day of spring… that moment when we celebrate the change of seasons… the day when days and nights are equal… with days once again wining after a long dark winter when nights rule.

In Washington DC it is the formal beginning of the Cherry Blossom Festival…  but the cherries are not yet in bloom… as recently as last Monday they were covered with snow…  Of course here in California the Cherries have bloomed, peaking 3 weeks ago, and are now budding out… plums in white are still blooming… but the cherries are done…  but we are the land of oranges and endless summers, and not the land of snow and icy winters.

In California it is the time of weeds… at our house the weeds are currently winning, big green weeds, but that should change soon, if for no other reason than summer and the drought with its lack of water will kill them, turning them dry and golden and a fire hazard… 

As if scripted a wild fire broke out last evening near Salinas…. At last reports it was 400 acres, 50% contained… With our drought this could be a exciting fire season… not in a good way… 

Vegetables are now available at the local nurseries and home stores… its is garden time even if we don’t have water to keep them alive…  Tomarrow I shall pull weeds...

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Homeward bound....

Virgin Airlines, Flt 77, Dulles to SFO...

It was a dark and dreary day in our nation's capital... A bit cold, gray, drizzling...

Better than the snow earlier in the week, but dark and gray...

Steph and I took Metro into town for the last time this trip... Headed for the Smithsonian Art Museum's archive and library... Researching an artist who painted a painting found in the attic of Paterson house... my former work place.   The archives had a file on the artist John Koch, but nothing on our painting.

Having completed our research, we found something to eat, then took the Metro back to northern Virginia, to the nieces house, to grab luggage, loose the daughter (who is staying behind for a few weeks), I say goodbye, give the great niece a hug, and depart... then head for the airport...

It was raining, nearly rush hour, and I was a bit nervous about the traffic on the way to the airport... I left a bit early... Then found no traffic, and made near record time... Dropped the rental... Checked in... Cleared security... Nearly 2 hours before boarding.  I found a place to sit with a beer and a plug and signed on to the Internet... Some of you may have received an email... Having consumed I  found a seat by the gate until it was time to board...

The boarding was anti-climatic... Without much warning they announced "general boarding"... I walked up, they scanned my boarding pass and walked down the jetway...

They announced that they had closed the doors and  pushed back 4 minutes early... We were wheels up 8'minutes later...  I feel like I'm on an express train...

 Now 2 hours later, somewhere above 30,000', , 1,100 miles into the journey the sun is setting to the west, below clouds could easily be mistaken for ocean waters... Home is 4 hours away...  Out beyond the sunset...

My seat back entertainment system is on the fritz (Oh my God!  The inhumanity, turn the airplane around... How will I survive the flight?!)  so I am listening to music, mostly Houston Jones, writing this blog post and reading...

The clouds broke, briefly, as the sun light finally failed, somewhere west of the Mississippi.. Exposing the ground below... We are now over the plains, Kansas or Iowa, or maybe Nebraska...  There are few lights below...   Houston-Jones are singing.... "Out where the sea meets the sun" ( the word "out" is missing from the song title, but is an important part of the lyrics)...  Three hours to go.

The entertainment system magically came to life over South Dakota...  But I think I will stick to Houston-Jones and my book...

 I run out of Houston Jones songs over the Rockies... With the entertainment system working I have a map showing location, ground speed, elevation and such... I switch to Mark  Knophler...   Quick time and distance calculation (790 miles at 475mph). suggests we are less than the two hours out the schedule calls for...  We may arrive a bit early.

We were just crossing the Utah/Nevada border, when I noticed that our miles to go (475 miles) and speed (485 mph) were, for a moment the same... The clock suggests we have an hour and a half to go...

We have crossed a line in the sand... we have entered my home territory, places where I can find my way without benefit of a map... A couple if ranges west is Ely... I have driven home from Ely in a day, more than once.   An hour before our scheduled landing we are 289 miles out, over Railroad Valley (strangely a valley which never has had a railroad) over Tonopah, over Rhodes Marsh...

45 minutes out, the map says we in California, over Mt Tom in the Sierras...  Ahead in the distance I can see lights of a city in San Joaquin valley... Likely Fresno or Merced... 166 miles to go... Still at 34,000'

30 minutes out...  100 miles to go... Now descending...   29,000', 26,000'... The lights outside forming familiar patterns...  We bank left loosing a bit more altitude... Down to 21,000'... We are coming in over the South Bay...

We cross the Sam Mateo bridge, and drop the landing gear at 23 after... And touch down at 9:25... 15 minutes early... And are at the gate by 9:28...  I am at baggage before our scheduled arrival at 9:40... It is 10:00 before I find my bag... someone pulled it off the carrasell... and set it aside...

By 10:30 I am home and settled... the dogs are happy...

Monday, March 17, 2014

In DC in the snow


"Today's previously scheduled Sunshine Week Commemorative Program has been postponed
" (Due to the snow storm?). .. The United States Department of Justice...

Its a snow day in DC... Schools, Federal offices  most Smithsonian museums including the zoo are closed... Buses are on a snow schedule... avoiding steep hills... The Metro is open and mostly on time...



The American Museum of Art - National Portrait Gallery are open... (as is the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum) But the Art library is not...   This is not a good day for research...

But the Capital Brewing Company is open with beer and corned beef... (rumor suggests beer is also available, we note than none was green)

In downtown DC it's a bit strange... Snow still falling,  wonderful big fluffy flakes... The streets are plowed, the sidewalks shoveled clean...  It's new snow, still clean and white rather than dirty and grey...  it's warm enough so that streets and gutters are wet... It's cold, but not miserably so.  Needless to say, there were no cherry blossoms in sight.

The streets are uncrowded... Weirdly so... Both the workers and tourist are staying away... We have the city mostly to ourselves.  Of course in a city where visitors come to see museums, with most museums closed the visitors have congregated at the the two that are open... so the Art Museum felt uncomfortably crowded... it was difficult to move around, get a clear view of larger paintings or to read the information about the work and artist...  One unexpected pleasure... the strange patterns of snow on the glass courtyard roof...








From the art museums we walked across the National Mall... around the edges of the closed Hirshhorn sculpture garden with neatly cleaned walkways... but still closed...  to a Metro station.



Steph found a news report on her phone... "This is the third biggest snow storm so late in the season and the 10th greatest snow storm on record for DC in March..".  per USA Today...  It didn't feel like a snow emergency... just like a nice spring snow... certainly not enough to close a city...







The closures had some advantages... the drive home from Metro to the house, normally a 20 minute dive was only 8 minutes on a clear dry freeway...

Snow day…




Here we are in Northern Virginia… (in Lorton specifically, the home of the neice, her husband and two daughters) here, 2,500 miles away from our home, to see family and to spend time in research libraries… in the various Smithsonian museum libraries (the museum of American History has three libraries alone), in the National Archive, and the Library of Congress… 



But today we have snow… officially winter storm Wiley… bringing 4 or 5 inches of snow… not a lot of snow… but enough… enough to make travel more difficult and send Federal employees home..  the Federal employees in question being among others, the people who staff the various libraries and museums…  Our research at Smithsonian Museum of American History, Archive Center being the first casualty…  We are waiting to see if the Art Museum Library is open… the two museums, the National Portrait Gallery and American Museum of Art are, but their library is a separate stand alone facility in a separate building…

The street outside is plowed… Metro is open… buses are on a “snow day” schedule… apparently bars in DC are offering snow day specials…  I suspect corned beef and green beer may be very cheap tomorrow.

Outside it is beautiful… all white… undisturbed so far… the trees coated… it’s still snowing lightly…  It’s still early, just after 8:00, but eventually the kids will be outside to play, and the sun is expected late today and it will melt and get muddy… At least most will melt before it gets a chance to get dirty and grey and frozen in to ugly piles of ice…

With all the beauty, we are in the middle of a “Winter Storm Warning”… this from Ready.gov

A Winter Storm Warning for heavy snow means severe winter weather conditions are expected or occurring. Significant amounts of snow are forecast that will make travel dangerous. Only Travel in an emergency. If you must travel, keep an extra flashlight. Food, and water in your vehicle in case of an emergency.

Based on the warning, I was expecting more than 6” (up to 10” in some places… less in Southern Maryland) of snow, pretty white snow… with 10 to 15mph winds (gusts to 20mph, I suspect less here) By the way the period after flashlight and the capital F in food are from the web site…

Being from California and the land of orange trees we don’t have many snow days… so at least this is a new experience… The nieces are not as excited as expected… this is not their first snow day, nor the first snow day this year… in fact their school has used up their planned snow day allotment and now, each snow day means that the end of school is extended past the scheduled, planned date…  They are getting a bit stir-crazy… at least there is a good sledding hill nearby…

I have already rescheduled my research appointment for today… we may go into DC where the Air and Space Museum, the National Portrait Gallery and the Museum of American Art are all open… rumor has it that there are specials on beer at more than one establishment…  I am avoiding the green stuff…

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Flying Eastbound


Outside the sun is setting...  We are on board, on the ground, waiting for our last passengers to board...   our fellow passengers are making last phone calls...  The man ahead of us is angry... He was supposed to meet with someone, but she declined to meet with him... And he"is paid too much to have people refuse to meet with him" and is headed back to LA...   I don't know whom"she" is but I think she made the right decision...

We are airborne, aboard Virgin America  (still the best damn airline in the world) fight 942 to Los Angeles, and from there to Washington DC...  The we is myself, and daughter Steph...

Our itinerary is a classic red eye, leave late in the day, try to sleep on board, land early the next morning... In our case at 5:55 am... At your destination.  It is a trick that works best east bound...   6 hours of flying and three time zones can use up the darkness...  West bound the same 3 time zones mean you can leave in the evening and arrive in time to catch Letterman...  (Which can also be found on the seat back entertainment system....)


steph noticed that the little The (plastic) glass you get with your half a can  of sprite has molded into the bottom "Wwas it as refreshing for you as it was for me".  It was a tiny picture of an airplane too...  When you are trapped on an airplane you have more time to notice strange things... which you then find amusing...  We may be bored...

Dropping down, into LA... Fasten seat belt light on, tray tables need to be away.... With the new rules it not clear I f I need to shutdown the IPad...  Below traffic is still heavy on the 405... Tonight not our issue...  Now on the ground, We only have to walk across the terminal to our next gate...  We have close to an hour and a half for said  journey.  A journey from gate 37B, all the way to gate 37A...  So we find a place (Gladstones for Fish...  An airport branch of a well known beach side fish house and sushi place, which on this occasion might have been out of sushi) for a glass of wine for Steph, a beer for me, and some fried calamari...  LAX  has no pubic wifi...  But our phones can function as a hot spot, so we had some connectivity...Then return to wait a bit before boarding the next flight...  They boarded all the very special groups, 1st class, exit rows, families with children, then groups A "for Awesome" B "for Baby Bottom" & C "for Coco puff"...Then all people over two feet tall...  We had been assigned boarding group E, but we are over 2' tall... We ran for the jetway...  Sadly we never learned the code names for D or E... We are probably better off for not knowing...

Once aboard we find the flight attendant from our previous flight... Settle in work on the blog, try with limited success to do some work on the computer and eventually try to sleep...


Now 5:00 am local time, the pilot announces that we have begun our decent...it's time to start to stirr... To prepare for landing...  The lights of civilization now increasingly visible.  

It gets a bit rough as we drop through a a few clouds...  The lights below disappear, replaced by The planes flashing beacons, reflected back at us... As quickly as it starts, it is over and the city lights are back... Now closer... It looks like we are landing early...  The gear drops... The runway lights appear... We are here...

We deplane... We make quick time though a mostly deserted airport... Our bags are the first off...  By 5:55 (when the plane was scheduled to arrive) local time we are in the airport Starbucks... Our rental car place doesn't open until 7:00...  There is story about renting the car... A long sad story involving three web sites, and multiple calls to customer service, one escalated to a supervisor... Once I have successful picked up the car I may spill the beans and tell the story..






Friday, March 7, 2014

Next trip




The next trip is coming…

Each year I make a pilgrimage to Washington D.C. … Our nation’s capital… this started 14 years ago or so… sometimes I get there twice in one year…

When I started it was all about libraries… and archives… Washington and the area surrounding is the home of the Library of Congress, the National Archives and Archives II (the National Archives has so much stuff that they need multiple locations… there is a branch in San Bruno, seven miles from here, but the two biggest are in the DC area…  The Smithsonian has an archive and two libraries in the Museum of American History alone… there are also libraries and archives in the other Smithsonians… I once found a photo of a railroad car I was restoring in the library of Asian art museum...  you can never underestimate what might be found in a library…  Nearby in Delaware is the Hagley Museum… I may be visiting the Hagley this visit…

Of course DC is also the home of some of the best museums in the world… starting with the Smithsonian… but there are others… many others…  I like museums… This is likely the year we finally visit the Newseum...

Also in the area are battlefields… most from the Civil War, but the Revolution, and the War of 1812 were also fought nearby… I have a personal tie to Fredricksburg, a hour or so south of DC… My great, great grandfather fought in the battle there… He survived the battle only to die of disease 3 months later… In my visits I have been able to trace his marches, and visit sites he would have known…

Even better is another personal connection… Since I started visiting DC, family have moved there… A niece and her husband and their daughters are in Lorton… a nephew and wife and one, soon to be two children beyond Dulles… and a niece and children in southern Maryland… My daughter spent a year here as well… so now, the visits are about family too…

Steph and I leave in less than a week…

Monday, March 3, 2014

Home and soup…




I arrived home late Saturday… after 10 days away… home is warm even as it is cold and rainy outside… Sunday, on a trip to the market I chanced to see a bag of barley…  The San Luis Valley in Colorado, my recent abode for the 10 days was a place where people grew barley… we passed a barley elevator twice each day as we commuted to “work”… somehow the bag of barley became the inspiration for soup…(they grow green chilies too… but this was not about green chilies)

At home I rummaged through the bottom of the freezer in search of beef bones, finding lamb bones instead… those bones, with the skins of several onions some tired limp celery and a few carrots went into the oven, roasting for several hours… I trimmed the meet from the bones, and cleved them, allowing the precious marrow to join the broth, then into the pot… the soup pot… a basic object with magical powers to make a house a home…

On to the stove, with a water to cover, a bit of salt, to simmer for some hours… the smell wonderful… late in the evening, I turned the stove off to let it cool a bit and strain it… then into the fridge for the night… This morning I skimmed the fat, then chopped and sautéed onions, carrots and celery and the lamb meat cut from the bone before the bone joined the pot… A bit of salt, some thyme, and the barley that started the whole thing and again onto the stove to simmer… Now I am thinking that a bit of lamb sausage might be good, and some lemon just before I serve it… I have a baguette… I am looking forward to dinner…

I’m home…