Guest Blog: Dethe and Daniela Elza March 7, 2011Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Collaboration, Guest Blogs.
Tags: Art & Science
We met Dethe and Daniela Elza in Ohio, when Dethe and Doug were working on their M.S. degrees in Math. You’ll see in this guest post, as they talk about their intersecting individual interests and their collaborations as a couple, why we’ve kept in touch. We hope to see Dethe and Daniela in Vancouver soon.
We have been collaborating off and on for 17 years, and have been married almost as long. We met in syntax class. Daniela was majoring in Linguistics and Dethe was majoring in Computer Science (with a minor in Linguistics). Even before she really met him, Daniela gave Dethe a poem to look over before sending it to a contest. She knew there would be no harm done, since this guy (sitting casually in the hallway, with slits in the knees of his jeans and bandana on his head) was just one of her classmates. Dethe surprised her by removing extraneous words and tightening the poem up. A year or so later, we married.
At first glance, a poet and a computer programmer may not seem to have much in common, but Daniela is interested in metaphor, poetic and ecological consciousness, imagination, memory. Dethe is interested in generative art, programming for the fun of it. Daniela was excited about a novel Dethe wrote when he was 17. Over their first summer, together she typed it all up, giving feedback in the process. Both of us are interested in language, writing, and science.
Prior to actually producing a piece of work together, the collaborative spirit was well in place. We used to share a blog. Daniela would read over Dethe’s articles with a poetic eye; Dethe would scrutinize her poems and at times even read them upside down. When Daniela is stuck for a title, Dethe comes to the rescue. Feedback usually gets incorporated into the work.
While Dethe works in computer programming, Daniela, over the years, drifted more into the areas of and intersections between poetry and philosophy. For Dethe, art is an escape from his day job. He works on art projects to change the pace, chill out, and while it often involves programming, it is more play than work. His approach is more exploratory, more in the spirit of discovery. For Daniela writing is her day job.
In our collaborations, we meet in unique and unusual ways. Active collaboration, we have come to see as a kind of letting go, a kind of speaking together, where the we becomes one, and the I more explicitly dissolves. The concern is with the idea at hand and not who is developing it. Always being open to the possibilities the other person brings. If you think one mind at work is a mystery, try figuring out two.
Learning how to work through a marriage (and it is work) has helped us work through our other collaborations too. Working together as a couple introduces new challenges and constraints, while at the same time introducing fresh inspiration and a higher level of intimacy in the collaboration. We more easily dispense with the logistics around apologizing for messing with the other’s work.
Daniela has also been collaborating with other poets and artists for the last couple of years, and is quite intrigued with the process. She is hoping to put a book together of all her collaborations.
Each of our collaborations has been different. Sometimes—like with “In Earth Dreams”—we’d both been working on different parts of it independently, then collaborated by mixing the poem and animation together. Other times, we explicitly set out to collaborate, with one of us providing the kernel of the idea, like the poem (see the process notes too) blood_alley://interstital_syn.tax.
What comes to mind when we think of our collaborations? A process full of surprises, twists, and turns. Excitement and convenience in proximity. We both have so many things on the go that we can weave together. Our lives together provide lots of overlapping associations for context in these projects. Once we start something, we push each other to finish it. We send each other places to submit. Sometimes we even submit to the same place.
Currently we are working on an ebook of Daniela’s poems, The Book of It. And for Lofty Ambitions readers who are writers, too, Dethe is working on a web application for Daniela (and other writers) to track submissions. Still, the most labor intensive and the most rewarding collaboration remain our two children.
BONUS: If you have an iPhone, there’s more Elza collaboration! “Words for Crow” is a book of poetry by Daniela Elza, original art by Nevena Giljanovic, programming by Dethe Elza, photography by Dethe and Daniela Elza. Just click on the title or here to download for 99 cents.
Guest Blog: Brian Foster February 21, 2011Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Collaboration, Guest Blogs, Science.
Tags: Art & Science, Einstein, Physics
We welcome guest blogger and physicist Brian Foster this week. With Jack violinist Jack Liebeck, he does a program called “Einstein’s Universe.” Click here to find out more about the upcoming events.
Brian Foster is a professor of experimental physics at Oxford University. His CV is twelve pages chockfull of publications, awards, and grants. His books include Electron-Positron Annihilation Physics. Among other aspects of particle physics, he studies the structure of the charm quark. But Brian Foster is also an amateur violinist. And the intersections appreciates between science and art is the reason we invited him to share some thoughts here at Lofty Ambitions.
It’s a great thrill for Jack Liebeck and me to come to Los Angeles, following in the footsteps of our hero, Albert Einstein. Our lecture “Einstein’s Universe” tries to illustrate his life and work through its two most important elements: his science and his love of the violin.
These two elements weren’t separate watertight compartments in Einstein’s life; rather, each cross-fertilized the other. We have evidence from his wife Elsa of the way in which playing music briefly while he was engrossed in a problem could often trigger a new insight. He frequently said that he had had the most enjoyment in his life from his violin. We too share in that duality. Jack as a true artist on the violin and I as a humble amateur share a love of science that we hope is reflected in our performances.
It has been a journey of discovery for Jack and me to take “Einstein’s Universe” and its companion lecture “Superstrings” across the world, now in more than 170 performances. We have journeyed all across Europe, and as far afield as China and New Zealand, the home of my other hero in physics, Ernest, Lord Rutherford of Nelson, arguably the greatest experimental physicist who ever lived. We have followed in Einstein’s footsteps to Japan, where he allegedly played Beethoven’s “Kreutzer” Sonata when he should have been in Stockholm receiving his Nobel Prize. We have also performed the lectures across the United States from coast to coast, from Brown University to Stanford and stopping off, of course, at Einstein’s last home, his beloved Princeton, where we were privileged to visit his house on Mercer Street.
We have met hundreds of people who have drawn inspiration from Einstein’s life and who have expressed wonderment at his work in science. I treasure the letters from young people who have told us that our lecture has inspired them to study physics at school, university and beyond. Their parents and grandparents, too, are touched with wonder at the sheer breadth and daring of Einstein’s scientific achievements. Many of the people we have met on our travels have become friends.
It is therefore a very special feeling for us to bring our lecture to Los Angeles, where Albert Einstein came at a very difficult time in his life. He was in fear of the Nazis who threatened his whole concept of civilization and who were preparing the Holocaust to destroy the rich Jewish tradition of culture and music in Europe in which Einstein had been brought up. Here on the West Coast of the United States, he found a sanctuary and a joy in the climate and people that he always remembered fondly. It is also a pleasure to be able to join in the celebrations of the 150th Anniversary of Chapman University, making it incidentally older than any English University except Oxford, Cambridge, and Durham.
The tradition of liberal arts institutes of learning that Chapman University so ably represents is generally missing in Europe. As a Professor of Oxford University, I am proud to be able to lecture to physics students and Jack, about to become a Professor at the Royal Academy of Music in London, is honored to work with its music students in a master class.
Our visit stems from a conversation last May in an Oxford pub between me and two Los Angeles residents, whom Jack and I met when they attended the first of our Oxford May Music festivals. These festivals take place in the Holywell Music Room, the oldest purpose-built concert hall in Europe, where Haydn rehearsed his “Oxford” symphony. Founded to emulate Einstein’s ethos of bringing together music and science, the Oxford May Music festival in now in its fourth year; one of our friends has traveled from Southern California to England for every festival.
As a regular visitor to Caltech, I know the hospitality of the Angelinos well. This time, though, Jack and I hope that we will be able to bring a flavor of both the science and the music that Einstein adored to a city of which he had only the fondest memories.
Guest Blog: Peter and Kirsten Stoltz February 8, 2011Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Collaboration, Guest Blogs.
Tags: Art & Science, Physics
add a comment
We’ve had this guest blog piece ready to go for several weeks, having asked Peter and Kirsten Stoltz to write about being a scientist-artist couple like ourselves. Doug worked with Peter at Tech-X for several years; Doug was based at Fermilab in Illinois and made regular trips to the parent company so that we got to know both Peter and Kirsten. We were especially interested in how Peter and Kirsten talked across the subject matter of their careers, in part because we’ve negotiated that scientist-artist interaction ourselves.
Between travel and power outage this week, though, this blog post is the first time we haven’t met our stated schedule, but we’re happy to get back on track with this guest blog feature.
Kirsten is an art curator and an active member of the M12 collaborative. Her latest project is The Big Feed. Peter is a staff scientist at Tech-X Corporation, a private company specializing in computational physics. He previously worked at Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory and Sandia National Laboratories. They live in Denver, Colorado, where they have been known to attend baseball games.
OPPOSITES ATTRACT (OR AREN’T THAT OPPOSITE AFTER ALL)
In some ways, the roles we follow as a couple living and working together as a scientist and artist decompose along entirely expected lines. If we need to upgrade the computer at home, the scientist—Peter—handles that. If we need to pick a new color of paint for the hallway, the artist—Kirsten—handles that. In some ways, we dislike being so predictable, but the truth is we are both doing what we do well. Our computers run great, and our home decor looks fantastic.
Even while we are good at different tasks or have different areas of expertise to offer, we are both successful in our day-to-day work because of our surprisingly similar skills. A typical day for both of us consists of participating in Skype teleconferences with collaborators, dealing with logistics of upcoming events, and entering budget information into Excel spreadsheets. In the end, we are both project managers as much as we are an artist and a scientist. We both are successful at what we do largely because of our aptitude for and willingness to do this organizational work.
Another important thing we have in common is a tendency for simplicity in our work. Both physics and art can be complicated. For instance, an example of complication in physics is the detectors used in high-energy physics experiments. Peter avoids the kinds of physics that involve this kind of complication, opting instead for computer models, where the physics is only as complicated as the programmer wants or needs to make it. Similarly, Kirsten also finds herself drawn to simple art with clean lines and colors (click here for an example, an album cover featuring a photograph by William Eggleston). This commonality in how we approach our work also reaches into our home, where we both enjoy the simple, clean design of mid-century architecture and furniture.
To learn more about The Big Feed, an annual forum that connects artists and the community in Colorado, click here.
Guest Blog (2 of 2): Allan J. McDonald January 17, 2011Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Guest Blogs, Space Exploration.
Tags: Space Shuttle
add a comment
Today, we have two guest bloggers, both of whom were whistleblowers after the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded shortly after launch. The 25th anniversary of this disaster is next Friday, January 28. Both our guest bloggers—Allan J. McDonald and Richard C. Cook—will appear at Chapman University on Monday, January 24, at 2-5pm in Sandhu Conference Center to discuss the tragedy itself and what we can learn from it.
Allan J. McDonald is the author of Truth, Lies, and O-rings: Inside the Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster. He was the Director of the Space Shuttle Solid Rocket Motor Project at the time of the Challenger accident and led the redesign of the solid rocket motors as Vice President of Engineering for Space Operations. He has presented more than eighty technical papers, earned an Honorary Doctorate of Engineering at Montana State University, and is on the Board of Directors at Orbital Technologies Corporation in Madison, Wisconsin. He retired from ATK Thiokol Propulsion in 2001, after forty-two years with the company.
We’ve posted Richard Cook’s guest blog today as well; click here to read that.
TRUTH, LIES, AND THE STATE OF THE U.S. SPACE PROGRAM
I initially wrote most of the material for Truth, Lies, and O-rings: Inside the Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster some twenty years ago as if it were an engineering report augmented with sworn testimony from the hearings of the Presidential Commission on the Space Shuttle Challenger Accident and the congressional hearings on the results of the Challenger accident investigation. After the first closed executive hearing of the Presidential Commission, I decided I needed to document everything I knew, everything I heard, and much of what was reported in the press and news media concerning the accident and the investigations. When I first revealed to the Presidential Commission that Morton Thiokol initially recommended not to launch the Challenger because of the cold temperatures, right after NASA had just told the commission that Morton Thiokol only recommended to launch, Chairman William Rogers said to me, “Would you please come down here and repeat what you’ve just said, because if I just heard what I think I heard, then this may be in litigation for years to come.” I took his words to heart, because I knew who would be in the hot seat for any litigation to follow: me.
Some NASA officials at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, and several members of Morton Thiokol senior management were in collusion and were clearly trying to cover up this bad decision to launch, and I had just pulled the cork out of the bottle. When I was demoted by my company for telling the truth to the Presidential Commission, I decided at that time that I needed to document everything to protect myself from any litigation or any further retribution against me from NASA or the company.
I was assigned to lead the nearly impossible task of effectively redesigning the solid rocket boosters (SRBs). Only later did I learn that several members of Congress threatened to ban Morton Thiokol from receiving any NASA contracts if the company didn’t reinstate me to a position equivalent to the one that I had before my testimony before the Presidential Commission. Otherwise, my company would never have given me this critical assignment.
Truth, Lies and O-rings is the only book that has ever been published by an individual directly involved in the Challenger launch decision and who, then and now, is resolved to tell the truth about this great national tragedy, about the effort to return the Space Shuttle to safe flight once again, and about the warnings that went unheeded in the return-to-flight of the Space Shuttle in 1988 that led to the loss of the Columbia and her crew in February 2003, almost fifteen years later.
The Challenger accident was the major news story of the year in 1986 and captured the nation’s—and the world’s—attention. This was the first time that astronauts were killed in their journey to space in a long history of successful space flights starting with the launch of Yuri Gagarin by the Soviet Union in April 1961, some twenty-five years earlier. The Soviets had lost a cosmonaut in April 1967 when the parachute attached to the space capsule failed to properly deploy prior to touchdown in Russia. Three other cosmonauts were lost in June 1971 when their shirtsleeve oxygen system depressurized on their return to Earth; with no emergency oxygen system available, they suffocated. The U.S. space program had suffered the loss of three Apollo astronauts—Gus Grissom, Roger Chaffee, and Ed White—in an electrical fire in their oxygen-filled Apollo capsule during a routine checkout of the capsule on the launch pad in January 1967, but the United States had never lost any astronauts on their way to or home from space.
The U.S. space program had been successful in landing a dozen astronauts on the Moon and returning them home safely since Neil Armstrong first stepped on the Moon in July 1969. The miraculous rescue of the Apollo 13 astronauts on their way to the Moon was such an extraordinary feat that it appeared that NASA could never fail or certainly could do no wrong. The Challenger exploding on January 28, 1986, in front of a grandstand filled with the astronauts’ families was so shocking that it took several years for this nation to recover from it, and NASA never did recover from its badly tarnished image.
Guest Blog (1 of 2): Richard C. Cook January 17, 2011Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Guest Blogs, Space Exploration.
Tags: Space Shuttle
With the 25th anniversary of the explosion of Challenger on January 28, we welcome two guest bloggers today: Richard C. Cook, author of Challenger Revealed, and Allan J. McDonald, author of Truth, Lies, and O-rings.
The Challenger disaster looms vividly in the memories of our generation. Doug had just attended a mechanical engineering lecture at the University of Illinois when a fellow student coming out of the cafeteria asked if he’d heard about Challenger. Anna was working on Knox College‘s literary journal in the publications office. From the adjacent Carl Sandburg Lounge, she heard students gathering in front of the television. We watched the video tape and listened to the broadcast for hours that day.
Given the place of this event in the history of our own lives, we’re interested to hear from the whistleblowers like Richard Cook, a retired government analyst who now resides in Roanoke, Virginia. He worked as a policy analyst from 1977 to 2007, spending time with the U.S. Civil Service Commission, the Food and Drug Administration, the Carter White House, NASA, and the U.S. Treasury Department. He is a lifelong student of meditation, operated an organic farm, and has a new book, We Hold These Truths: The Hope of Monetary Reform.
LESSONS OF TRAGEDY AND TRIUMPH FROM CHALLENGER
January 28, 2011, marks the 25th anniversary of the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster. A little more than a minute after Challenger was launched at the Kennedy Space Center on that cold winter morning, the Shuttle broke to pieces when an O-ring joint in one of the solid rocket boosters (SRBs) failed due to a burn-through. The seven Challenger astronauts died, with some possibly surviving until the crew cabin struck the ocean surface after plummeting 60,000 feet.
It was arguably the greatest tragedy of the space age. NASA and the booster contractor, Morton Thiokol, knew the O-ring joint was flawed. A redesign had been decided on, though flights were to continue while the repair was being implemented.
The night before the launch, engineers from Morton Thiokol argued vociferously that liftoff should be postponed, because they feared unusually cold temperatures would subject the O-rings to hardening and possible failure. Personnel from Rockwell, the orbiter contractor, had their own fears with respect to formation of ice on the launch tower that could crash down on the orbiter when the main engines ignited.
The Thiokol engineers who predicted a rocket failure were overruled by their own management, acting under pressure from NASA. Even though NASA knew the day of the mishap what had caused it, a cover-up began.
But whistleblowers spoke up. In my own case, I had been working in the NASA Comptroller’s office as the lead resource analyst for the SRBs. When a Presidential Commission was formed to investigate the disaster, I testified, after leaking some of the O-ring papers to the New York Times, on NASA’s past knowledge of O-ring problems.
With support from some Commission members, the Thiokol witnesses—most notably Al McDonald (see guest post today above) and Roger Boisjoly (see earlier guest post here)—also made known their opposition to the launch. In June 1986, the Commission duly reported on the technical cause of the launch failure.
But presidential commissions are also created to deflect political repercussions. What they did not report was the likely pressure coming from the White House to get the shuttle into orbit so that the Teacher in Space, Christa McAuliffe, would be aloft when President Ronald Reagan gave his state of the union speech that night.
When I wrote my book Challenger Revealed, I proved to my own satisfaction by using information from an interview I conducted of a key eyewitness, that President Reagan himself was likely involved in the faulty launch decision. But I am not a conspiracy theorist, and even though the White House knew that NASA was concerned about the possible effects of the cold weather, there was no evidence they knew the Thiokol engineers opposed the launch for SRB problems that had never been mentioned outside NASA or the Department of Defense.
But there was more to it than that. The Shuttle design had been compromised by decisions to make the vehicle an orbital platform for military missions. Challenger Revealed shows how much of the schedule pressure driving launch decisions in 1985-1986 came from use of the Shuttle for space weapons research under the Reagan administration’s Star Wars program. All this activity was—at least to my mind—illegal in terms of NASA’s 1958 charter for the peaceful exploration of space.
The Challenger disaster was a preventable accident. But the time to point the finger and find fault is long past. Today in 2011 the Shuttle program itself is becoming history. By the time I finished my book in 2006, after working on it on and off for twenty years, I was personally ready to forgive, allow the healing process to take over, and move on. I remain in that frame of mind today. I hope others, too, recognize that everyone did the best we could with the information we had available and the pressures that were brought to bear.
Through such forgiveness and healing we honor the seven Challenger crew members: Commander Dick Scobee; Pilot Michael Smith; Mission Specialists Judy Resnick, Scott McNair, and Ellison Onizuka; and Payload Specialists Gregory Jarvis and Christa McAuliffe. The lives of these seven highly accomplished and courageous human beings were lost due to some extremely short-sighted and mundane human failings. Though they risked their lives and lost them, I have no doubt they live on in many ways.
Their achievements and what they risked for their values have been a major part of my own adult life and education. Thus for me, recollections of the Challenger disaster have not been something to shrink from. There is much to learn from both triumph and tragedy and many transformative ways to view their meaning. I wish for all such an open-minded attitude of learning and exploration.
Guest Blog: Lylie Fisher January 3, 2011Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Guest Blogs, Science.
Tags: Art & Science, Physics
add a comment
Lylie Fisher is the artist whose work appears on the cover of Anna’s book Constituents of Matter. We came across her series “In Search of Meaning” when it was exhibited at Fermilab, where Doug worked with physicists to develop computer simulations of particle accelerators.
Lylie Fisher was born in Australia and spent fifteen years there as an artist and arts advocate. She came to the States when San Francisco State University invited her to participate in the International Visiting Artists program. Her experience as Artist in Residence at Weir Farm in Connecticut in 2003 encouraged her to launch Art Harvest, an arts curator and outreach service for the nonprofit community. In 2007, Fisher launched the art and science “In Search of Meaning” series that is currently touring.
Lylie Fisher recently completed three series that have resonance with the political and environmental challenges facing America. The Life Cycle of Frogs series is a testimony to the fragility of amphibians, The Eye of the Storm is a meditation of extremes, and The Lincoln Series is a peaceful reflection on the leader who continues to inspire. You can find more information and view her artwork here.
ART AND SCIENCE, IN PRACTICE
My basic thoughts on the relationship among sciece, art, and culture can be summed up as follows:
Through science, the intelligent search formulates answers to questions of creation.
Through art, spiritual questions are explored and meaning is pondered.
Through culture, humanity organically combines the search and the meaning, creating beliefs.
My art often explores the relationship between human experiences and metaphor. For many years, I have experimented with ideas of cocoons, armor, and symbolic wrappings. For me, these represent a theoretical space of limitation and transformation. My inspiration is to communicate physical and emotional realms, and for more than a decade, I have been grinding liquid gels and pigments into the photographic surface as means of expressing my philosophical landscape. Recently, I worked with found medical slides of cancer cells and incorporated these images into an installation that was then photographed for exhibition. Drawn to anthropological models, I continue to be fascinated with the universal tension between attraction and fear—and how humanity attributes meaning through created and realized certainty.
The “In Search of Meaning” project was developed as part of an Artist in Residency in 2006 at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC). On first viewing archival bubble chamber images (circa 1960s), I was struck by their simple power. I was drawn to the recurring curve, arch, and spiral lines. These lines are central to the work of particle physics and have clear scientific meaning. As an artist, I saw beauty and elegance. With the “In Search of Meaning” project, my quest has been to draw out the intrinsic beauty of the data, and liberate the images from the pure academic realm.
My artistic theory is that the bubble tracks allow scientists to explore theories of the universe. The space between the tracks is where humanity exists. The color palette represents a unique “tribe” and/or “reality.” Science, for me, is one way that humanity creates a structure of meaning within uncertainty. This depth of color represents the intellectual and emotion space we inhabit.
Everything in the Universe is made from a small number of basic building blocks, or elementary particles, governed by a few fundamental forces. Some of these particles are stable and form normal matter, while others live for fractions of a second before decaying into stable ones. All coexisted for a few moments after the Big Bang.
When discussing this project with physicists, I am struck by the affection scientists have for the bubble chambers. Bubble chamber photographs allowed the scientist to view, like a snap shot, images of their experiments. Now, in the age of sophisticated computer technologies, scientists view experiment results via data modeling. Although powerful tools for interpretation, they lack the intimacy of viewing photographic bubble chamber images. Particle physics is much more than a field of science. It is art. Like art, particle physics deals with the invisible. One portrays emotional and spiritual experiences; the other studies unseen matter and energy. Science is the voice of the rational mind, and art is the reverberation of questioning. Particle physicists, like theologians, wish to understand our beginnings. They want to know how we came about from the great unknown.
For me, there exists a double reality where scientists explore the source of life, the building blocks of the universe, that is parallel to philosophical pondering on the meaning of life. These are root questions that people return to, whether through art or science. Honoring the integrity of the bubble chamber experiments and the information that is communicated within the raw archival images, I ensured the actual bubble tracks, the white lines, have remained unadorned and unaltered.
Launched mid 2007, the eleven original artworks to date have toured the following places: SLAC; Fermilab; the University of California, Davis; George Washington University; and The National Museum of Abruzzo and Galileium in Italy, hosted by Italian National Physics Laboratory in Gran Sasso and the Pew Charitable Trusts. Images from this series have been selected for many science-based book covers, and have been reproduced for a number of academic and literary publications. Cambridge University Press features an image on the front cover of the forthcoming physics textbook Elementary Particle Physics.
Visit Lylie Fisher’s website at http://www.lyliefisher.com.
For some basic information about bubble chambers and the images they create, look at CERN’s teaching materials here.
Guest Blog: Joe Kjellander December 20, 2010Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Aviation, Guest Blogs.
1 comment so far
Joe Kjellander has traveled to the moon and back in a cardboard refrigerator box, battled Romulan spacecraft from the rusted seat of an abandoned hay rake, and helped his childhood friend, Doug, construct a backyard force field. Later in life, he attended the University of Iowa where he was editor of the Hawkeye Engineer magazine, a student publication. After graduating with a BS degree in Industrial Engineering, Joe took a manufacturing engineer position with Motorola’s Cellular Subscriber Division when the cellular phone industry was in its infancy, and he has remained with the company throughout his career. Joe and Gregg Hagen, his partner of 13 years, live in the Historic District of Elgin, Illinois in an 1872 Italianate home they have restored. He is currently taking flight lessons to obtain a Sport Pilot Certificate and shares his new pilot experiences here at Lofty Ambitions.
CLEAR PROP! LEARNING TO FLY AT AGE 43
“When once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.” ~ Leonardo da Vinci
Early this spring, I got the itch to fly. I had considered flying lessons in years past, but there were always other priorities. This year, though, it was time to make it happen. After some internet research, I decided to pursue a Sport Pilot certificate and found a small operation at DuPage Airport that gave lessons in an Allegro 2000 Light Sport Aircraft (LSA). I placed a phone call and was scheduled for a Friday afternoon introductory flight.
My introductory flight in the Allegro was incredible. It began with a pre-flight inspection of the engine compartment and fluid levels, tires, fuselage, and control surfaces. Then my instructor and I climbed into the cockpit and buckled our seat belts. After yelling, “Clear prop!” he flipped the magneto switches to ON and turned the key. With a momentary whir from the starter and a hearty harrumph from the 80 horsepower Rotax engine, the propeller was spinning, and we were on the taxiway to Runway 33. When the tower gave us clearance for take-off, my instructor positioned the plane over the centerline of the runway and advanced the throttle to maximum. I was grinning ear to ear as we gained speed, rotated, and began climbing away from the ground.
From the Plexiglass cockpit, the view outside was spectacular. It was like sitting in a flying chair. As the plane banked to the left and right, I had the feeling I might slip off the seat and fall out of the plane! The fear of falling soon faded, and it was time to learn the basics of flight. The instructor gave me control of the stick and rudder pedals, and we practiced coordinated turns, ascents, descents, and straight and level flight. After an hour of instruction, I was mentally exhausted, and my hand ached from the death grip I had on the stick. My heart, however, was still racing from the exhilaration, and I was looking forward with excitement to a summer of flight lessons.
My CFI (certificated flight instructor) this summer was Matt Moser, a straight-A graduate of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and former instructor there. I hadn’t put much thought into selecting a CFI, but very quickly realized how fortunate I was to have been paired with someone of such impressive qualifications. Matt has done a great job teaching me to fly, starting in April with slow flight and stall recovery, ground reference maneuvers, traffic patterns, take-offs and landings, and communications, leading up to my solo flight in late July.
When a student pilot flies solo for the first time, it’s a big deal. It means your instructor has confidence in your ability to fly the plane safely. The first solo flight consists of three sets of take-offs and landings in the pattern; you fly a rectangular course around the runway and do not leave the airport. After the solo, it is a tradition for the CFI to cut a big piece of cloth from the back of the student’s shirt and add some graffiti to mark the special occasion. I felt sort of bad for Matt, because the back of my shirt was soaked in perspiration. And I’m sure Matt felt equally bad that he was cutting up one of my favorite t-shirts.
Now I am approaching the end of my flight instruction. We have been working on short field and soft field landings, navigation, and cross-country flights. Soon I will do a solo cross-country flight and start preparing for the examiner check ride. If things go as planned, I will have my sport pilot certificate by the end of the year. Hey, does anyone want to go flying with me?
Guest Blog: Claudine Jaenichen December 6, 2010Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Guest Blogs, Science.
Tags: Art & Science, Cognitive Science
1 comment so far
From my teenage ambition of becoming a forest firefighter, in 2002, I volunteered for the Santa Barbara Sherriff Department’s Search and Rescue team (SAR). My day job did not manifest into the firefighter I thought I would become, but SAR gave me the opportunity to explore that second life’s ambition. Eventually, this teenage heroic dream job would find its way into the mainstream of my college education, adult life, and my current scholarly work in information design.
In order to become an active SAR volunteer, a person was required to dedicate one year to SAR academy and complete various certifications—from rappelling to avalanche rescues. Swift Water Rescue consisted of an intensive weekend in classroom and textbook work and prototype exercises and ended with river rescue training at the Kern River in Class III rapids, just one mile upstream from Class IV rapids. Classes measure the intensity, predictability and strength of river current, so these were relatively intense, unpredictable, strong currents. This last exercise, which took place in a real-life simulation, proved to be an introduction to my personal unconscious personality, the discovery of temporary cognitive paralysis, and effects on information comprehension and retention under significant amounts of stress.
When the SAR team entered the water, we were assigned a very basic and introductory exercise: to swim the width of a soccer field to get to the other side of the riverbank. There was a strong, steady current, and as I entered the water, what I noticed most was seeing and hearing the white rapids about fifty yards downstream. I was in a kind of daydream, numb and unaware. I approached the current at a direct 90 degrees—instead of the 45 degrees that would have given me leverage against the current—and was swept away as quickly as the rapids took me. I lost both my fins and my right water shoe, and cold water rushed into my unzipped wetsuit. I had only attached two of the three buckles on my life vest. I did not tighten my helmet; it hung to the side of my head. Quickly, the simulation training transitioned into a full-blown “code blue” rescue—a rescue of me.
I did everything I wasn’t supposed to do, even though I’d already learned and memorized the lessons well. I panicked and tried to stand up, which is a deadly reaction because feet get caught in loose rock anchoring a person to the bottom of the riverbed. My worst attempt was trying to grab filters. One of the most memorable chapters in the textbook deals directly with this. Filters are branches on the sides of the riverbank that act as vacuums causing people to get dragged under. The rescue lasted eight minutes and 52 seconds. I was collected, assessed, and placed on the riverbank, barefoot, still numb and unaware.
Danger triggered my unconscious personality—a theory from Gestave Le Bon’s The Crowd about how people react irrationally, emotionally and in exaggeration to danger no matter what prior or current intellectual ability a person posses (2002). Entering the water unprepared and unaware, regardless of my previous training, demonstrated temporary cognitive paralysis—the common idea that people freeze in an emergency.
Five years following that awe-awakening experience, my current scholarly work applies issues in cognition and emergency psychology when assessing semiotics and visualization used in public evacuation information. People who are asked to evacuate an aircraft, a public building, or their personal residence will be under a various amount of cognitive demands, susceptible to temporary cognitive disorder or paralysis. Visual and written instructions, just as in verbal strategies, need to be clear, concise, and authoritative in order to be effective.
Graphic variables (i.e. type, texture, hierarchy, orientation, color, shape), external and internal components, and “rules of legibility” as defined by Jaques Bertin in Semiology of Graphics (1983) were assessed in city and aircraft evacuation material. As an example, the image below shows three sections from city evacuation maps demonstrating various usages of the color variable. The color variable performs differently in its relationship to direction, legibility, coding, and labeling. In the first map, the color variable is highly saturated and overcomes text in significant areas of the map. The second map uses color to communicate zoning areas for city official use, but is not usable to the evacuee. The texture and orientation of color constantly interferes with the intension and reading of this map. The third map uses the least amount of color and is most relevant and assessable to the person reading this map for evacuation.
I’ve reviewed two approaches of evacuation information, which provide juxtapositional perspectives and outcomes in visual representation and effectiveness of communication, planning, and training.
City evacuation maps were not consistent in content or visual execution. Level of detail, viewpoints, and way-showing were fundamentally diversified. It is also worth noting that resident evacuation material is usually not accessed until the moment of need—people don’t study the maps ahead of time.
Aircraft safety cards were more narrative in the delivery of information, and content was consistent. Repetition was an advantage to the frequent flyer due to FAA regulations of safety review before takeoff.
I always tell my design students “design with empathy.” People who are asked to evacuate are under distress and comprised levels of intellectual planning, orientation, and comprehension. These campaigns need to deliver the message and account for issues in time limitations, stress, and the psychology of well-being. I know what this means because of my own rescue experience, so I emphasize that necessary empathy when I work with students as well as in my own design projects.
Guest Blog: Roger M. Boisjoly November 15, 2010Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Guest Blogs, Space Exploration.
Tags: Space Shuttle
Roger M. Boisjoly, a retired engineer, is this week’s Guest Blogger. Lest readers think that our Lofty Ambitions’ spectacles became too rose colored during our recent visit to Kennedy Space Center (see our “Countdown to the Cape” series October 27-November 7), we turn to Boisjoly for an examination of the NASA culture. Even Christopher Cowen, our first Guest Blogger (click here) and one of NASA’s biggest cheerleaders, admitted that he is compelled to point out when they make a mistake.
Roger Boisjoly worked at Morton Thiokol, the manufacturer of the Space Shuttle’s solid rocket boosters, when Challenger began its doomed STS-51L mission. He warned his superiors of an O-ring problem the year before, in 1985. Cold weather made the problem worse, as the O-rings took longer to adjust and make the necessary seal in the joint of the solid rocket booster. On January 28, 1986, Boisjoly and some of his coworkers raised specific concerns about the near-freezing overnight temperatures at the launch pad and recommended delaying the mission. After phone calls between his superiors and NASA, Challenger launched anyway, and disintegrated less than a minute into the flight. (Click here for our previous post that describes the video record of those moments.) Boisjoly became a witness during the investigation by the Presidential Committee.
Roger Boisjoly continues to lecture on workplace ethics and organizational culture. This past spring, he donated his papers—boxes and boxes from his Morton Thiokol years—to Leatherby Libraries at Chapman University. We met Roger and, with him, held one of those O-rings in our fingers.
U. S. PRODUCTIVITY IN PRIVATE AND GOVERNMENT SECTORS
My engineering career will be characterized as vigorously intrusive, as I purposely tried to learn about the contributions of supporting disciplines to product development. I hoped this knowledge would result in better cooperation between disciplines, short circuit bureaucracy, and produce good products. This type of work ethic matters because it is becoming extinct today as most managers focus only on short-term profits by disregarding product compliance to specifications, quality, or safety. For example, three of the 14 organizations for which I worked had approximately 1000 employees, and they all produced exceptional products for both commercial and government use. This resulted from teamwork and information flow, coupled with positive perceptions from observations of daily operations performed within the organization that enhanced everybody’s ability to contribute their talents to make great products without oppressive short-term profit management.
In contrast, the remaining 11 organizations in which I worked varied in management style from mild to severely dysfunctional, primarily due to a short-term profit focus, at the expense of employee moral and product excellence. Observations of organizations that treated their subordinate employees as a renewable resource and also would not listen to subordinate input concerning problem resolution were found to have a condition called Malicious Obedience throughout their organizations. This condition resulted in a visible downward spiraling of teamwork and information flow coupled with poor products and loss of market share. Malicious Obedience is the practice of subordinate employees doing only what they are told to do, even when they know that the flawed instructions received will not produce the desired results. When management treated them like replaceable mindless machines, subordinate employees got even this way. As a result, 25% of employees produced 75% of the real productive output, while 75% of employees produced mediocre or less output and became a drain on resources. This exact ratio was presented to a chief engineer at one of these companies; he agreed with my assessment, but did nothing to correct it.
Today, most, if not all, government contractors and commercial corporations are saturated with Malicious Obedience organizations, and the percentage of productive employees is rapidly decreasing. Before anyone concludes that all managers are basically bad and that all other employees are basically good, but are simply misled, it must be stated that the overwhelming majority of employees in management and other positions would like to do the best possible job in making products for the government or anyone else. However, a few upper managers who have the authority and power to promote their own agenda generally control what I call Unethical Oppressive Dictatorship management techniques. This results in daily negative subordinate perceptions that lead to mistrust of management and colleagues. Subsequently, the behavior norm becomes fear of loss of current position; averting the loss becomes the priority for all subordinate daily work decisions.
Three mandatory organizational characteristics called Responsibility, Authority and Accoutability are required in any organization to promote ethical practices that produce good products. Responsibility to act within certain bounds must be clearly defined and must be given based upon a person’s ability and willingness to accept it. Once a person has accepted the responsibility for a work assignment, that person must be given the necessary Authority to carry out that work assignment. With Responsibility and Authority agreed upon, the purpose of Accountability must be clearly explained; one must expect to reap the benefits of positive accountability for doing a good job, as well as expecting to receive the blame or negative accountability for doing a poor job, especially for being involved in any type of cover-up of a faulty design or product. Some, and perhaps many, will say such a system cannot work because it is based upon simplistic and naïve principles. Perhaps, but having witnessed and participated in such an environment several times during my career, I know what creates success.
Perhaps many CEO’s in the private sector and administrators in the government sector will reject these and similar suggestions, but let’s ask them what, if anything, they have done in the way of leadership, increasing market share in a weak world economy, long-term stability for their organizations and employees, employee morale, increased productivity, etc. The silent answers to this would be very telling of the disregard for employee and customer welfare.
My points about Responsibility, Authority, and Accoutability are directly applicable to NASA and to other government agencies. Our government systems of procurement, bidding for contracts, contract specifications, financial contracts, oversight of contracts, and contractor accountability for a variety of misdeeds would be laughable, if it were not in such a mess. To name just a few specifics, all of the following have continued to be a financial disaster for the government for decades: lower-bidder contracting, cost-plus-incentive-fee contracting, combining the financial portion of a contract into the product specifications (thus preventing good oversight), lack of a financial contract consisting of not more than a dozen pages separate from specifications, and so on.
Our aerospace programs are in a shambles at NASA, for all the above reasons and others that have not been mentioned in this piece. NASA started as a non-political non-bureaucratic organization—as demonstrated by the success of Apollo—but it has degenerated into the highly bureaucratic organization that currently exists. For this reason, there is no reasonable connectivity from program to program. This lack of connectivity has damaged our space program to the extent that it may never recover and be able to return NASA’s to former glory days.
Guest Blog: Grateful Gail November 1, 2010Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Aviation, Guest Blogs.
add a comment
Note: Anna asked a question at today’s ISS Technology Briefing at Kennedy Space Center, shown on NASA-TV. Look for replays here. And we’ll have lots more this week! In the meantime…
Lofty Ambitions welcomes WWII pilot Gail Halvorsen, The Candy Bomber in the Berlin Airlift. He earned his private pilot’s license in 1941 and joined the U.S. Army Air Corps the next year, training with the Royal Air Force before returning to the Army Air Corps. In the 1950s, Gail Halvorsen participated in research and development for the Titan III Space Launch Vehicle. He retired in 1974 with more than 8000 flying hours in 15 different aircraft and a slew of honors. For ten years, he served as the Assistant Dean of Student Life at Brigham Young University. Since his second retirement, he’s been traveling the world, including for the food resupply over Bosnia in 1994. Gail Halvorsen will be at Chapman University November 17-20, 2010, and we’re happy to have his voice among our Guest Bloggers.
In 1948 and 1949 more than two million people were cut off from all the necessities of life by a Soviet blockade of West Berlin. A British, French, and American airlift was mounted to supply the former enemy with food, coal and all the necessities of life. I was one of the airlift pilots.
One day in July 1948, I met thirty kids by a barbed wire fence at Tempelhof Central Airport in Berlin. They were excited. They said, “When the weather gets so bad you can’t land, don’t worry about us. We don’t have to have enough to eat. Just give us what you can. Someday we will have enough to eat, but if we lose our freedom we will never get it back.”
For the hour I was at the fence not one child asked for gum or candy. In other countries, children I had met during and after the war had always begged insistently for such treasures. These Berlin children were grateful for flour. To be free, they would not lower themselves to be beggars for something more. It was even the more impressive because neither gum nor candy had been available there for years.
When I realized this silent, mature show of gratitude and the strength that it took not to ask, I had to do something. All I had was two sticks of gum. I broke them in two and passed them through the barbed wire. The result was unbelievable. Those with the gum tore off strips of the wrapper and gave them to the others. Those with the strips put them to their noses and smelled the tiny fragrance. The expression of pleasure was immeasurable. I was so moved by what I saw and their incredible restraint that I promised them I would drop enough chocolate and gum for everyone the next day. They would know my plane because I would wiggle the wings as I came over the airport.
Such a plan required approval, but there was no time. When I got back to Rhein-Main in West Germany, I attached gum and even chocolate bars to three handkerchief parachutes. We wiggled the wings and delivered the goods the very next day, just as I’d told the children I would. What a jubilant celebration!
We did the same thing for several weeks before we got caught and threatened with a court martial, which was followed immediately by a pardon. In fact, General Tunner said, “Keep it up.”
Letters came by the hundreds. A little girl, Mercedes, wrote that I scared her chickens as I flew in to land, but it was okay if I dropped the goodies where the white chickens were. “When you see the white chickens, drop it there. I don’t care if it scares them.” I couldn’t find her chickens, so I mailed her chocolate and gum through the Berlin mail.
Twenty-two years later, in 1970, I was assigned as the commander of Tempelhof, because of those two sticks of gum. Then, a letter kept asking my family to come to dinner. In 1972, we accepted. The lady of the house handed me a letter dated November 1948. It said, “Dear Mercedes, I can’t find your chickens. I hope this is OK. Your Chocolate Uncle.” I had attached a box of candy and gum. The lady who’d invited me to dinner said, “I am Mercedes. Step over here, and I will show you where the chickens were.” My family and I have stayed with Mercedes and husband, Peter, more than thirty times since 1972. I will again in 2011, visiting the same apartment where Mercedes lived in 1948.
My experience on the Berlin Airlift taught me that gratitude, hope, and service before self can bring happiness to the soul when the opposite brings despair. Thousands of Berlin children received over 20 tons of chocolate, gum, and other goodies, delivered on the ground or dropped from C-54 Skymaster aircraft over a 14-month period. This occurred because not one of the children begged, not even by body language or voice inflection, for something more than the ultimate commodity: Freedom. What greater “Lofty Ambition” can anyone have?