15 July 2005 -- It's A Scaper Migration!!
Life took an unexpected twist a month ago, and I've been a little busy with a small project ever since June 16, 2005. I'll be back with more
nonsense once that is running smoothly.
28 August 2005 -- Guiness Insights
Just shy of midnight on a warm summer's night, two bottles of Guinness down and a cold one sitting inches from my elbow, beads of moisture
beckoning to me with their creeping slide down the glass. Not a good time for philosophical meanderings or beer bolstered introspection.
Hormone levels are high, mood level is remarkably low, and with every character I type I have to take into account that someone unwelcome may
I rant and rave from time to time about the people at Live Journal who make noises about their "private thoughts". Hardly private, I respond
(privately) every time. It's on the stinkin' internet after all, I keep pointing out to thin air. It's there for all the world to see. Personal, yes. Private,
no. So why am I so dismayed when I discover that my own site has been perused by someone who is ready and willing to use the contents of my
entries here as a weapon against me? I was a fool to think that he would consider this place out of bounds when it came to workplace warfare. It
was downright stupid on my part, actually. I should have known better.
I've been incredibly lucky in life. I never ran into the attackers-of-all-things-joyful until about a decade ago. I knew they were out there, walking
the face of the earth wearing the skin and garb of the average human being, but I had never been forced to do battle with these insidious
creatures until relatively recently. It wasn't until I moved to one of the most beautiful places on the planet that I ran into them for the first time --
the ones who do their best to suck the enjoyment out of life, who live for the bloodshed rather than the actual kill. They feast on the agony of
their prey. They take delight in misery and anguish, and if the crueler vagaries of life refuse to serve it up of its own accord, they will set events
in motion to create the suffering for their entertainment.
Rod Serling would have loved it. He had that quirky eye that saw the demons and aliens living right in our own houses, dressed up to look like
our friends and family. He was more right than we would like to admit.
It's a stout insight. Guinness Stout, to be more exact.
I like science fiction better than life's true monsters. At least with science fiction when you close the book the emotional and personal trials come
to an end. With real life, just as you figure you've got the whole 'strife' gig figure out and wired, the alarm clock goes off, a new day begins, and it
starts all over again.
Not one of my cheerier entires. I'll see if I can do better next time.
14 November 2005 -- The Other Moments
There are days ... an extraordinary number of them ... when working for the federal government feels like life imprisonment inside a bureaucracy
with no hope of parole in under 25 years. If you are the type of person who thrives on doing your absolute best no matter what the task set
before you, who likes to look for newer, better, more innovative ways to get the job done, and who derives some portion of their job satisfaction
from making constructive suggestions based on your expertise doing you job and having management listen to your ideas and occasionally even
act on them ... then working for the United States federal government is NOT the right place for you.
And then there are the other moments.
I can think of few jobs with as great or greater potential for immediate job satisfaction as being an air traffic controller. There is a horrible, almost
inconceivable price to be paid for mistakes, but the flip side is that when a shift ends without any mistakes, which is how it plays out almost all of
the time, the results of everyone's efforts are sitting on the ramp, gleaming in the sun (or dripping in the rain, or slowly disappearing under a
layer of snow), for everyone to see.
There has been an understandable trend over the past two decades to move air traffic facilities out of or away from airport terminals. For years,
the FAA leased building space from the various airport authorities, and control towers were often perched on top of the tallest existing building ...
the terminal. But that meant also devoting space to offices, training rooms, break rooms, and whatever else the facility required. That space
would generate a heck of a lot more income if it were rented out to the airlines or an airport restaurant vendor, or Starbucks. And don't even get
me started on what it takes to renovate a building if ATC has their 'operating quarters' inside the walls. So the FAA has been gradually moving
approach control facilities (the radar room ... no windows necessary) off the highly valued real estate inside the airport boundary fence, and has
been building stand-alone control towers somewhere separate from the terminal. Aside from the entire rent and maintenance issue, it also
means that the facility is more secure ... as in 'security' type secure.
The one drawback to this migration away from the terminal buildings is that controllers no longer walk through the mobs of people getting ready
to depart on a flight, or see families hugging each other, or sweet hearts getting in one last smooch in a corner before one of them takes off
towards destinations unknown. We no longer have to dodge around kids hanging on to mommy with one hand and a stuffed cuddly animal with
the other, or watch some lady with bluish-tinted permed hair allow her yapping mop-on-a-leash to take a piddle in the corner by the phones. I
believe that those kinds of reminders are essential to a majority of the ATC workforce. We tend to see big tin cans with engines and wings ... not
people. Lives, loves, interests, thoughts, hopes, desires, obsessions -- all buckled into their seats, trusting the pilots and ATC to keep them safe
until they stagger off the jetway at the far end of their journey. We need to remember that THEY are what it is all about.
But I've digressed, actually. What I came here to say today is this ...
|There's an airplane in the picture on the far right. If you can spot it, you win a cyber-cookie.
| 10 January 2006 -- Mental Musings: From Backdraft to Browder ... with a little ATC in between.
I was puttering away on a mind-numbingly boring task this morning, and I started to ... <cue the scary music> ... think. The drudgery was
deliberate because I was hoping for some insight on a particular issue. Instead of helping me out with Quandary #1, my brain packed up a
change of clothes and some snacks, and went on one of its often circuitous journeys to nowhere. By the time it (my brain) came home to roost, I
had somehow managed to work my way from some rather aimless musings about the movie Backdraft, which was on TV the other night, all the
way across some rather prickly territory to some idle conjecture about Ben Browder's current job on Stargate. No, this is not going to be a 'six
degrees of separation' kind of a ramble. Far from it. This particular bout of "Oh dear god, Crash has been thinking again!" is more along the
lines of chocolate chip cookie dough. I'm envisioning little morsels scattered at random throughout a malleable, frequently changing matrix. One
moment two of the morsels are far apart, the next moment they are close together, and none of the alterations have a great deal to do with
where you started or the eventual outcome. (In other words, what we've got here is a lumpy trip to nowhere. If you're looking for insightful
conclusions, you're better off turning back now!)
This jumble starts with Backdraft for no better reason than I was watching it the other night. That led to thinking about Scapers in general, and
all the amazing, creative things that we do. (How I got there, please don't ask. I don't remember making the leap ... or why). Thinking about
Scapers managed to derail my train of thought in favor of considering the phenomenon that I no longer associate the music from Backdraft with
the movie. As far as my gray matter is concerned, it 'belongs' to a Farscape music video called Cannon Fodder (WMV, 9.4MB, edited by Sami
Valtonen). A lot of songs and movie soundtracks have suffered this transformation since I discovered Farscape. Blame it on the vidders.
They're turning out such exceptional work, I have difficulty envisioning the original movie when I hear the music.
The music video phenomenon goes one step further than that however, moving well beyond the point where a particularly evocative music video
usurps a piece of music that rightfully belongs to a movie or a show and into an entirely different realm. Ben Browder pokes his head in at this
point because of some comments he has made about us (the viewers) several times over the years. He prefers the word 'audience' over 'fans'.
Ben maintains that Farscape was made for a particular audience -- an intelligent audience. We, in effect, helped to shape Farscape. If the
intelligent audience had not appeared, I doubt that Farscape would have continued for as long as it did, or that the writers and producers would
have dared ventured into certain story lines. The result, if Farscape had survived at all, might very well have been more run-of-the-mill pap that
we can find on any channel at any time of the day. In other words, it wouldn't be Farscape.
Squish the cookie batter around a bit, and then leap back to what appears to be the last chocolate morsel we visited. Only it's not the same
morsel. They just look very much alike.
When the videos being turned out by the members of this very intelligent audience approach a level of quality that equals or, in my estimation,
exceeds what was produced for the show professionally, a transformation takes place. Instead of audience, we become contributors. There are
so many incredibly good videos out there that it seems criminal to list just one ... but I'm going to do it anyway. One of my top five favorites is a
Farscape Trailer that was produced by Tazey (.avi Video Clip, 7.2MB). It explains Farscape to the uninitiated at least as well, and possibly better
than anything else I've ever come across, and a whole heck of a lot better than the commercials that aired during late Season 3 and Season 4.
So at this point I ask myself, "How the frell did I get wrapped up with this amazing bunch of people?" I look back at my life prior to the day I got
spat out of a cyber-tunnel (similar to a wormhole, but without the wild ride through the swirling blue twister or the rather messy hazard of turning
into red goo) leading from my computer to the first online bulletin board I had ever seen. It happened to be the 'Dom' ... the SciFi board. At the
risk of sounding a bit like Aeryn in Green Eyed Monster, I had a good life. It had order and peace, and it had my own set of rules. And it was a
bit lonely. Some of that was my own choice. I find solitude restful. My interests were solitary ones. I did some woodworking in my cellar
workshop, I read a lot, I enjoyed skiing and hiking and the occasional self-abusive bout of snowboarding. (I ski a great deal better than I
snowboard.) And then one day I found this group of people known as Scapers, and my life was changed forever. I still believe that Scapers are,
as a group, the most highly-educated, imaginative, articulate, zany, enthusiastic, generous, WEIRD, passionate, funny people on the planet.
I look back at the era prior to Farscape, and I sometimes miss the relaxed pace. And then I look at everything I have gained, which includes
discovering that I have a talent for writing, and I wouldn't change it for anything in the world.
I went from quilt racks and finish carpentry in my house (satisfying enough at the time) to Terra
Firma meetups at Burbank (much better).
Life changes. We move on and find different things. That's part of being human. There's no way
What does that have to do with my chocolate chip cookie dough mental ramblings?
Let me go back to Backdraft for a moment. One of the main plot lines in that movie is the entire
male bonding/hazing/fitting in to a very macho, tough guy work environment issue. There is a valid
reason for this kind of initiation under certain circumstances. Individuals who work in highly
hazardous or physically demanding jobs need to know that they can depend on each other. The
bonding through shared adversity is a necessary right of passage.
Another place where this sort of behavior is often used is in Air Traffic Control. But I gotta tell you ... I can't remember the last time our lives were
in each other's hands. The lives of hundreds of air travelers maybe, but it's not like the roof is going to fall in on alternate Wednesdays and
we're going to be called on to pull our coworkers out of the rubble. In this environment, learning to trust and depend on each other does not rest
on learning how to put up with being harassed while you're attempting to do your job.
The FAA's Air Traffic Division is what I refer to as a neo-military organization. Its roots lie in the military. Most of the individuals who originally put
the nation's air traffic system together were male. Many of them got their start in the military or were even trained by the military. And there is
nothing wrong with that ... most of the time. But when you link an enduring level of chauvinism together with a pervasive lack of formal advanced
education and very little work history outside of the FAA on the part of the workforce, and stir in untrained, often unqualified managers, and then
sprinkle liberally with a bureaucracy that handles change at a geologic pace, you sometimes wind up with (this varies from facility to facility based
on the management team) a workplace culture that can make hazing and the 'harass the probationary fire fighters' scenes in Backdraft look like
a day at the beach. For anyone equipped with basic good manners, and one or two ideas about civilized behavior that were learned outside of a
barn, the atmosphere can begin to feel downright abusive.
In the hands of a good manager, a facility can be the sort of workplace that many of us tend to imagine when we think about the filming of
Farscape. It rewards and encourages hard work, teamwork is essential, everyone pitches in when things get difficult, imagination and creativity
are welcomed, new ideas are utilized. It's a pleasure to get up in the morning and go to work, not because it's going to be a walk in the park, but
because the work is rewarding. Rewarding. People who try hard are rewarded in some fashion, even if it is only with the respect of their peers.
My last facility was like that. I'm not fooling myself. It was no paradise. I disliked the geographical area where I was living, and I distinctly recall
wanting very badly to punch out a coworker's lights on more than one occasion ... and with more than one coworker. There was no flexibility in
our schedule for things like shift swaps, last minute vacations, or "just drop everything and go to ComicCon cuz there is going to be a Farscape
panel" kind of vacations. Staffing was short, traffic volume was up, and we often went home blithering idiots because we had used up every last
dreg of our brain chemicals. But when we did a good job, someone said, "Nice job! Well done." When things were going to dren in a hurry,
someone showed up beside you to give you a hand. On one occasion all it took was a cup of coffee appearing at my elbow when I was about to
go down the tubes. ("Down the tubes" ... as in pull the chain, flush me down the toilet, fingernails scraping the porcelain, watchin' the Tidy Bowl
man row by, "Hey Crash, why the blue stains on your collar?")
It was a COLLABORATIVE effort. Everyone pitched in to help the person or persons who were caught in the middle of the dren storm.
Leap forward several years. Different state, different airport, different facility. The atmosphere is not collaborative. It is ...something else.
Nothing horrible, nothing worth filing a workplace suit against the government. It is simply a different amalgam of personalities, different
management, different culture. But it is NOT collaborative.
Hopping sideways through the cookie batter, bounding from morsel to morsel, we arrive at the trusim that no two jobs are ever going to be the
same. One job is not necessarily worse than the other, and you can certainly never look back and compare what you have now with what you
had then. You can if you want, but that way lies permanent, terminal discontent. This is what we have now; we have to do our best with what we
have. Aside from the reality of there here and now, if any one of us was given the opportunity to go back to a previous stage in our life, we would
probably discover that all is not as we remember it, and it wasn't such a patch of thornless, sweet smelling roses after all.
The one exception to that concept is when we have been fortunate enough to work in a place where things were done 'right'. Not perfectly. Just
in a positive, constructive, encouraging manner. Without knowing a single thing about producing a television show, I suspect that Farscape was
like that. From what we have heard from the actors and the producers, everyone on that set was encouraged to contribute. Part of that had to
do with the pace they were filming. The other factor -- the critical factor -- was the overall culture, or work environment, established by the
show's creators right from the first day. Some of the shooting wasn't scripted, the actors were encouraged to come up with ideas, Ben Browder
spent hours in the writer's room. That sounds like positive, creative, and collaborative to me.
Next chocolate chip morsel.
I wonder what it is like to go from something as liberating as Farscape to a production that is run in a more regimented, typically Hollywood
fashion. I haven't a clue. I'm making connections here that are unsubstantiated by any kind of facts. I am also doing the quintessential fan trick
of seeing an actor's situation through the lens of my own life. I went from one very collaborative work environment to a more standard, average
one, so I begin to see Ben Browder's transition from Farscape to Stargate in terms that may apply only to my life. (Isn't it nice to discover that
you're just like every other fan on the planet? Just as susceptible to the same traps and obsessions? Always good to take yourself down a
notch or two on a sunny Tuesday afternoon.
I listen to Ben Browder talk about how he's glad to have a job (I'm referring to Stargate here), getting paid, and being able to buy clothes and
food for his family, and I hear the shift in my own attitude from an enthusiastic "Let's move some tin!!" (errrr ... that would be air trafficese for
"let's get the job done quickly and safely") to my present "It pays the bills". I watch some of his interviews from when they were still filming
Farscape, see the gleam in his eye and the enthusiasm for the job despite the hazards and the long hours, and compare it to the few interviews
I've watched since he joined Stargate ... and just wonder ... always keeping in mind that I am making these observations from the midst of an
At the same time that I sit here wondering, I call into question my own conclusions. It seems to me that no actor can allow himself the luxury of
looking back or comparing one job to the next. That strikes me as inviting vocational self-destruction. Taking into account that I am blathering
about a career where change is not only constant but is also a professional prerequisite, it is undoubtedly presumptuous of me to overlay my
frequent comparisons of jobs past and present on Ben's (or any other actor's) situation. This isn't actually just about Ben Browder's transition
from Farscape to Stargate, either. It extends to any actor who has been fortunate enough to work on a project that strikes very close to their
Still .. (Do you feel like you are at a tennis match yet? Back and forth and back and forth and back and forth.) It doesn't have to be a job that
you consider the zenith of your career. It could just be that one job where you feel like you most belonged and were most fulfilled. How can you
not look back at what made it special, and not wish that one or two of those qualities could be carried forward? How can you not strive to
recreate the portions that were closest to your heart? If you're the type of person who is happiest when given the opportunity to put every bit of
yourself into your vocation, how can you not feel like something has been taken away from you when you're getting paid to do something less?
I guess I only know one thing about all this stuff. I don't know the answer.
There it is. Cookie batter. Lumpy, uncooked, and probably missing a bunch of the ingredients necessary for it to turn out right.
22 January 2006 -- ATC: How It All Works, Part 3
Back on page 2 of the Mushroom Patch, I spent probably too much time explaining flight progress strips and how we know where airplanes are
headed when they take off. Another, lesser used feature of that computer system is the GI (General Information) message, which can be used to
transmit all sorts of information to just one position within a facility, or to entire 'mailing lists' within a center's geographic area, or to every facility
in the nation.
You'd be amazed at the sorts of things that get passed around by way of GI message. Here are a few, just for giggles.
I'm not sure what the important part is: that there are balloons out there for airplanes to avoid ... or the fact that they are multi-colored ... or that
they were spotted at FL330 (33,000 feet). On the bright side, it doesn't mention a guy in a lawn chair. (If you don't know that story, Google the
name Larry Walters and see what comes up.)
The first portion of this message says that the Presque Isle (Maine) navigational aid is out of service until further advised. Them there potatoes
is fierce hazards to air navigation, after all. Ay yup!
There are certain things in the aviation world that no one can control.
Yes, this does happen every once in a great while. You know all those movies where someone shoots a hole in the door of a small airplane and
the thing spirals out of control and crashes? It just doesn't work that way. Given half a chance, most light aircraft will do their absolute best to
continue flying. Some of them don't even care if there is a pilot on board.
Translation in case someone can't sort out the ATC gibberish: Pilotless aircraft departed private strip in the vicinity of Watertown (NY) at
approximately 2225 GMT. It's a 1946 Aeronca Champ. The last visual contact was approximately 15 miles northeast of the Watertown VORTAC
(navigational aid) at 3000 feet, in a slight climb, heading north-northeast bound.
Some of you are sitting there wondering how this happens, aren't you?
A 1946 Champ is a tiny two-seater that frequently does not have a starter motor. The pilot gets all set to depart, turns the ignition on, and then
someone has to spin the propeller by hand in order to start the engine. If there's no one around to help, some pilots will attempt this on their
own, and then will scramble into the airplane with the motor already running. Obviously, the pilot of this aircraft either did not have the aircraft
tied to something or didn't scramble fast enough.
Aren't you glad they don't start up B757's this way?
First ... some controller somewhere was feeling a little giddy this particular night.
Second ... if the pilot of the 1946 Aeronca Champ somehow managed to get this message, obviously the answer would be "no".
23 January 2006 -- Home Improvement Project
A number of activities have come to a brief halt while I have some work done on the house. The good news is that I finally decided to break down
and hire some people to finish up the woodwork in the downstairs, instead of doing it myself, which means that the projects will be completed in
about three days instead of three months.
|Mushroom Patch -- Page 4
July 15, 2005 thru January 23, 2006