The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Worth the time

I tried something different yesterday after watching Uncle Roger's stab at adobo:

Ng's basic outline worked really well, and I got close to what I had hoped on the first attempt. Next time I'll use less liquid, a bit more sugar, a bit less vinegar, and a bit more time simmering. Still, dinner last night was pretty tasty.

Much of the news today, however, is not:

  • US District Judge Tanya Chutkan set the XPOTUS's Federal criminal trial for next March 4th, two years earlier than he wanted it.
  • Writing for The Guardian, Margaret Sullivan blasts Republican presidential wannabe Vivek Ramaswamy as "a demagogue in waiting," and a distressing preview of Millennial politicians.
  • The MiG pilot who ejected during an airshow on August 13th blamed the non-flying observer in the back seat for pulling the ejection cord on his own.
  • Chicago has struggled for 15 or more years to get critical repairs to our international dock on the South Side.
  • Elizabeth Spiers has a pretty good idea why Michael Oher, subject of Michael Lewis's 2006 book The Blind Side and the 2009 film of the same name, is pissed off at the white family that didn't actually adopt him.

Finally, via Bruce Schneier, a couple of kids with $30 worth of radio equipment managed to stop 20 trains in Poland by exploiting a mind-boggling weakness in Polish train dispatching equipment. Despite some media sources calling this a "cyber attack," it was nothing of the sort. The instructions for how to do this have existed for decades.

A "close call" in aviation isn't what you think

The Times posted an article Monday morning, complete with animated 3D graphics, guarantee to alarm most of the flying public. In short, when a non-pilot passenger hears "close call" they imagine the airplanes passing wingtip-to-nose at impossible speeds. When a pilot hears "close call" they mean the planes got within 2 km of each other—and sometimes 10 km qualifies. But the Times decided to go with the wingtip-to-nose meaning:

The incidents — highlighted in preliminary F.A.A. safety reports but not publicly disclosed — were among a flurry of at least 46 close calls involving commercial airlines last month alone.

They were part of an alarming pattern of safety lapses and near misses in the skies and on the runways of the United States, a Times investigation found. While there have been no major U.S. plane crashes in more than a decade, potentially dangerous incidents are occurring far more frequently than almost anyone realizes — a sign of what many insiders describe as a safety net under mounting stress.

So far this year, close calls involving commercial airlines have been happening, on average, multiple times a week, according to a Times analysis of internal F.A.A. records, as well as thousands of pages of federal safety reports and interviews with more than 50 current and former pilots, air traffic controllers and federal officials.

The FAA issued a fact sheet later that day:

Multiple layers of safety protect the traveling public, including: Traffic Collision Avoidance Systems on commercial aircraft, surface safety technology at the country's biggest airports, and robust procedures. Air traffic controllers and pilots all play critical roles.

The FAA maintains extremely conservative standards for keeping aircraft safely separated. Safety experts follow up on all events — even those in which no collision was imminent or even possible — and evaluate them for safety risks. The agency publishes this information on our website, updating it as new information becomes available.

In addition, the agency has hired 1,500 controllers for FY2023. This is in addition to the more than 2,600 controllers that are at various levels of training at air traffic facilities across the country.

We welcome scrutiny and look forward to the recommendations from the FAA’s independent Safety Review Team this fall.

Journalist and private pilot James Fallows also posted that maybe the Times needed to turn down the volume a bit, but yes, Ronald Reagan's legacy still haunts North American aviation:

My guess about the story is that the team members producing it have dealt with aviation mainly as passengers. That is, not as pilots, air traffic controllers, former staffers of any companies or agencies involved, “hangar rats” at small airports, or other roles with first-hand exposure to the strengths and weaknesses of the system.

This is not a criticism. As reporters we spend most of our time asking other people to explain things we haven’t seen or done ourselves, so that we in turn can explain them to the reader. That is what makes the job so absorbing and fascinating.

But in this case I notice a few points in the story that I think would get different emphasis from many aviators. I mention them for your consideration in reading this story and others that are sure to follow on the air-safety theme. I’ll mention three.

At several points the Times story warns about “loss of separation” dangers when planes are “in the skies and on the runways,” as in the passage I quoted above. Obviously a collision in either realm is disastrous. But the latter danger is so much more pressing than the former that it should be discussed and thought of on its own.

There is all the difference in the world between a “close call” that happens on a runway, versus one in the open skies. A runway is a relatively tiny strip of pavement onto which planes that are taking off and landing must converge. A plane sitting on the runway can’t quickly move out of another plane’s way.

By comparison, the sky is enormous. And even in the few places where it seems crowded, namely the approach lanes to major airports, there is vastly more room for a plane to maneuver quickly and avoid another plane’s path, and more robust systems to help them do so.

What the Times got right, though, is that the Ronald Reagan fired the entire air traffic controller union and the system has never fully recovered. The section of the Times article on controller scheduling should alarm people—but more for its effects on workers than its effects of aviation. Keep in mind, in the last 21 years and 10 months, the United States has had only two air transport fatalities out of over 18 billion passenger departures—and neither person died because of a collision with another airplane.

One more thing: the "not publicly disclosed" incidents in "a NASA database" refers to the Aviation Safety Reporting System, which is fully public and searchable. (You can even sign up for a free monthly newsletter!) The entire point of the ASRS is to make aviation safer by allowing pilots (and anyone else, for that matter) to report aviation safety problems without worrying about getting dinged. In fact, if a pilot reports his or her own error to ASRS before the FAA starts an enforcement action, the pilot is immune from fines and penalties from that enforcement, though she can still lose her certificate if the violation is egregious. The Times breathlessly reporting on a "secret database the FAA doesn't want you to know about!" just seems stupidly ignorant to a pilot, and misleading to anyone who understands journalism.

Anyway, the last time a transport airplane hit another aircraft flying over the United States was in 1987 (10 dead). The last one involving a jet airplane happened in 1978. And those accidents led to improvements in air safety that we continue to enjoy.

Chuckles all afternoon

My home office sits at the top of my house as a loft over the floor below. I think it could not have a more effective design for trapping hot air. (Fortunately I can let a lot of that out through this blog.) This afternoon the temperature outside Inner Drive Technology World Headquarters didn't quite make 25°C, and it's back down to 23°C with a nice breeze coming through the window. Wednesday and Thursday, though, the forecast predicts 36°C with heat indices up to 43°C. Whee. (It gets a lot better Saturday.)

Meanwhile, in the more comfortable parts of the world:

  • Jamie Bouie reminds everyone what I've said repeatedly: Rudy Giuliani has always been an unhinged and reprehensible character. Thanks for finally noticing.
  • Speaking of authoritarians who hate the press, law professor Gregory Magarian digs into the Marion, Kansas, newspaper raid, which the Post says came about because the paper committed journalism on a corrupt police chief.
  • Rolling Stone helpfully catalogues malignant narcissist Elon Musk's biggest lies.
  • One of his lies, or at least one of his latest manifestations of abject incompetence at running a tech company, came earlier this week when he mused about ending the "block" feature on the app formerly known as Twitter, despite that move probably getting it kicked off the iPhone and Android platforms.
  • A judge sentenced an Ohio teenager to concurrent 15-to-life terms for killing her boyfriend and one of his friends by driving her car into a brick wall at 160 km/h.
  • American Airlines has sued Skiplagged, claiming the company tricks people into violating American's terms of service—and worse, doesn't actually save their customers any money.

Finally, a change to zoning laws in Auckland, N.Z., appears to have done what its proponents predicted: increasing housing and slowing rent increases. It's almost like single-family zoning was designed to keep those people out. Next thing, they'll start discover that zoning combined with redlining kept millions of credit-worthy people from ever building wealth for their families and led the US to an unsustainable pattern of urban development that will cost us trillions to fix. Crazy.

No hurry to get to Ravinia tonight

I've got tickets to see Straight No Chaser with some chorus friends at Ravinia Park tonight—on the lawn. Unfortunately, for the last 8 hours or so, our weather radar has looked like this:

I haven't got nearly as much disappointment as the folks sitting in Grant Park right now waiting for a NASCAR race that will never happen in this epic rainfall. (I think Mother Nature is trying to tell NASCAR something. Or at least trying to tell Chicago NASCAR fans something. Hard to tell.)

While I'm waiting to see if it will actually stop raining before my train leaves at 5:49pm, I have this to read:

I am happy the roofers finished my side of my housing development already. The people across the courtyard have discovered the temporary waterproofing was a bit more temporary than the roofers intended.

How to avoid traffic, United Airlines style

United Airlines flight 2546 avoided traffic getting from O'Hare to Midway on Monday by taking the shortest route possible for an airplane its size:

The 13-minute flight got all the way up to 4,800 feet MSL to reposition an Airbus A320 the White Sox needed to get to New York later that day. The Sun-Times explains:

Although the flight did happen, it was merely the airline repositioning a charter plane, according to United spokesman Charles Hobart.

And although the flights have no passengers, they still appear on flight-tracking websites because of federal rules about airlines sharing their flight manifests, he said.

“This is very common, not only for United but for other major carriers,” Hobart said.

One social media user deduced from the plane’s tail number that this was the same charter plane used by the White Sox.

The White Sox confirmed it was their charter plane.

The Sun-Times helpfully concludes, "A drive from O’Hare to Midway during the same time, around noon on Monday, would’ve taken 55 minutes."

Update: In a cute Daily Parker coincidence, the White Sox and Yankees postponed tonight's game due to Canadian smoke.

More update: Yes, I can see why they cancelled the game. Current AQIs around New York are in the high 300s to low 400s, including a reading of 460 in the ironically-named Fresh Kills. At IDTWHQ, we have 85, which is also not great but not going to suffocate my dog, either.

Corruption, War, and Crabs

Just a few stories I came across at lunchtime:

  • In an act that looks a lot like the USSR's scorched-earth retreat in 1941, Ukraine accuses Russia of blowing up the Kakhovka Dam on the Dnieper River, which could have distressing follow-on effects over the next few months.
  • A former Chicago cop faces multiple counts of perjury and forgery after, among other things, claiming his girlfriend stole his car to get out of 44 separate speeding tickets.
  • James Fallows explains what probably happened to the Citation jet that crashed in rural Virginia over the weekend after two F-16s scrambled to intercept it over Washington.
  • Molly White explains the SEC's case against Binance.

And finally, giant-sized coconut crabs may have stashed away the remains of lost pilot Emelia Earhart, and scientists think they know where.

Longest vacation in years

I'm finally at Heathrow about 10 minutes from boarding. Whew. I've got loads of photos to go through, and hours of sleep to catch up on. I am ready to be home.

Tonight I'm going to spend as much time as possible on the couch with Cassie. I've got a lot of pats for her.

Looking for the shoe that could drop...

I just got from the curb to the lounge in 18 minutes. No kidding: my bag check line was empty, and so was the TSA Pre-Check queue. I should point out, no other queues were empty; in fact, it looked like the general security queue is long enough to gestate an elephant.

So, at least for the first hour of my vacation, things completely fail to suck.

Great news! My flight tomorrow got cancelled

I'm serious: I couldn't have planned it better. Remember how I said I booked the early (4:50pm) flight because I wanted to fly on one of British Airways' brand-new 787-10 airplanes, and they swapped it out for one of they're old-ass 777s? Well, I woke up this morning to an email saying that the old-ass 777 won't actually make the trip after all, so they shoved me onto the next available flight on American.

After a not-so-quick call to American Airlines (them, because they issued the original ticket, and long, because British Airways screwed up the rebooking), they got me on the 9:15pm flight on a relatively-new Airbus 380. More to the point, instead of getting in at 6:30 am BST (12:30 am Chicago time), I'm now arriving at the much more humane hour of 11 am BST (5 am Chicago time).

That also puts me much closer to the bag-check time for my flight to Prague, and I'll still have enough time to get out of Heathrow for a bit. I hope.

If not, I have airline status with both American and BA, so the worst case is I cool my heels in the first-class lounge in Heathrow Terminal 3. Not ideal, but not like sitting in genpop with my luggage for 10 hours.

Updates as the situation warrants.