I flew a plane!

I began my day by checking the weather:

KEMT 241445Z 00000KT 10SM CLR 27/03 A3000

The El Monte airport had zero wind, 10 miles of visibility, 27 C, and an altimeter setting of 30.00 inches Hg. Perfect conditions for my first flying lesson!

The lesson included two hours of pre-flight instruction and walking through the checklist you use to ensure that the plane is ready to fly safely, and one hour up in the sky. That time was dense with information, which I hope to retain by review and repetition (and scheduling my next lesson ASAP!). The plane was a Cessna Skyhawk 172.

What I got to do myself:

  • Follow the instructor around and take notes on the checklist as he demonstrated each check
  • Drag the plane out of its parking position onto a painted yellow line
  • Flip switches, set wing flaps, adjust throttle, etc. to ready the plane for taxi
  • Turn the switch to start the engine and watch the propeller spin up
  • Taxi the plane out to the run-up area using foot pedals to control direction and braking
  • Practice maintaining altitude, climbing, descending, turning
  • Final approach to landing
  • Push the plane back in to its parking spot, chain it down, etc.

The instructor was there the whole time, guiding and making minor corrections to help, and he would sometimes demonstrate controls by actively pushing pedals or steering and letting me feel what he was doing from my side, since the controls are tied together.

Some of this was straightforward, and some of it was rather challenging. For example, taxiing is done by steering a big vehicle with only your feet via rudder pedals, and it definitely takes some getting used to. You press right to go right, left to go left, and both forward with toe pressure to brake. Meanwhile, your hands are itching to grab onto the steering yoke, but that only manipulates the wings, so it only works while you’re in 3D motion (i.e., the air).

Once you’re up in the air, there’s also a complex interaction between where the nose is pointed (the pitch of the plane), the position of the yoke and the trim tab, the position of the rudder, the amount of throttle, and the speed of the plane. In a car, you press on the gas pedal to accelerate. In the plane, you have to manage all of these things simultaneously. I’m sure it all fits together as you gain experience, but it’s a lot to hold in your head at once while FLYING A FREAKING PLANE FOR THE FIRST TIME.

The biggest rush was when I got to do the takeoff. I pushed the throttle all the way in with my right hand, had my left hand lightly on the yoke, and worked the rudder with my foot pedals. This was the hardest steering challenge, because the plane naturally drifts to the left (due to the direction the propeller spins) and it seemed to me like the amount of compensation I needed changed as we accelerated. So because I have no experience, I was doing some oscillation and overcorrection trying to get us to stay straight on the line, meanwhile fighting off some mental ?!?!?s about why keeping the plane going straight would be that hard. And we’re accelerating, and eating up the runway, and the instructor told me to start pulling up, which I probably did a bit too gradually, but we had plenty of space. And I felt us go UP into the air, and we were there!

What I didn’t get to do yet:

  • Talk to the control tower and other planes
  • Land the plane

However, I did the final approach (with much coaching) all the way down to the ground, watching the runway grow in front of me, and thinking “Okay now, time for you to take over, isn’t it time for you to take over, I don’t know how to land this thing, PLEASE TAKE OVER NOW!” and that’s when he did.

At the end of the lesson, I was presented with a pilot’s log book and my first log entry (click to enlarge):


It takes a minimum of 40 hours to get your pilot’s license, but it’s based on demonstrating the necessary skills, not just logging time. Apparently most people take 50-60 hours, and certainly I’d rather have really solid skills since there’s no reason to rush. Still, I’m now 1/40th of the way to that minimum! And I can’t wait to get up there again!

That’s not what I meant. Or is it?

You may have encountered this great example of acyrologia:

(I could not find an original source for the image, unfortunately!)

“Acryologia” is kind of hard to pronounce. It is also rather obscure. A search in the online Webster’s dictionary does not find it! The link above to a definition takes you to a dictionary of rhetoric (Silva Rhetoricae, the Forest of Rhetoric). It defines acryologia as “An incorrect use of words, especially the use of words that sound alike but are far in meaning from the speaker’s intentions.” Sometimes these things slip out (malapropism) and sometimes they are done on purpose (puns, the practice of which is known as paranomasia). I’d guess that Spoonerisms are another kind of acryologia.

I was amused to find that the Silva Rhetoricae characterizes some of its terms by their *ethos* (“persuasive appeal of one’s character”). For example, “Acyrologia erodes the ethos of the speaker, for it portrays his/her ignorance.” It also rates them by style: “Using acyrologia reflects poor diction (word choice), thus demonstrating a low level of style.”

There is also cacozelia, in which you use improper or overly erudite words to impress your audience or to make things sound worse than they are. The Silva Rhetoricae cites an example from Seneca: “This is an adultery against the state, to have sex under the trophies of Miltiades.” Adultery. Really?

Do you have any favorite examples of acryologisms?

Further adventures in breadmaking

Some years ago, I baked my first loaf of bread. Two weeks ago, I decided to try it again. And it failed, and here’s what I learned.

The original recipe said to use “something along the lines of 1 cup” of water to mix in with the yeast. So I used 1 cup. In later discussion on the blog post above, it sounded like people thought 1/4 cup should be sufficient. So when I recorded the recipe, that’s what I used, and when I pulled it out to start baking, I’d forgotten all about this exchange.

With only 1/4 cup of water, I got a very dry dough that wouldn’t let me add more flour in the “add more flour” step. It was also very difficult to knead. But I kept at it. In the end, it barely rose, and I got a very small, dense loaf. Actually, it was still tasty, just thicker than you’d expect from a standard bread.

Lesson: the water does matter! And for this recipe, use 1 cup.

One week ago, I tried again, with 1 cup of water, and the bread came out fantastic again. I also incorporated some suggestions from “The New Best Recipe”, the encyclopedic cookbook/instruction manual I’ve raved about in the past:

  • Let the dough rise in the oven, not just on a counter. Heat oven to 150, leave it there a minute or so, and turn it off. Then put the dough in, covered tightly with plastic wrap. (Actually I used a damp towel but I think either works.)
  • Another great tip, which I didn’t get to incorporate, was putting a rubber band around the outside of the container in which the dough is rising, which ideally is a straight-sided container, so you can ACTUALLY TELL when it has doubled in volume.

Yesterday, I baked another loaf. I wanted to try making something wheatier, chewier, with sunflower seeds and oats in it. The Best Recipe book DID NOT HAVE a recipe of this nature, to my disappointment. But one of the first hits on google was this recipe for Multigrain Sunflower Bread, which sounded perfect.

I followed the instructions, which in this case did call for 1 cup of water, plus 2 cups of flour and 1/2 cup each of sunflower seeds and oats. Many people commented that this made for a very wet, sticky dough and they had to add more flour. Instead, I ended up with… another dry dough! I went through the whole process anyway, but once again it didn’t rise the way it should have. Here is a comparison of loaf #2 (white flour) and loaf #3 (unbleached/wheat flour with oats and sunflower seeds), using the same yeast and water amount:


The new bread is quite delicious and chewy… but didn’t rise properly. This is either due to needing more yeast, or more kneading, or something … I learned that kneading stretches out the gluten fibers into sheets, so they trap the gas released by the yeast, which otherwise just escapes. So the dry-ish dough maybe didn’t form those sheets. More experimentation is needed!

The under-used locative adverbs

A locative adverb tells you where something took place. Examples we all know and use commonly are ‘where’, ‘here’, and ‘there.’ Other such words can be constructed, like ‘homeward.’

But there are other locative adverbs that are so handy that it’s amazing that they aren’t used more often. ‘Where,’ ‘here’, and ‘there’ indicate the location at which something happens. What about actions moving toward or away from a location, like ‘homeward,’ but more general? In fact, there’s an equivalent for each of those three in each of these directions of motion:

At To From
Where Whither Whence
Here Hither Hence
There Thither Thence

Now, using these words may make you sound like you just stepped out of Shakespeare or Chaucer, but in fact they are nice, compact ways to express motion. The words in the second and third columns already have a preposition built in!

“Whither do they wander?” sounds better and is technically more correct than “Where do they wander?” since “where” has no “to” sense to it. “Whence did you come?” is more compact than “From where did you come?” or “Where did you come from?”

From this table we can see that “from whence” makes no sense, despite its rather common use.

So, next time you need to talk about where, here, or there something went to or from, consider using these nicely compact, already invented ways to express that notion!

The black Harry Potter

In Profiling a Book Collection, middle-school librarian Julia B. Chambers discussed a content survey she and some volunteers did of the school’s collection, along with some preliminary results. I wasn’t terribly surprised by her observation that

“Our protagonists are mostly Caucasian and more likely female, with only three in the entire collection demonstrating gender questioning or ambiguity. Two-thirds of our collection feature characters from middle- or high-income families (of which almost all are nuclear in structure). And most of our literary characters are straight (only 13 books featured LBGTQ characters.)”

I don’t know whether these demographics are representative of The Athenian School in Danville, California, where Julia serves as librarian, or whether it’s representative of the available books out there, or whether any of that really matters. Selecting books for a library collection is a non-trivial task, with any number of competing philosophies urging one heuristic or another.

But then she started talking about race. And race in the context of fantasy:

“At quick glance, most of our titles featuring African American characters are historical fiction with themes of slavery, Jim Crow segregation, or Civil Rights struggles. The black Harry Potters are simply not there.”

Who *are* the black Harry Potters? I racked my brain to try to come up with any non-Caucasian wizard-type protagonists in any books I’ve ever read. I came up with two, neither of whom are black:

Do magic-wielding youth from other cultures and ethnicities truly not exist? Or are they chronicled in books written in other languages, enjoyed by those with the ability to read them, but locked away from those who can fluently read only English, until the glittering hand of some translator should set them free?

Do share the non-Caucasian wizarding books I’ve overlooked, forgotten, or not yet encountered.

Older entries »