Bird Droppings

Random thoughts from a weird and queer bird

This is part of a 5 part series on my adventures helping my friend move. Check out part 1 and start there!

The Plan

The planned route The penultimate leg of our journey would have @norintha and her belongings dropped off at the Reno/Stead airport, KRTS. From there I would either go directly home, or hang out with folks for a bit before heading home. The end of our journey was in sight, a mere 3.5 hours away.

Hot and Spicy

Of all of the takeoffs that we performed during this trip, this one was going to be the most dangerous. The reason was density altitude. Every other flight was either light weight, lower altitude, or during a cool time of day. This flight was departing at 11:30AM Mountain Time, fully loaded with cargo and fuel. The heat of the day was rapidly approaching, and my density altitude calculations showed the air getting thinner and thinner around us.

As we took off, this problem immediately reared its head at us. The temperatures on my engine cylinders rapidly shot up. 350ºF. 360ºF. 370ºF.

The Lycoming IO-540 naturally aspirated engine in the Piper Cherokee 6 300 is rated to only go up to 400ºF as its maximum temperature. After this temperature, it starts to have problems. Indeed, anything above 350ºF for an extended period of time isn't great for the engine, although it's fine to run it up there for a while.

The temperature kept climing. 380ºF. 390ºF

Another thing about the engine being at 400ºF or above... Oil doesn't survive at that temperature. So if the engine temperature rise above that, it would be rubbing metal against metal without lubrication.

393ºF 394ºF

Why was this happening? When you take off from a high density altitude airport, you want to maximize the amount of power that you're producing in your engine. To do that, you reduce the amount of fuel in the fuel to air mixture until it is burning at its hottest, optimal rate. However, in the initial climb especially, there's not as much air flowing over the air cooled engine. Worse, at a high density altitude airport, there's less air in the air to flow over the engine...

The fix is to make your climb more shallow, to allow more air to flow over the engine, and/or to enrichen the fuel to air mixture. More liquid fuel actually cools off the engine. Of course, both of these things reduce the plane's ability to climb. A shallower climb slows the plane's ascent, and more fuel in the fuel to air mixture reduces its power output.

As the temperature started to reach 397ºF, I was doing both of these things quite aggressively.

My altitude and airspeed over time You can actually see the slight decrease in climb rate in the climb chart in this graph here. The green bar is my altitude, and you can see how it initially climbed quite quickly, but then starts to round out. That's where I was slowing my ascent to cool the engine.

I carefully played with the fuel mixture and climb angle to get as much performance as I could get out of it without overheating my engine. As I increased my fuel richness and reduced my climb rate, the engine temperatures started to come back down and I breathed a sigh of relief. It was slow, but we made it to 10,500 feet and leveled out.

Exchanging rain and thunder for turbulence

Initially, the air was relatively smooth as we leveled out at our cruising altitude. The water below us was red with what was presumably salt, and it was beautiful. It also was probably cooling the air off a bit.

Mountains rising out of the Great Salt Lake of Utah As we flew past the water onto land, we were hit with a wave of substantial turbulence. You see, as the ground is warmed by the sun, it causes the air around it to heat up as well. This causes that air to rise. Those columns of rising air, or thermals, are lovely for glider pilots and folks looking to gain altitude. Unfortunately, they also bring with them a lot of turbulence.

For about the next hour we found ourselves being fairly constantly tossed about in the small plane. Bumps and thumps pervaded our experience as we were tossed to and fro. It was definitely light to moderate turbulence, nearly as bad as my flight back from the Grand Canyon. Oddly, I was more worried this time because of all the cargo in the back.

As we crossed into Nevada from Utah, I briefly tried 12,500 ft MSL and found it to be smooth and gentle. Unfortunately, I also discovered that the already intense headwind was even 10 knots worse up there. We were only doing 100 its over the ground at that altitude and wouldn't get into Reno until as late as 2:30pm or later. @norintha reassured me that she could handle the turbulence, and we dropped back down to 10,500 ft.

Elko from the air As we flew back over Elko, NV, I snapped an almost too late picture of the little town. It was nice to see the little town that @coda and I had stayed in overnight on the way to Denver just 2 nights prior. Seeing that made it feel like we really were starting to unravel this long journey. We pressed on into the turbulent skies

The sameness of Nevada

I didn't get many pictures or videos of our flight through Nevada, for several reasons. For one, I was being beset with considerable turbulence most of the time. I needed to stay focused a lot to keep the plane upright, level, at altitude, and pointed in the right direction. The other reason I didn't get many pictures is because Nevada, while being beautiful, is kind of... the same everywhere. It's all brown valleys, alkali lake beds, and brown mountains.

A river in Nevada Moments like this picture are frankly rare. At least, that was our experience of Nevada as we flew through it. The intricate and varied textures of Wyoming and Utah are vastly superior to the simple mountains and valleys stamped out in Nevada. It was like someone took the clone tool and just repeated the same terrain over and over again there.

Brown mountains in Nevada I mean really. How many pictures like this do you really want?

Pyramid Lake That said, there are definitely some lovely areas of Nevada, and some really interesting places to fly too. After 3 hours of flying, this place, Pyramid Lake, came into sight. Our destination was almost upon us.

Cargo Delivered!

Reno/Stead airport came into view on the other side of a hill, and we landed. It was a fine landing. A little hard, but in the gusting crosswind I had landing there, I was very happy with it.

Our final track looked like this: Our track log going to Reno

The airport layout was a little bit confusing, but I managed to find an empty parking spot to park in while we emptied the plane and waited for @norintha's partner to come pick her and her stuff up. They were a little confused by the airport layout as well, but they eventually found us, and I showed them how to drive up to the plane. They shocked me by managing to get literally everything loaded up in their little car in a single trip!

They offered to give me a ride to their place to get some food and drink, but I refused. As much as I could really use a break from all of the flying I'd been doing, being this close to home, I just wanted to get home and finally relax.

Returning to home

@norintha and her partner helped me gas up the plane, and I took back off. The climb rate was AMAZING now that I was over 500 pounds lighter. Though the terrain being a bit close made me spiral upward as I climbed to a nice altitude to cruise over the nearby terrain.

My track log leaving Reno You can see my route here

A beautiful mountain north of Tahoe A picture of the eastern face of this mountain was probably the last truly lovely photo I took. I was really in love with this mountain, though as I watched another plane flying on its other side, I realized that it would have been better for me to get on its windward side instead of its leeward side. Ah well, I was high enough and far enough away that it wouldn't have been an issue, but it was a good thing to learn for next time.

Farmland in California's Central Valley Maybe it was the fact that my oxygen tank had emptied and now I was getting some mild effects of hypoxia. Maybe it was the fact I had been awake since 5am. Maybe it was the fact that I had now been flying for over 8 hours that day. Whatever it was, while I was cruising over California's Central Valley just south of Sacramento, I started to cry with a feeling of joy, pride, and accomplishment.

Since my first visit to an airport when I was little, watching a massive machine of metal climb into the air like magic, I've been fascinated and amazed by the magic and freedom of flight. With this adventure, flying 18 hours over 3 days, crossing 1700 miles going halfway across the country and back, dodging severe weather along the way... This adventure felt like a milestone to me in realizing those childhood dreams of being able to be free like a bird and take to the open skies. It reminded me a little of how I felt after the first time I ever flew an airplane without my instructor. I was also so happy that @norintha was back in a reasonable range, and immensely looking forward to flying over the mountains and visiting her from time to time.

A mountain range This mountain range may not be remarkable to anyone else, but for me, every time I see that familiar shape, it represents home. It's the mountains around the Livermore valley, and straight ahead (blocked the propellor) is the Calaveras Resevoir that I usually fly over on my way home. There was some very moderate, almost severe, turbulence coming through the south end of the Livermore valley, but I brought the plane in and landed, taxiing back to my mechanic to get some outstanding work done.

@coda was waiting for me by the gate, with kisses and hugs celebrating my return.

Me?

I lie on the ground exhausted

I was exhausted. Flying 18 hours and waking up so early and not having proper meals had taken its tole. I jokingly collapsed under the plane for a moment while @coda emptied the plane of our travel stuff and loaded the car up with things.

We drove home, stopping for boba and Pad Thai for me, and I spent the rest of the day relaxing with my partners, chilling out after such a wonderful adventure.

What a trip!

Disclaimer

It should be noted that the term “Pandora Moving Services” is entirely in jest. No money exchanged hands. Indeed, the flight was performed entirely under FAR part 91, the rules for a non-commercial private pilot. The entire flight was conducted under Visual Flight Rules, flight plans were filed, and a weight and balance and density altitude check was performed prior to every single flight.

This is part of a 5 part series on my adventures helping my friend move. Check out part 1 and start there!

The Plan

While the flying that we had planned for Sunday, August 10 was not intended to be the most difficult, it was certainly planned to be the longest. The first leg would be a 3.5 hour flight from Denver to Ogden starting at 6am. At Ogden, we'd fuel up, use the bathroom, then press on to Reno, another 3.5 hours away There we would drop off all of @norintha's belongings and her move would be complete. I would then fly another 1.5 hours home. In all, it was planned to be 8.5 hours of flying in a single day.

Leaving Denver, CO for Ogden, UT

My flight plan from Denver to Ogden

We woke up right around 5:00 AM, well rested and chipper. I took a shower and then @norintha and I fumbled with the Kuerig coffee maker to try to get some coffee out of it. The front desk of the quaint English themed hotel we were in had promised us little bags of breakfast, but no one was in the office. So we walked to the airport in the warm cloudy morning, talking about board game kickstarters and the like. We paid our fuel and parking bills and started getting the plane ready.

The plane had already been fueled up the previous night, but it did need some oil from all its travels the day before. 2 quarts of oil later, we were off!

Denver Mountains and clouds The plane lurched down the runway and climbed slowly into the warm Denver morning. We could feel the cargo we were carrying along with the density altitude, weighing us down. But climb we did towards the beautiful but pervasive overcast sky.

My planning had told me that we would have a few hours before the weather would start getting exciting in Colorado. My planning said we'd be delightfully west of the weather by the time it got rough. Unfortunately, that planning did not quite meet reality. As we leveled out at 10,500 ft. MSL, our cruising altitude for this trip, I pulled up the ADS-B NexRAD weather data on my Foreflight and scouted ahead.

Before us, right in our path near the Medicine Bow VOR, was a fairly powerful, but dissipating, thunderstorm. To the south west of it was a line of other storms, all growing in strength. To the west, throughout Wyoming, we were seeing other small rain storms starting to pop up. It looks like our anticipated quiet morning wouldn't be quite as quiet as I had hoped.

That thunderstorm, closer I really loved the shape of this thunderstorm, so well defined against the nearby clouds.

To cross this line of thunderstorms, we had a few different options. We could try to fly north east and go around the thunderstorm, but that would cost us a considerable amount of time to get sufficiently safe distance from that storm. We could go south over Laramie and perhaps aim for the city of Saratoga, navigating south around the mountain ranges in the area. This would keep us out of the bad weather, similar to how we approached Elko, but it would also put us into some more difficult terrain. Plus, the storms down there seemed to be growing. I felt there was a pretty big potential of getting stuck without a good out down there.

I initially decided to cross the storm between the second and third weaker storms. As I got closer to them, we switched to fly in the larger and clearer gap between the first and second storms.

The dissipating thunderstorm It was a good thing too. The first storm was heavily dissipating, and the two storms behind it had leveled up powerfully and were spitting lightning out of their dark rainy depths.

Several thunderstorms As we scooted past them, hugging the windward side of the first storm, we looked at the other storms in awe and fear.

Into Wyoming

Beautiful terrain As we passed through the line of thunderstorms, I let @norintha take the controls for a bit while I relaxed and snapped some photos of the beautiful Wyoming countryside.

Beautiful terrain The play of light and shadow on the mountains, clouds, and plains was truly breathtaking.

This video was my absolute favorite video of the entire flight. The intricacy of the ground in the dull morning light, diffused by the intense cloud cover above, made this intricate landscape really pop.

As we continued to the west, we saw plenty of rain storms south of us. Near the city of Rawlins, WY, we encountered yet another thunderstorm, but this one was isolated by itself and we just moved along south of it, ignoring it completely. Though just before that happened, I saw two black specks flying towards us away from the storm! I quickly grabbed the controls back from @norintha and turned to the left, dodging the two birds that were flying at 10,500 feet MSL right towards our plane! Encountering birds at this height was incredibly unusual and quite scary, but we dodged each other with minimal fuss and nobody got hurt.

The big storms

As we were approaching the city of Rock Springs, WY, the weather we could see ahead looked kind of ominous. Three growing thunderstorms all plopped to the left and right of our course. We flew to the north of one, with plenty of distance between us and the storm and scouted ahead.

Two storms standing like gatekeepers before us The two ahead stood like guardians before us. Between them we could spy the open sky beyond. Blue, cloudless, stormless air that would take us through the rest of Wyoming and into Utah. Over the radio, we could hear the big jet airplanes all requesting deviations from the area to avoid the storms. We were in the middle of a tempest.

Once more, we “hugged” the windward side of a thunderstorm as we flew between the two storms. I watched the distance between the storms and carefully carefully threaded the needle, ready to turn around at the first indication of turbulence. After a few minutes, the storms fell behind us and we were out into the clear! As the sun came out from under the clouds and blue skies filled our vision, I let out a cheer of delight and relief. We were safe! We'd made it through the weather!

Blue skies before us Nothing but blue skies before us!

A line of clouds stretching to the south Behind us, the sharp edge of the weather system continued further to the south, but for us, we were in the clear.

Into Ogden Brigham Airport

A picture of a navigation chart I made a minor mistake. In planning to fly into Ogden, I had missed considering the mountains to the east of Ogden. You can easily see how I did that by looking at the above chart. The mountains just 5 miles east of Ogden had peaks as high as 9,500 feet MSL. I would have to descend into Ogden at 4,537 feet MSL from well above that height over potentially busy class delta airspace. Not ideal. I checked in with ATC on what they recommended and they suggested approaching from the north, specifically using a waypoint called CARTR.

We aimed for it, climbing to 12,500 feet MSL to get out of the mountain turbulence caused by the tall mountains below us, and I reviewed the chart. Wait a minute... CARTR was basically right above another airport. Brigham Airport. And they had fuel and a nice long runway... Why were we going to Ogden anyways? Screw it!

I told ATC we were switching over to Brigham, closed my flight plan, crossed the mountains east of Brigham, and began my descent into Brigham. I had to descend from 12,500 feet MSL to 4,200 feet MSL, so I aimed for a rapid descent so we could get down, use the bathroom, and get some gas. Unfortunately, my 1500 feet per minute descent turned out to be a bit much for @norintha. Her right ear wouldn't pop and she started to experience an absolutely horrifying amount of pain as the pressure inside her ear canal built and built. As I landed, she was practically screaming in pain, and she was really scared about what was happening. Luckily, I've dealt with this before in a commercial airplane and knew that, despite being excruciatingly painful, all she had to do was pop her ear and she'd be okay. It took three times, but she did finally manage to get her ear popped and restored to normal.

Our final flight track for this route was here: Our flight track from Denver to Brigham

Fuel adventures.

As we taxied into the Brigham airport, the place was desolate. There was no one there, no movement at all. Very few planes even. There were no other planes in the sky. It was eerie. We pulled up to the fuel pods and I put my credit card in to order a bunch of gas. Flipped the handle to start fueling and... nothing. I looked at the machine and it clearly had charged my card. But nothing was dispensing. I sighed and ran it again, resigned to the fact I'd have to dispute or otherwise handle the charges from the first time. This time my card got declined.

Okay, I was starting to get nervous. I'm at this desolate, empty airport in the middle of nowhere with no fuel and this machine isn't giving me anything. What?! I looked at my phone to pull up information about the airport and perhaps get a phone number I could call to get help and... I saw a NOTAM. “Runway 03/21 Closed”

Wait wait... This is a single runway airport. Brigham Airport from above

If the runway is closed, did I... Did I just land illegally on a closed runway!? Is that why no one is here and the fuel machine isn't working?! But but!!! I mean, the runway did look kinda fresh but was it really that fresh!? Oh no!

For a moment I panicked and my thoughts were racing about what to say about this, what to do...

Thankfully, in my panic, I calmed down and realized that I was looking at the information for a different airport. oh. BREATHES We're fine here. LOL.

Now calm, I got to handling the situation correctly. I called the FBO, no answer. I called my bank and found out my card was declined for fraud. As we figured that out, I studied the fuel machine and realized what had happened.

The On/Off switch had been in the On position when I first tried to fuel the plane up. Unfortunately, the machine is REALLY particular, and it was expecting it to switch to On after running the credit card. So it never started the pump. When I switched it to the Off position, the fuel machine decided we were done fueling and instead shut down. What you have to do is first make sure the switch is in the off position, THEN run the credit card, THEN turn the switch on. Credit card issues handled and plane now successfully fueled, we were good to go.

The story concludes in part 5!

This is part of a 5 part series on my adventures helping my friend move. Check out part 1 and start there!

The Plan

My flight route from KEKO to KBJC

Our plan Saturday morning was to get up at 4:30am, get to the airport by 5:30am, and get off the ground as soon as it was light. Remember, that we were doing this to avoid all of the heat of the day. Also, today was going to be the day that I helped pack all of @norintha's things. Hopefully, we would get to Denver before the weather got too exciting, land, and start packing. Unfortunately, reality had a few hiccups on the way to accomplishing this.

Trouble getting out

The first problem we had was that @coda didn't get any sleep that night. They were up all night long and didn't sleep for a minute. This made getting up that morning a bit more challenging than it could have been.

The next problem we faced was getting back onto the airport. As I mentioned in part 2, we could not easily find any way off the airport that gave us a way to get back on, and we were too tired and hungry to spend too much time searching.

The only thing we did find was this: Sheet of paper with scary writing on it

Yeesh. $200. Well... Looks like we were waiting until 6am after all... But after a few minutes where I stared at the barbed wire fence around the airport and considered ways to jump the fence... I decided to call the $200 callout number and tell whoever answered that I didn't want them to “come out” and cost me $200 or whatever, and just wanted to know how to get onto the airport.

Luckily, the person that answered the phone had a good answer! He gave us directions to a special door with a keypad, and the code to get in. It was already 5:45am, but we were gonna get out early after all!

A quiet morning

The takeoff was unremarkable, and afterwards, @coda slept/dozed while I flew for about 3 hours. The terrain I saw was breathtaking.

Beautiful picture of mountains This was just west of the great salt flats. Just gorgeous mountains.

Beautiful scenery Now starting to fly over the Great Salt Lake of Utah.

Sun reflecting off mountains More of the Great Salt Lake.

Mountains over farmland The mountains just to the east of the salt lake. Continuing east.

Beautiful terrain over Wyoming

More Wyoming Terrain More Wyoming Terrain More Wyoming terrain. That state is so beautiful.

Yes, more

Here's the track route for this segment of the journey Picture of a track log

Time for things to get messy

As we got within an hour or so of Denver, @coda woke up and started getting ready to fly. I could see up ahead that we had some weather brewing, and having my “autopilot” ready was quite important.

Up ahead, near the city of Cheyenne Wyoming, storms were a brewing. Down near Fort Collins, a thunderstorm had developed next to the mountains. Little bits of it seemed to be breaking off to the north and heading towards Cheyenne, then east. With @coda behind the controls, I turned my attention back to all the sources of information at my disposal: ATC, Flight Service, and ADS-B NexRAD weather.

The closer we got, the worse it looked. The rain was thickening up more and more. I searched for a way in, and saw a path where the NexRAD was showing a gap we might be able to fly through. It lead roughly from the Pine Bluffs airport to the Gill VOR. As we flew closer and closer, I heard and watched another airplane successfully navigate that path going the other direction. I figured we should go for it.

Some of the rain to the north of Denver However, as we got closer, the rain to the south looked more like a wall, and no gap was found. Talking to ATC, they suggested we continue east into Nebraska and turn south around Kimball, Nebraska. This deviation added at least 30 minutes to our flight, but it got us around the worst of the weather.

We continued our descent into Denver. I'd like to say that my landing at Rocky Mountain Airport was nice, but it really wasn't. Perhaps because of the high altitude or perhaps because of my exhaustion, I wound up bouncing it down the runway. Ah well. Any landing you can walk away from, right? 😆

Our course wound up looking like this Our final course near Denver

Down in the Valley

After landing and securing the airplane, I met up with my coworker Joelle who would be helping us out with her truck. @coda hopped a taxi/uber/lyft into downtown to spend some time on the town while Joelle and I started a 2 hour drive north into the Denver Mountains Driving in the Denver Mountains

The drive was beautiful and rustic. Joelle's truck got covered in dirt and grime. We arrived at the house and helped @norintha pack her things.

Truck all dirty With the truck loaded up, @norintha said her goodbyes, then we left to go back towards the airport.

Back at the airport

Weather Radar Wouldn't you know it, as we were heading back to the airport, another thunderstorm started to brew up just southwest of the airport. Being in a truck, and not a plane, made this infinitely safer, but it looked like it would be a pain in the butt loading the airplane with all the stuff while it rained. Also, the rain storm kinda looked like some sort of Pac-Man trying to eat the airport, IDK.

Luckily, we somehow managed to arrive just in time. The composite radar showed rain descending over the runways only but nothing was hitting the ground, and we were north of the runways on the ramp. We drove out onto the ramp and quickly loaded up the plane. @coda had even finished hanging out in the city and came back to help out and get dinner with us afterwards.

Two folks stand in front of an airplane, loaded with boxes Somehow, we managed to get all the crap in the plane before any rain fell on our heads. I carefully weighed each box and calculated the weight and balance for the airplane with each box, making sure that all the boxes met the appropriate weight requirements for flying in each location they were in. It was wild seeing the plane so full to the gills with all that stuff, but it also felt really neat.

The plane finished, we decided to get dinner near the airport. I did a yelp search and saw a British pub basically on the airport grounds! We drive over there in Joelle's car and had a delicious British dinner. It was worth it. All 4 of us were exhausted from all of the work and travel that day.

After dinner, I looked up where our hotel was. I knew it was near the airport, as it was another “free” hotel I got in walking distance so we could get out early in the morning again. As we walked back to Joelle's truck, I discovered that we were... already there. The pub we just ate at was literally the restaurant for the hotel we were staying at. I waited until we were at the truck and pretended to give directions for how to get to our hotel. “Okay, what you're gonna wanna do is... stay right here. We're here!”

@coda departed the party and went to the Denver International Airport to catch a commercial flight home. @norintha and I tucked into the quaint English-themed hotel. The bed was soft and while I didn't get a full 8 hours, I definitely got a really good night's sleep.

Read Part 4!!!

This is part of a 5 part series on my adventures helping my friend move. Check out part 1 and start there!

The plan

My flight plan from KRHV to KEKO

To make sure that I was able to minimize the amount of flying I'd be doing during the hottest parts of the day, I planned to do most of my flying taking off right around dawn. Unfortunately, doing so on the first leg, out of Reid-Hillview, could be a problem. Specifically, San Jose has a nasty habit of being covered by a blanket of clouds every morning until as late as 10:00AM, and I'm not an instrument rated pilot (yet).

To avoid being trapped inside San Jose and being forced to do a lot of flying during the heat of the day, I decided that we'd fly out part way on Friday evening, close to sunset. This would avoid the hottest parts of the day over the desert and get us out of San Jose while we could.

The first planned route was KRHV VPBAV VPBAS HNW SWR FMG LLC BAM KEKO. It would take roughly 3 hours to traverse. At the other end, I used some rewards points and got us a “free” hotel directly across the street from the airport.

My partner @coda agreed at the last minute to join me on our flight out to Denver. They've learned enough about flying now that they can help out with things like steering the plane and such, reducing the workload on me and giving me more brain space to work on other problems. I knew that we were going to run into the possibilities of bad weather on our way out there, and having them as a sort of “co-pilot” would really help.

Heading out

The California Central Valley We departed Reid-Hillview around 4:30pm on Friday evening. Our plan was to fly to Elko, NV and get there before the sunset, since we didn't want to be dealing with mountains in the way. With 3 hours of flying in front of us, that left us basically an extra 60-90 minutes of sufficient light to see where we were going. While we would also have moonlight, I didn't want to rely on it. I also didn't want to leave so early that we'd be running into really bad weather.

The area around Yuba Pass As we climbed up over the Sierra Nevada mountain range, I called up flight service, reported our position, and started asking about the weather up ahead. According to them, there was a thunderstorm just southwest of Lovelock that was heading northwest and would probably get in our way. We continued on, recognizing that we may have to divert before we got there.

A weird grove of trees near Yuba Pass I don't know what this collection of trees is, but we saw it just east of Yuba Pass and it was wild looking, so I snapped a photo of it.

The first blocks of weather

The Nevada Desert near Reno As we went west of Reno, I called up Flight Service again to talk about our options. Things had degraded massively. The weather south of Lovelock had moved out of our way for the most part. But the weather around Battle Mountain was horrible and getting worse by the second. A massive storm, easily 30 miles in diameter, was brewing and getting worse and worse. This was smack dab right between us and our destination. Flight Service advised that we do not continue our flight past Lovelock, and I agreed. But what to do instead?

One of the cool things about using Foreflight and an ADS-B equipped airplane is that we were able to view the same weather radar information that Flight Service and ATC were looking at. As @coda flew the plane further east on our course, I poured over the map and considered our options.

A zoom in of our flight plan Looking at this map of where we wanted to go, you can see that Battle Mountain was smack dab directly between us and Elko. Looking past the clusterfuck that was at Battle Mountain, we could see that Elko was still in the clear. In theory, we could still get over there... But how? Going north wasn't a good option. That flew us into other weather that had already continued north, and put us right in the path of some of this really bad weather. Plus, it would eat a lot of time that we didn't necessarily have. That option out, I looked south.

Now, south of Lovelock, Battle Mountain, and Elko, the weather seemed largely good. While there were some rain storms down there, they weren't yet developing into the monster thunderstorms they would become further to the north. They were just dark clouds and gentle rain down there, at least from the radar. But getting there would require us to fly through restricted airspace.

I called up Flight Service and asked if that would work out. They said “Huh. Yeah, actually. That looks good to us over here.” I thanked them and flipped over to ATC and asked permission to go through the restricted airspace.

ATC: “Well uh, R-4813 is currently active. We have special use military vehicles active in that area.”

Me: “What about R-4816? Could we go through there?”

ATC: “Yeah, actually. That should work. You are cleared through restricted area 4816”

WOO HOOO!!! That meant we could make it in good time towards our destination. We pressed on!

I don't know what kinds of “special use” vehicles they had over there, but I do know that a flight of several F-16s in tight formation wound up flying right underneath us as we passed through the restricted airspace.

Dark clouds over the desert We carefully and cautiously approached the dark band of clouds that was feeding the monster thunderstorm some 60 miles north of us at Battle Mountains. It was largely uneventful. A little rain, a little minor turbulence, and we were through. That put us through the weakest part of the line of storms and left us seemingly in the clear to reach our destination. We began our left turn towards the mountains, steering down the valleys between the tall mountains below us.

Racing to the finish line

As we closed in on our destination, we checked in again with NexRAD and Flight Service to see how we were doing. To our horror, a thunderstorm had developed over the top of Elko. Worse, another system was starting to build just south of it and was heading right for Elko.

It was starting to look more and more like we weren't going to be able to put into Elko this evening. I pulled out my iPad and started researching alternative destinations to go to. Having lost time for our existing diversion, we didn't have a lot of daylight left to spend. The best place for a diversion, I thought, would be Wendover, UT, a small town 90 miles east of Elko. I should have liked to go further, perhaps all the way to Salt Lake City, but looking on NexRAD indicated the presence of more thunderstorms in the way, and I wasn't about to start navigating around those at night.

We travelled up the valley, silently hoping for the weather around Elko to move further north. And... it started to. The weather reports I was getting on the ground seemed to be clearing up.

But it was hard to be sure, right? While having all this information on board the airplane is fantastic to help you make the right decisions, ultimately it is only advisory. The reality is what you see with your eyes when you get there. The weather reports sounded better, but were they actually better? I decided we'd fly past Elko on our way to Wendover to get a better look.

It was around this time that I noticed we were flying up a valley north right in between two thunderstorms. Uhhh. NO. I took the controls and executed a quick 90º turn to the right to switch valleys and get us a little more space from the storms. We skirted the northwest edge of a TFR (A temporary flight restriction due, in this case, to fire fighting.) and came up along the Ruby Dome mountains.

Rain over the desert At this point, the small rain storm just south of Elko was starting to develop into a thunderstorm of its own. We watched lighting come out of it and strike a peak just south of the town. We were racing it north, keeping far to the east of it, watching it grow in strength.

Battle Mountain Clusterfuck As we moved further north, we finally could see the giant fuck-off thunderstorm that was hovering over Battle Mountain to the northwest, miles beyond Elko. That thing was a monster.

By some miracle, as we worked our way north next to Ruby Dome, Elko came into view. Beautiful. Clear. VFR for days. While the small storm loomed to the south of it, Elko itself was clear for now. I viewed the situation carefully.

I know that flying near thunderstorms can be extremely dangerous, especially in their path. They can cause severe turbulence even in the clear air ahead of them, lulling unwary pilots into their dangerous traps.

With this knowledge in my head, I considered several things all at once. 1. The storm just south of Elko was small and slow. It wasn't very strong. 2. Diverting to Wendover at this point would result in us needing to do a little bit of night flying over unfamiliar mountainous terrain, not something I was keen on. 3. I had the Elko airport in sight, and knew we could be on the ground in less than 5 minutes.

I put it all together and made what was probably the riskiest decision of the whole flight. I turned left and made for the Elko airport. I descended quickly over the town, made a beeline for the runway, and landed with nary a blip of turbulence.

As we rolled out down the runway, both of us let out a little cheer of nervousness and relief. We were on the ground, safe, and done flying for the evening. We rolled over to the fuel pods to refuel the airplane and watch the storm.

Landed at Elko, with storm in background The rain storm briefly dropped a little rain on our heads, but quickly moved north and west of the town, ignoring us. Shortly after this, multiple other airplanes started to arrive, including at least one commercial jet. We tied the airplane down, grabbed our bags, and left.

Our final course looked like this Our final flight track

An evening in Elko

Figuring out how to get out of the airport was hard. Both of us had missed dinner, and were famished and tired. We grabbed the first door out of the airport, even though we didn't see a door code or any way back in, and headed for dinner. We had food at this amazing Mexican place next to the airport called Costa Vida, then crossed the street to go to our hotel.

The Hampton Inn we stayed at was surprisingly posh and comfy for being “free” for us, and honestly pretty cheap even if it wasn't free. @coda and I turned in, watched the new Rocko's Modern Life movie on Netflix, then went to bed in a super comfy bed, alarms set for 4:30am the next morning.

Read Part 3!!!!

The mission

My friend @norintha has been in a rough living situation in Denver, CO for a while. The environment and situation wasn't working for her at all. She made arrangements to leave and move to Reno, NV, and her friends there were going to come get her.

And then their car broke down.

My friend was now trapped up there with no way out and few, if any, local friends who had the resources to help out.

That's where I come in.

One thought was that I could grab a Friday night commercial flight out to Denver, rent a big van for a 1 way drive, drive up into the mountains Saturday, pack her stuff, then spend 16+ hours driving her to Reno and another few hours driving myself home before turning in the car.

Another option... I own an airplane with an awesome amount of weight carrying capacity for a small plane. In less time, for actually less money... I could fly my plane out to Denver, pack the plane full of my friend's stuff, and fly her and her stuff to Reno, NV. My airplane with doors open

After careful review of weather forecasts, weight estimates, and more... I chose the latter.

The danger of the mission

So far in my flying adventures, I've only flown east of California once, out to the Grand Canyon. Prior to that, I've mostly flown around California and north to Oregon. Some of these have been excellent and long flight in their own right, but flying all the way to Denver, CO is unlike any of those from before.

Danger 1: High Altitude Flight

Picture of a Mountain, suggesting high altitudes

Most of my flying to date has been with the ground well below 3000 ft MSL (Median Sea Level). Most of the trip out to Denver has the ground well above 5000 ft. MSL, with considerable portions as high as 8000 ft. MSL. This changes a LOT about flying.

To give yourself enough distance above the ground to get things like nice glide distances in case of an engine out, cruising altitudes as high as 11,500 ft. MSL may be necessary. At that altitude, the airplane engine, airfoil, and pilot all find their performance levels reduced by the lower density of air that higher altitudes have.

Engines need to combust a mixture of fuel and air in order to produce a maximum output. As you reduce the air molecules available in a given volume, it gets harder and harder for the engine to produce that level of horsepower.

Wings, control surfaces, and propellors do their thing by interacting with air molecules that flow over them. Reduce the amount of air molecules around them, and you also reduce the effectiveness of all of these things. Landings, take offs, and more are all negatively affected, and careful calculation of how much runway will be necessary at a given altitude, as well as what kinds of climb rates to expect, are vital.

And last, but not least, human pilots need plenty of oxygen to enable their brain to function well. Reduced air density at high altitudes means reduced amount of oxygen available to the pilot. While FAA regulations don't require supplemental oxygen below 12,500 ft. MSL, pilots and passengers both can start to experience minor degrees of hypoxia well below that. Even a small reduction in blood oxygen levels can have significant effects on the ability of a pilot to process the information and make the decisions necessary for the accomplishment of a safe flight.

Danger 2: Desert Heat and Mountains

A view just east of Reno, NV Most of the environment between here and Denver, CO consists of what we call “high desert” environments. Hot, high altitude areas with lots of mountainous terrain. This makes for some unique challenges.

Hot air tends to be less dense than cooler air. As a result, even if the airplane is flying at, say, 11,500 ft MSL, hotter air might make the airplane “feel” as though its flying even higher. This affects all of the same things that high altitude affects, including the engine, airfoils, and human pilots. The altitude that the air “feels like” is referred to as the “Density Altitude” and it is critical to calculate what that is when flying in high desert environments.

Heat is also one of the things that energizes air flow. Hotter air, in a sense, “gets excited.” As air gets heated up, it tends to rise, creating thermals, clouds, wind gusts, and more. Over the hot deserts in the afternoon, this can create turbulence that is virtually unbearable, or in some cases, downright dangerous.

All that hot air moving around gets even more exciting when it encounters mountains. In these scenarios air acts a lot like water does when traveling over the rapids. It splashes up over a mountain range, accelerates over the peaks, and rapidly drops off the other side. In valleys and narrow passes, it can accelerate to extremely high speeds. All of this can create extremely dangerous downdrafts that airplanes will struggle to get out of in the high density altitude around them.

Understanding the affects of heat, especially around mountains, is vital to navigating difficult environments like these.

Reason 3: Challenging Weather

Hot air causing air to rise and move around? Whatever could that result in? A thunderstorm dropping rain far to the left of this airplane Oh yeah. Rain. More importantly, thunderstorms.

Thunderstorms are nobody's friend in the air. Flying within a thunderstorm's area of influence can result in turbulence so severe it can rip the wings off your airplane and hurtle you to the ground. Even the big commercial jets steer well clear of these powerful convective systems.

In California, where I've done most of my flying, the weather is almost always clear skies and sunny. The only clouds I have to deal with are the marine layer that comes in and blankets the city in a thin layer of cloud a thousand or so feet above the ground. On the rare occasion that we do get some “real weather” out here, it's easy to just cancel flying plans and stay on the ground and not worry about all of that.

Unfortunately, if you want to fly pretty much anywhere else in the country, especially over the high desert in the summer, you're going to have to contend with this kind of weather and figure out how to navigate it.

Preparing for the mission

Dangers of the flight loaded up in my mind, I began preparing for the flight several weeks in advance. I studied everything I could on thunderstorm avoidance. I watched air safety videos about people who flew into these monster storms and died. I reflected on mistakes I've made in the past myself. I studied the weather forecasts on many different sources, especially AccuWeather and Windy TV. It looked as though most of the worst weather was going to be out of our way, though the chaos of weather meant this could never be counted on entirely. I talked to fellow pilots about my plans and got their ideas of what I should and shouldn't do out there, especially ideas about routing.

Given the size of the stuff my friend was bringing back with us, I decided to pull out the seats in my airplane to make for extra room and give us a little more weight headroom. The back of my airplane, sans seats

I wrote up VFR flight plans, submitting them to the FAA, and prepared. The journey began Friday, August 9, 2019.

Read Part 2!!

At this point in time, I would say my philosophy aligns with a sort of objective materialist or rational skeptic or IDK what the words are. However, I also think that there's a really weird thing that happens when humans come around with their language and society. Through sheer belief, humans seem to have the ability to get other humans to act as though something is real, even if it has no bearing on the physical substrate of reality.

Humans have this weird ability to “play pretend” about things. But they do it so much that they don't even realize they're doing it half the time.

I'm being reductive of course. It's a lot more complicated than that. The shared reality that humans build is a result of social contracts, agreements, beliefs, and more. In my experience, most of we interact with as humans is part of this shared “pretend” reality that exists only because we collectively will it to be so.

Take money for example. Currency. Numbers in a database or pieces of paper or coins. They have value merely because we will them to have such. Without those beliefs, they have no value. Yet we spend so much of our lives chasing money, struggling to get enough to survive, and so on. Much of our lives centers around it.

Some people confuse our “make believe” world of shared ideas, beliefs, and agreements with the solid substrate of reality. Some people think that how much wealth someone has is a real thing, just as real as a cloud or a tree or a rock.

It's not. If you went to a deserted island or a far away planet, disconnected from the rest of society, your money and wealth would cease to have any meaning.

But within this society that believes in it, it has real power to affect things.

In truth, the things we pretend are real... The things we make believe about... They have so much power, they can literally move mountains, reshape continents, move the planet. They can kill us or bring us joy. These mere ideas and beliefs shape us just as we shape them.

Here's where things get really exciting. The relationship between our identities and the shared fantasy of reality are complex, intricate and oh so interesting.

It's one thing to do psychological analysis or sociology on identity. It's another to realize that you have the power to reshape your identity at will. That the very things that define who we are as people are also stories we tell, fictions we create.

For example, to realize you don't need to participate in static binary gender the way you were told you had to as a child. You can change your gender, abstain from gender, or go deeper in it. You don't have to be heterosexual. You don't have to follow the narrative of finding a single spouse and getting married. You don't have to follow the narratives that exist in this culture.

The rules that you have to be these things and do these things are just like money... shared ideas that exist only because people say they do. They're not real like a cloud or tree is...

Going deeper, the ideas of who and what we are are also fantasies. The idea that you're an individual being with your own single separate and independent thoughts and ideas is a story you tell yourself.

What are you really? You're a collection of cells, some of which have neurons that fire in a complex pattern we have labelled a “neural network.” No part of that is you. You are a story that thing tells.

That's not to say that it's not a useful story. It can be useful to treat yourself as a single independent entity. But you could just as easily model yourself as a collection of independent entities or as part of a network of minds connected via sounds transmitted over the air and electronic signals transmitted over the internet.

You could do all of these at once, or none of them.

When you're free to write the story yourself... To create the model by which you interpret your own experiences... the power there is incredible. Singlet, plural, interconnected multi-body being...

We can even step away from trying to tell a story about what our brains are doing and just envelop ourselves in fictions and stories of our own making, instead of the overall collective story. We can tell a story about being a cat, or a bird, or a robot, or a dragon...

There's a reason that the Matrix was written by two trans women. Their story reflects a lot of these ideas. That when you see that so much of the world we exist in is a shared belief or fiction, you gain the ability to rewrite it and to work with it in a new way.

Sometimes, you need something, perhaps a preference for a different gender narrative, so strongly that it causes you to break the Matrix we live in and realize that we can do and be so much more than the stories that usually get forced on us.

I'm still a materialist. I don't believe that gods or angels or magic really exist in some of the ways people say they do. I don't think spells or prayers work.

But I think that shared human beliefs are incredibly powerful. I've seen the way that ideas can reshape people and landscapes. I've been a part of that.

It is there, in the space of what humans believe, and the powerful affects of those beliefs, that I do recognize the reality of magic.

I recently had the opportunity to “pitch” Mastodon to a couple wonderful friends of mine, and in doing so, got them excited about Mastodon and the fediverse. It caused me to reflect on what really excites me about Mastodon and the fediverse at large. There's a few things that specifically jump out at me.

  • Your service provider is a person or small group, not a corporation seeking to exploit you.
  • You own your relationships and can pick up and move anywhere in the fediverse without losing your relationships
  • There are many different services in the fediverse. You're not tied to one paradigm or social network. It's really many social networks working together.
  • Mastodon has locality. It has neighborhoods and spaces.

Let's look at each one in more detail!

Your service provider is not a corporation seeking to exploit you

Mastodon is a piece of software that enables anyone to create a social network. While a corporation could create such a network, most of the social networks that have been created within the fediverse have been created by individuals or small groups of people dedicated to serving a small community. Instead of a source of income, mastodon serers are typically paid for by their community or by the generosity of their administrators.

Corporate social networks and messengers like Twitter, Facebook, Discord, Instagram, etc. are designed to provide users with a free service in exchange for using their personal information to make money. Whether this is through advertising, selling products, or whatever, the intention is to make money. Frequently, these services wind up modifying the content users consume in order to increase their interactions with that service. This can lead to emphasizing emotionally arousing content, such as descriptions of people being awful to one another, etc. inadvertently skewing user's perception of the world and the people in it.

Mastodon based social networks typically don't engage in this behavior. While there's nothing stopping them from doing so, leaving a mastodon social network that is misbehaving is super easy, which leads us to our next benefit.

You own your relationships

One of the biggest problems I have with Facebook in particular is the fact that it holds your relationships hostage. If you don't have a Facebook account and follow their rules, you cannot interact with the people on there. If Facebook begins to engage in behavior you don't approve of, leaving Facebook involves leaving those relationships behind. Given the degree to which Facebook inserts itself into the social interactions people have with one another, this can result in such extremes as entirely losing contact with friends outside of Facebook, if social events and communication were predominantly done on Facebook.

(Twitter and some of the other social networks aren't as bad, allowing people without accounts to read public posts from users of their social network. But the problem still exists.)

This isn't the case when using Mastodon. As a decentralized collection of interoperating but independent social networks, for the most part if you don't like the policies or choices of the individuals that run your local server, you can move and bring all of your relationships with you. As long as you are using a social network that is compatible with Mastodon, you can talk to anyone that is using Mastodon anywhere in the fediverse.

For example, If you make a lot of friends on coolkids.chat, you could move to radfolks.city and still follow and chat with all of the friends you made on coolkids.chat. For the most part, there are no restrictions on who you can talk to. There are even tools for exporting and importing the lists of people you follow so that you can easily migrate to a new server.

Your relationships and friendships are never limited. You don't have to choose between your friends and your values if you don't like the values of the people running your social network. You can just leave and keep chatting like nothing ever happened.

(It is true that some servers fully block other servers in the fediverse. However, nothing stops folks from having multiple accounts with different server wide block lists, or finding servers that don't block the servers you want to interact with.)

The Fediverse is diverse

Sometimes when I first describe Mastodon to someone, they complain about the confusing nature of decentralization, asking “Why do they have to make it like that?” Lately, I've been wanting to turn that around and say “Why does the fediverse have to be Mastodon?”

Mastodon is NOT the whole of the fediverse. It's one piece of software for running a twitter like social network. There are many other free social network platforms out there that folks can get and use to run their own social networks. And the best part about those platforms is that they interoperate with Mastodon and every other piece of software that uses the common “ActivityPub” language.

Here are a few examples of other pieces of software, and the social media networks you can create with them.

  • Pleroma: Another twitter-like replacement
  • PixelFed: An instagram replacement
  • NextCloud: A Google Drive/Office/Talk/Etc. replacement with twitter-like functionality
  • WriteFreely: A minimalist long-form blogging platform like Blogger or Medium
  • Plume: A more fully featured blogging platform closer to Wordpress or Blogger or similar
  • PeerTube: A self-hosted replacement for Youtube

Even better, if you start on one platform and migrate to another, you can still follow and read all of the content being published by the users to used to follow on the previous platform. They're all (more or less) completely interoperable. If you prefer an instagram style interface, join a Pixelfed network. But you can still see videos posted by folks using PeerTube and “toots” by Mastodon users and long blog articles written by Plume users... All from within your Pixelfed account!

And more platforms are showing up every day!

The fediverse has locality

On many corporate networks, there is a single social network on which all of the users exist. All are subject to the rules and regulations of the single, centralized administration team. Discovery of new users to follow is done by following people you already know and seeing who they follow, through algorithm controlled high level recommendations, or through discovering off site, such as finding the social media accounts of celebrities.

While it's true that within the fediverse, any user can follow any other user anywhere in the fediverse, and could theoretically discover the fediverse addresses of public figures off site and follow them.... The fediverse has something else going on that creates some richer experiences.

Instead of being a single large pool of users, users are all located in smaller social networks that interoperate. This creates various levels of discovery. There is no central algorithm recommending users to people. Instead, you can use the local timeline to see users that are using the same server as you, and you can use the federated timeline to find users that are using servers that your server knows about.

That federated timeline can sometimes be hard to explain, so let me spend an extra paragraph on it. The federated timeline is a composite of all public posts from users follows by people on your local server, as well as all public posts from servers that share any relays your administrators have subscribed to. Put simply, it's all public posts from everyone “nearby” to your server.

This means that one server in the fediverse might have one kind of perspective on the larger fediverse, while a different server has a completely different perspective. In a sense, there are real “neighborhoods,” that you “live” in, and each neighborhood might look and feel entirely different.

Most importantly, each individual server in the fediverse is independently moderated. What kinds of speech, behavior, and content are acceptable on each server is completely determined by that server. There is no central authority to make decisions about what kinds of content are permitted overall.

Moderators on large corporate social networks apply a broad brush towards everyone, frequently disenfranchising marginalized groups of people or indirectly influencing political situations by banning certain kinds of speech. In the mastodon compatible fediverse, you can always find a server that will permit the kinds of content you want to talk about. At worst, you could theoretically create your own with your own rules.

The fediverse having locality means that different social network “neighborhoods” within the fediverse have different kinds of content. In one “neighborhood”, you might see radical folks arguing for violent revolution, but not allowing erotic content. Another “neighborhood” might encourage erotic content but not ban highly charged political content. Another “neighborhood” might be dedicated to free unfettered speech, while another might ban anyone that even remotely engages in bigotry or hate speech.

What's probably the most amazing about this is that servers can exist “in between” these neighborhoods. Even when two servers refuse to talk to one another, you can talk to them both so long as you don't run afoul of their rules of who they will and won't talk to. Perhaps you're a server dedicated to open source conversation and don't want to get involved in political arguments. Your users could theoretically follow users from servers dedicated to leftist dialogue as well as conservative dialogue, despite those two servers perhaps blocking one another.

Locality allows every server in the fediverse to make its own decisions about who it wants to interact with, instead of requiring everyone to adhere to a single arbitrary set of rules provided from on high.

Note

I've used the term server and social network interchangeable above. Outside of this post, people sometimes refer to these as instances. I am referring to the independent social networks that are created when a user runs their own social network software. In other words, a single mastodon server is its own independent social network interoperable with other social networks that run compatible software.

Seeing Jack on twitter talking to Trump about how to improve the degree of civil discourse on their platform strikes me as utterly absurd. Asking the person who is one of the least civil members of your platform for advice on how to improve civility is like asking the wolf that keeps eating your sheep how to do a better job protecting the sheep.

That said, I think I understand what Jack is trying to do, and to some degree I do applaud him for trying. But he's going about it all wrong.

My feelings on civility

I'm a huge fan of civility, respect, and mutual discussion. I myself have talked to conservatives to have difficult conversations about how to respect their beliefs better. I think it's really important to be able to have those kinds of conversations with people with whom you disagree.

However

I think one of the things that's missing from the conversation about civility is the conversation about ground rules FOR those civil conversations. Basically, a conversation can only be civil if all participants in that conversation agree to rules on how that conversation is going to go. And I think it is here that we are seeing problems in the state of modern discourse online and elsewhere.

Well, Actually and other forms of “rational debate”

In the atheism/skeptic communities I sometimes associated with, I sometimes see this attitude of “I am always open for rational debate” with folks. The idea seems to be that they are open to discuss any subject at any time. I think the reality of this is that they are not actually open to any subject at any time, but any reasonable subject at any reasonable time, where “reasonable” is an unspoken set of expectations they have of the ground rules for the conversation.

If I woke you up at 3 in the morning to debate whether or not the concept of ownership extends to the house you're living in and how I think I should have it instead of you, you might have a problem with that discussion. This is uncivil because it wildly breaks the ground rules of civil conversation you generally expect.

Where civility actually comes from

Real civility, in my opinion, comes from a place of mutual respect for one another's boundaries and limitations. It arises from establishing explicit ground rules for a conversation, and editing those ground rules as the conversation continues and new boundaries and limits are realized.

Ground rules change between different people and different contexts, as well as different days. When I've gone to schools and taught my “Trans 101” discussion, I'm perfectly willing to entertain and discuss really sensitive parts of my identity and even to some degree the validity of my experiences and the experiences of other trans people. That's something specific to that context, though, and outside of that context, those discussions are off limits. I get to choose when I'm open to those conversations, not others.

Ground rules enables everyone to have control in the conversation. Everyone gets to consent to it. If any party doesn't agree to those ground rules, then we don't have that conversation. THAT is a lack of respect and civility, when we don't permit others to set the terms of conversations that we would like to have with them.

This is why jumping into someone's mentions to “well, actually” them or start debating them is absurd. When the discussion is CLEARLY violating the ground rules of the people you're trying to talk to, continuing to push that conversation is a violation of civility. Not wanting to have a conversation on a particular subject at a particular time is not unreasonable or “irrational” of a person. It's good and healthy boundaries. It's good ground rules for conversations.

To this end, that's why a person wanting to have a “civil debate” about whether or not trans people are legitimate is going to find themselves yelled at and shouted at. It's not because of a “difference of opinion.” It's because they are not agreeing to a set of ground rules with the trans people they are trying to communicate with.

When civility is inappropriate

There's another layer to this. Civility is nice and all, and I very strongly appreciate it and hope to foster it in more and more of my interactions. But sometimes, civility is completely inappropriate.

When someone with power uses that power to harm you or others, it is reasonable to break the rules of civility to resist or fight back. I would even go so far as to say it is more than reasonable, but frequently necessary and vital for fighting back against that harm.

Civility pushed for by people already in power, using the ground rules they alone have established, is not a call for civility but a call for subjugation and a refusal to respect their own ground rules for conversation. It is precisely the opposite of civil discourse to engage in discussion that others do not wish to have.

Conversely, when those that are not in power fight back against power, they are not beholden to the rules of civil discourse, because civility has already been removed from the table. You have no obligation to be polite to a person that is threatening to harm you.

Content Warning: References to the Twilight Zone 2019 S1:E1

Content and Consumer

Content creation is a funny thing. Whether you produce jokes, art, music, software, games, thinkpieces, articles, reviews, videos, etc... When you create for an audience, there is a strange relationship that occurs between you and that audience. At first, the approval and delight of fans over what you've created is amazing. But as the audience grows, so too does your service to that audience. Fans that come to see you do one thing will be turned off if you do something different. A pressure to conform to your prior self comes into play. If you start to become concerned about growing your audience, you might seek more and more things that are likely to have mass appeal. The uniqueness of what you create may fade away as you polish and hone it into a reflection of the audience you desire.

Now, this isn't a bad thing. At least, not inherently. It's a description of some of the ways that content creation relates creator with consumer, performer with audience. To achieve success in finding and keeping an audience is a challenge whose accomplishment is the result of great luck and skill. It's also really important, because so much of our culture relies upon some individuals taking part in content creation of this nature, to mold, shape, reflect, and guide our communal cultures and subcultures.

Watching the first episode of the new Twilight Zone series, it really struck me that it was very much about some of the darker aspects of this. The fact that whenever you build an audience, the audience slowly lays claim to what you are. Deviation from that results in rejection, frustration, and an end to the praise and approval you had derived from creating what the audience had come to provide.

That's one reason why dissociating your content creation from your self can be so valuable. Maybe you produce music as a music act instead of as yourself. So one act could be the name you produce synthwave music under, while another act is your christian rock performance, while another is for your EDM experiments. This is also true of game development studios, review publishers, etc. The audience may lay claim to your act, band, company, studio, publisher, etc... But not to you...

Consumption of self

But the best art can often be found as a reflection of deeply personal experiences. A reflection and expression of you, your own self. . In the Twlight Zone episode, a comedian discovers he has the power to offer parts of his life to his audience to great results. But once he does so, those parts of his life vanish. Ultimately, he gives the audience the only thing he has left, his self... and thus he vanishes.

There's a reflection of this in reality, especially in modern social media. People continually fight for likes, shares, and subscriptions. Tokens of approval and praise. Opportunities for growth and larger audiences. This happens on youtube, blogs, microblogs, image sharing sites, etc. People are hungry to have large audiences for the content they produce. To find what content will draw a large audience and lots of approval. And often? That content is a reflection of their own self.

But as the audience lays claim to that self... What happens?

Youtuber Lindsey Ellis goes into some of this in her video YouTube: Manufacturing Authenticity (For Fun and Profit!)

Youtubers report tons of stress and anxiety about the whole thing. And multiple folks have talked about this experience of having their performer self being an alternate version of themselves. While they attempt to sell themself, they start to build a persona to sell instead.

This idea bothers me at a fundamental level. To see constraints on what one can create. To have an audience judge and demand you create something to fulfill their needs, in line with what you've created before... To see your own self consumed by your audience. It sounds exciting and horrifying at the same time.

Keeping a low profile

Throughout my career as a software engineer, as well as an activist, adventurer, game developer, musician, and more... one goal I've always had is to maintain a relatively low profile. I don't want to be noticed. I never want to develop such a large audience that I feel like I have to maintain consistency within myself to meet their needs. I value growth, change, and dynamicism too much. Even perhaps more importantly, I value freedom.

I grew up being effectively brain washed by my family members. Taught to follow precisely only the rules given. Taught not to ever experiment outside that. Taught to never draw outside the lines as it were, and if the lines were not apparent, to not draw at all. I was constrained and choked as a person and unable to live a full human life. When I transitioned, they literally blackmailed me, stalked me, harassed me, threatened me, and did other things to try to get me to stay within their world and under their control.

As a result, I never want to go back to that. I hunger for the ability to choose my own path as much as possible. Of course, no one can fully do that... It's only by cooperating and working with others that we can live well and happily, and to work with others is to continually compromise and negotiate. But I choose those contraints. I enter into agreements with others to live with those constraints in exchange for our mutual interaction. Partners and I are together for mutual support and love in exchange for having to work towards ensuring one anothers emotional comfort and fulfill one another's needs. Etc.

The parasocial relationships that develop when you've gained even a modicum of fame are terrifying to me. They sound positively awful. To be a figure instead of person. To have people consuming your self without the ability to directly and explicitly negotiate what that self is.

For me, my digital social self must be social, not parasocial. If my relationships with others aren't individually negotiable, I don't want to have them. I don't want to ever achieve or do anything that would result in tons of people knowing who I was and having a parasocial relationship with me where I couldn't negotiate the terms of that relationship back. And I think that is an inherent consequence of building a large enough audience and trying to attract attention, approval, likes, shares, and subscriptions. A modicum of success in having an audience results in this relationship being broken.

Well that was fun! We flew out to Portland yesterday in our plane and... I'd say that was both the most harrowing, most fun, and most exciting flight I've ever done!

Planning the trip

For the past month, I've been trying to figure out how and when to visit my friend Amy up in Portland. I planned this trip

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KRHV to KPDX via KRDD KMFR KRBG

But the problem with that route is that the Oregon weather was having none of it. I originally planned on flying out there for Easter, but the weather forecasts looked bad for it, so I tried the weekend before that looked better. It looked nice for a few days in the forecast, and then the forecast changed again. For an entire month, I kept going back and forth before settling on this weekend.

Unfortunately, the weather for even this weekend started to look bad. Looking at the weather of the course above, it looked like it was going to be overcast throughout most of Oregon. Now, the clouds DID kinda maybe look like they were going to be high enough to safely fly under... But we had to come over mountains first... Was there going to be a way in under the clouds? Only time would tell.

After talking through the plan with my pilot friends, I decided the best course of action would be to fly up to Siskiyou and evaluate the situation from there. So that's what we did!

Onto the flight

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One of the other problems with the flight was that there were some NASTY headwinds, especially at altitude. I tried going up to 8500, but was getting maybe 100kts ground speed. So I dropped down 2000 ft to 6500 and that was much much better. You can see me do that in this chart:

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Moderate Turbulence

At 6500, there was some very light turbulence, but nothing too major. However, when we got to Redding, things changed.

See, north of redding the terrain gets... bumpy. Here look

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And uh, there's also this big boi

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So like... Normally in that area, I want to be going around 10500 to have enough clearance and stay out of all the thrashing winds that hit you down below... But that wasn't really a good option here. So on we went at 6500ish.

As soon as we got north of redding, the turbulence starting throwing the plane about near constantly. I was focused on the controls and physically fighting the winds tossing the plane around. Avery described it like being on a speedboat. I'd been in turbulence like this before, but this was definitely up there.

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Just south of weed, though, we hit some sort of downdraft worse than anything I've ever experienced. For a moment, it felt like we were in free fall. Everything in the plane went flying. My passengers bumped their heads on the ceiling, even. It was intense.

Luckily... That was the end of it... After that, it calmed down and by the time we hit Siskiyou, it was over.

Decision point

Now we had the difficult decision of which direction we could go. To the north east was remote terrain, far from major roads and cities, but current weather reports were indicating clear skies. To the northwest was major roads and cities, always a comfort when flying a single engine prop plane, but lots of clouds. The northeast route would take us an extra 30 minutes and have us landing just after sunset. And it would, of course, need some extra fuel.

To weigh all these factors, I was furiously using my iPad to pull up current METARs in as many places as I could along both routes while we were coming up to Siskiyou. As I read through the weather reports, it was clear that the northwest route was a LOT clearer than forecast. Still plenty of big ol clouds, but clear enough to fly.

We went northwest.

Amidst the clouds

With smooth air around us, now we had a new challenge “Dodging clouds.” I'm a VFR pilot and as such I must maintain a distance of 500 feet below, 1000 feet above, and 2000 feet abreast of any clouds. At first, the clouds were just above us around 7000 feet. But as we continued north, the clouds were showing up lower and lower. Near the end, they got down to 4000 feet or so.

So this became one of those VFR pilot moments where you really have to keep your eyes outside the cockpit, watching where the clouds are around you. Navigating to the sides of them or dropping altitude as needed to maintain VFR cloud clearance. It wasn't really dangerous or harrowing. It just required vigilance.

The sights we saw were beautiful though.

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I got to see a big ol cumulus cloud up close as we came over Eugene:

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That big boy had a TON of stuff going on inside it, despite its calm exterior. We made sure to give it a WIDE berth.

Portland

Portland was probably the most covered in clouds out there.

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Still high enough to fly under, but dark and forboding. Portland, btw, is on the right side of that picture far in the distance. Near the end of that mountain ridge.

This picture from one of my passengers really shows off how dark it was under there.

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PDX tower had us come over the tower, then told us those delightful words that every pilot wants to hear

“You're #2 following a 737, caution wake turbulence”

Gaaaah. Wake turbulence! And a 737!

The trick with wake turbulence is to watch the winds. Either give it enough time that the winds blow the turbulent air away, or land beyond where the big jet landed, staying above their glide path on the way in.

I did both to some degree.

I gave them a wide berth, stayed high on the glide path initially, then carefully descended to land just past the numbers with a beautiful picture perfect gentle-as-hell landing.

Taxiied over to Atlantic, parked the plane, and we were there!