Weapons grade awesome

When Matt Taibbi is on his game, he’s probably one of the best journalists working anywhere today. And, holy hell, is he ever on his game. The conclusion to what is an awesome article about the Tea Party:

The bad news is that the Tea Party’s political outrage is being appropriated, with thanks, by the Goldmans and the BPs of the world. The good news, if you want to look at it that way, is that those interests mostly have us by the balls anyway, no matter who wins on Election Day.

The stupid burns

AvWeb: 100 Years Later, Where Are The Women Pilots? Also known as, “The Lack of Women in Aviation, as Debated and Explained Primarily By Men”:

It has now been 100 years since the first woman earned her pilot license. So, why are we still celebrating women pilots’ firsts?
Could it be our sheer numbers, or rather lack thereof? When Raymonde de Laroche earned her pilot license in 1910, number 36, she represented about three percent of the pilot population at that time. One hundred years later, women still only constitute about 6% of the pilot population in most western countries. With so few women pilots, it is not difficult to understand why firsts are still being made. But why are there so few women flying?

Mireille Goyer is perfectly capable of defending her own arguments, and advancing her own positions, so I’ll leave it to her to offer an explanation for why women aren’t well-represented in aviation. She picks out a fairly superficial example — the uniform of flight crew at an airline — and runs with it, in what I suspect was probably an attempt to illustrate the cultural dynamics at work and the problems facing women who aspire to a career in aviation. It is thought-provoking stuff: is your aviation workplace a friendly environment for women? If you’re a man, how do you know? What does it look like from a woman’s perspective? Are you doing everything you can to make sure that women (and minorities) are welcome? If not, what do we do differently?

Ms. Goyer doesn’t come out and say it in her article, but the post linked above does posit an explanation for why there are so few women in aviation. Go read the comments! (In this case, I mean it.) I mean, in a field where people say things like “can any of you name one – just ONE – discipline which has been upgraded, improved or created any new interest in it – by virtue of women being involved in it? The answer is a simple…NO!” — gosh, why, a woman would have to be crazy to think about not getting involved in the field! Amirite?! I mean, clearly the problem is that women are just ______, not that men involved in aviation on a day-to-day basis are knuckleheads or anything like that. Or that there might be serious structural impediments to prevent women from getting into a flying career. Anything but that.

Touch and Go, added later: Probably the most unsurprising thing about the whole article/comment thread (as you can probably see from a brief glance at it) is that you have women, on the one hand, who say, “There’s a problem here” and men who say “No, there isn’t.” The display of privilege here is truly staggering — it’s breathtaking in its completeness. This is why there aren’t more women in aviation. This, right here.

(This is also an awesome example of what privilege looks like on a daily basis; it’s not all name calling and back-of-the-bus seating. This is a bunch of guys who have never once had to consider whether other people thought it was right for them to be pilots, who have never had to consider their own built-in biases and their own structural advantages, and who’ve never ever thought about what their “inclusive” world looks like to someone from the outside. Turns out it’s not so inclusive now, is it? I sound disappointed, and maybe I am, but I guess it’s going as well as the open source adventures in equality. So maybe there’s hope.)

I posted a few comments and got a few replies; some of the more odious sentiments expressed included disbelief or uncertainty as to why we’d want more women flying in the first place — a statement so arrogantly sexist as to defy understanding. Nevertheless, dude AvWeb readers are apparently happy with the current configuration of aviation, have no problem with the size of the existing pilot pool (maybe they’re disgruntled renters who don’t want more people flying for lack of aircraft availability, or are worried that getting that airline job is going to be that much more difficult), and don’t see any need to change. That’s their right, of course, but they should at least be honest about what they’re doing: restricting access to aviation.

And even further (1500 PDT): First, Twitter tells me there have been a few readers who’ve wanted to leave comments, but couldn’t; sorry about that. I’ve fiddled with the settings and it should work now.

Second, I finally came up with an analogy about privilege that might make sense to pilots; it’s the post in the AvWeb thread about turbulence and ignoring your passengers. Note to self: write post about “pilot’s privilege.”

Third, to clarify my comment about “restricting access to aviation” — my understanding is that we want to grow aviation, and that we want to ensure that we continue to grow as an industry. Adding people passionate about flying is only ever a good thing. If we refuse to work to create an environment where all feel welcome, regardless of gender/gender identity, sexual orientation, ethnic background, or religious creed, we are deliberately excluding specific segments of the potential pilot population from participating. Some will suck it up and soldier on. My greater point is that they shouldn’t have to suck it up — so that the folks who don’t want to bite their tongues feel able to participate, too.

That exclusion is not a goal. But it is the unintended consequence of failing to be as inclusive as possible; indeed, this is the major problem with systemic discrimination — it’s never the intent to be discriminatory. Fix this, and we have a better chance at surviving the next 20-some years as more people learn how to fly, spend money on flying, and become passionate supporters and political defenders of flying. Leave things as they are, and in 20 years GA will probably look a lot like it does now — just a lot smaller.


CBC: Don’t text 911

RCMP in British Columbia are warning people not to text message 911 in emergencies.

Sandy Vogstad, with the RCMP’s communication centre, said the province’s 911 system can’t deliver text messages.

“It is the system in general that there is no methodology available technically to push that text through the whole system,” Vogstad said.

Reading comments on CBC.ca is generally a waste of time, but these ones are especially precious — throngs of people arguing that the 911 system is broken, or backwards, or that there’s something wrong with the outfit because they don’t have a spare cell phone kicking around that can receive text messages. (We’ll tackle the mentality that would possess someone to send an SMS message to 911 in the first place some other time.) It’s a lot like reading dslreports.com or something about how the telecommunication companies are a bunch of incompetent idiots because Cat5 is really cheap from Future Shop, so how hard would it be to string more wire around for more bandwidth? Everyone’s a frigging expert on absolutely everything now, even people who don’t know anything.

I’m guessing that the folks who are arguing that 911 should accept SMS don’t realize there’s no such thing as a universal 911 access point. That dialing 911 from a cell phone routes to the cell’s (not the phone’s) default PSAP. That SMS contains no routing information other than a destination address. That GPS is somehow a panacea for finding people (it’s not — the limitations of GPS are poorly understood by people who do not normally use satellite navigation systems for actual navigation purposes that don’t involve staying on the road). That all you need to do is dial 911, shout “Help!” into the phone, and have the universe collapse in on you.

Of course, it doesn’t work like that. It never does, never has, and never will. That’s the perception, though, and I’m trying to puzzle through whose fault that is. The ubiquity of technology — the rapid proliferation of the various types of personal networking gear, and the friendliness of it all — is probably to blame here. But the reality of the telecommunications world is much, much different. Sure, RIM can run all the BlackBerries in the world through their servers. But what happens when those servers go down? They’re built to a fault-tolerance level that would make most people cry out in pain, but even they break, and the howling when they do is deafening.

Doing life-critical telecoms engineering — which is what 911 is — is staggeringly difficult, because it has to work. It’s not OK for the system to be up 99.999% of the time: it has to be up all of the time, and it has to fail gracefully and be workable even when it isn’t. You cannot do this with stuff you buy at Radio Shack, no matter how well this works for you in your day-to-day life.

“My X can do Y” is not a good thing to tell professional engineers and designers whose work is being held to a significantly higher standard than anything you have direct experience with. The amount of effort that goes into this stuff is remarkable, and it never ceases to amaze me that it works as well as it does.

You have bad taste

My old blog — the one I used to keep when I could write coherently for more than 40 seconds at a go, and about things that aren’t airplanes — once got a recommendation from someone using that line. So, in a similar spirit, allow me to heartily recommend that you should be reading Tiger Beatdown on a regular basis. I don’t remember what it was that first brought me to Tiger Beatdown, but I’ve stayed for one reason, and one reason alone: It is a staggeringly good blog, maybe one of the best examples of the genre. Sady Doyle, the blogger in chief, is a writer of astonishing power and clarity (I find myself wishing I could write a tenth as well), and if her cohorts seem less inspiring, it’s only because Ms. Doyle sets the bar so spectacularly high. Why read Tiger Beatdown? Because it will make you laugh. Because it will make you angry. Because it will make you sad. Because it will make you smarter. Mostly, though, you should be reading Tiger Beatdown because it will make you a better person. Approach it with an open mind, check your privilege at the door, and think critically — and you’ll become a better human being.

Introduced, for the court’s consideration, as evidence:

  • I Went To Your Concert And There Was Nothing Going On: “People are always shocked when they hear this, if they know me, because they have a very specific sense of “women who play in bands” and it is most emphatically not me. In order to be a woman who plays in a band you have to be, first and foremost, hot. Preferably hot in that slightly NOT ONE HUNDRED PERCENT CONVENTIONALLY ATTRACTIVE way, so that dudes can believe that they are the only guy in the world who really, truly understands how hot you are, and can correspondingly believe that by bestowing upon you their belief in your paramount hotness, they are giving you a sweet gift which will make you so ecstatically happy, and can therefore believe that, because all you want in the world is for dudes to think you are hot, you will sleep with them.”
  • Mommy’s All Right, Daddy’s All Right: “I finally think I may have pinned down what bothers me about “ironic” racism and sexism and what have you. Here is what bothers me about “ironic” racism and sexism and what have you: it’s just. So. Fucking. Bougie. Yes, that’s right! My crankiness about the young people has turned out to be, in fact, merely another example of my crankiness about the moral codes of the white middle class! Which makes sense, given that the hipster thing is, in and of itself, a pretty white, middle-class phenomenon. This was the entire point of Stuff White People Like, right? This is not a new point that I am making! But, to explain how it ties into hip racism and sexism, I invite you to go on a journey with me. A journey many of you may have taken before. A journey to your white, middle-class parents’ house for Thanksgiving.”
  • I HATE I Love The Way You Lie: “A music video came out this week, one that deals with intimate partner violence. It begins with a close up of Rihanna’s face, with her fucking fierce hair and her 500$ dollar eye shadow. It cuts to Megan Fox sleeping with some skeezy dude on a dirty bed, which is EXACTLY what I’d be doing if I were Megan Fox. Then back to Rihanna. She’s singing in that gorgeous voice of hers, and for a moment I think “Maybe this won’t be so bad.” A few seconds later, the recording fails and “I Love The Way You Lie” turns into a rap song. By Eminem. Who is literally the last fucking person I want to hear singing about intimate partner violence.” I came very close to clapping when I read this particular post. The awesome is so thick you’d need a chainsaw it cut through it.

You might, from these posts, be drawing the conclusion that Tiger Beatdown is a blog with a bit of, how shall we say, a moral and philosophical position. You’d be correct. It is an aggressively feminist blog. And a very very smart one at that. I have, more than once, read a post there and thought, “Uh, no,” only to find myself turning it over in my head later the same day, and eventually coming around to, “Well, maybe” and then eventually, “Hell yes.” (This actually happens with most feminist blogs I read periodically, and the ideas eventually seem so reasonable I get angry when other people don’t see the reasonableness inherent in the argument.) If you’re at all concerned about power structures in society, about the way we internalize these dynamics and how they are recapitulated over and over again, and about how the marginalized in society continue to be marginalized — this is a great place to spend time. It makes you think, and that’s a wonderful, precious thing.

I’d normally say there’s just a leeeeetle too much self-congratulating and idol worship going on in the comments section, along with a smattering of epistemic closure, but (a) it’s not my space so what the hell do I care and (b) the comments themselves are often just as informative as the original post. And besides, (c) most of the posts are, in fact, that awesome — so it’s hard to get annoyed when people keep explaining about how they want to marry the particular post when you, in fact, wanted to stand up and cheer too.

Goddamn it’s a good blog. Go read it right now.

The other problem with simulators

Paul Bertorelli has a new post up about the limits of simulation training, specifically as it relates to crosswind handling characteristics. The comment thread following is unusually good. I’ve never flown a motion-base simulator before, nor do I have any experience behind or in front of turbine engines or transport-category aircraft where simulator-based training formed a major component of the education, so this is a topic to which I can add very little. I would, however, point out one of my very favorite items from an issue of the Aviation Safety Letter last year: a letter talking about the limits of the simulator as a method for dealing with in-flight fires.

“Smoke in the cockpit after departure hopefully initiates a checklist routine, but only at the end of the procedure does the option of returning to the airport come into play, if at all. “Okay, that’s done, let’s carry on,” is the lesson actually learned in the training and carried forward into the flight test. Survival is only a secondary consideration,” as the letter-writer puts it. He goes on to point at SWR111 as an example of what happens when pilots fail to recognize that they’re on fire and they need to be on the ground now — a habit that seems like it would only be developed through the use of simulations. In fairness, I’m not sure how to educate pilots in this, short of lighting the plane on fire and saying, “Good luck!” So maybe there’s no other way to get around that problem.

As I said, I obviously know nothing about transport simulator training curriculum, so I can’t really speak to how it works in the real world. But when you set up a fire, and then run the fire checklist — do you then turn around and fly the plane to the ground? Do you simulate the evacuation? (CKT28M, anyone?) Could you come up with a way to realistically simulate the incapacitating effects of cockpit smoke? (Fail the flight instruments and then blow the external displays?) If we don’t do this, why don’t we do this? As we train, so shall we fight — or something like that, anyway.