HAPPY? THANKSGIVING

We had an old hymn in the church where I grew up, “Count your many blessings, name them one by one.” Sorry, there are way too many for the time available. Count the stars and divide by one. This season however, actually thousands of SOCAL families face the holidays without… their homes, or maybe even a change of clothes. Imagine what that’s like!

There are many ways to help these desperate folks, too many to mention here, and we at SCSA encourage everyone to do all you can, not just this week but for the coming months to help fire victims in whatever way possible. After all, what else are the Holidays really for? And if we don’t help, who will?

As for us, the lucky ones, we’ll be closed Friday, Nov 23, but back at it Saturday the 24th.

SEE YOU THEN!

SOMETHING WE ALL HAVE IN COMMON

Like most non-aviators I didn’t know one aircraft from another, but while driving in the country I saw one swoop low overhead that looked unlike any other. It moved slower than I thought planes could fly, and seemed to make no sound! ‘Is that what they call a glider?’ I wondered, pulling over to watch as its long wings slid low over treetops, down out of sight.

Did it CRASH? There was no explosion…

I bounced up a dirt road through those trees until they opened on a private airstrip and there lay that strange metal bird, one wingtip resting on the grass. Was it busted? As I drove up it’s canopy opened and two people clamored out, smiling… An hour later that would be me.

Fascination hardly bearable, I stood at the periphery to listen and look, and gather the courage to part with twenty bucks. It was reassuring to learn that the pilot, Ed, was a math teacher and family man, a far more responsible citizen than I. Others in that loose and chatty group exemplified what’s true of soaring people everywhere: a tribe of boggling diversity, from Girl Scouts to diplomats, bound by a sense of aesthetic and childlike curiosity. Among the peculiar blend of artistic types and engineers are many practical salt-of-the-earth folk (heavy equipment operators make fine soaring pilots). And of course some of us even our mothers would classify as flakes. Hi Mom!

So alien was that first experience, and so long ago, I recall few details. The bustle of new information was not so much disorienting as stimulating. I only hoped these people knew what they were doing! Our craft was hitched to the tail of an old Cessna by what looked like ordinary ski rope and pulled up the runway on its one wheel, wobbly at first like starting out on a bike.

I was 24 at the time, and had been on airliners, but never seen out the front before. Tailing another plane in flight from close behind was the first in what became a flood of novelties. Soon it peeled away, leaving us enthroned above a lush crazy quilt of farms and forest, floating in silence. Already I was caught in a current of destiny, and then the pace quickened.

Responding to the faintest bump, Ed sighed gleefully and rolled into a sensuous turn. Instinct pulled my eyes that direction and down, as it does for almost everyone. “The wing’s moving backwards!” I laughed. “We’re spinning around like a top.”

“Spin’s a four-letter word,” he chided. “That wingtip’s moving forward about fifty, believe it or not. And of course the other one’s going faster…” I understood that, basically, but my eyes still said otherwise!

Ed narrated the entire performance as we rose, pointing out details while I strained to absorb all aspects of a spellbinding moment. It seemed dreamily unreal, yet more natural than the drive out there! My strongest impressions were a euphoric, fleeting kind of peace — and nearly limitless potential.

“So this is what you’ve been missing,” he concluded. “And we could easily stay up here the rest of the day, but now we should hurry down to give my next victim a chance.”

He had me pull back on the big blue handle (ever drive off a cliff?) and suddenly it was over. Our landing on the grass felt like easing into a feather bed, and when feet again touched the ground my spontaneous delight only fed the others’ contagion. Dazed, I must have asked the same predictable questions I would later answer for countless other first-timers in all the seasons since — something we all have in common.

Someone clapped Ed on the back, “Seems you’ve hooked another one,” and they all chuckled, looking fondly at me. Nothing was the same, ever again.

My second flight would be my first lesson and the beginning of a long career. But in more than forty years since, I have yet to take a second ‘ride’…

TAKE IT EASY

Now we’re into the time of year when our weather is better than anywhere else in the 48 – so long as no one needs to set a soaring record.  Expect a calmish period this week, with occasional high clouds and…   No guarantees of course, but our venerable Second Ridge will probably spawn thermals of the character-building variety each afternoon.  Or you could go almost anywhere else and fly in rain and snow.

SEE YOU SOON!

OCCAM’S WHETSTONE

We’ve all heard of something called Occam’s Razor, though I suspect most of us are vague on what it is.  Hint:  the relation to Damocles’ Sword of is only incidental, thankfully (same with Hobson’s Choice now that you mention it, and Faust’s nefarious Bargain too).  Always a matter of context, isn’t it?  But about the Razor, you know how casual dissent can intensify until at least one interlocutor needs to retrench before lunging further?  That’s the kind of moment when Occam may spring from overhead like oxygen masks in a jet — just in case.

But what if the pilot you’re arguing with is yourself?  Soaring, like so-called ‘real’ life, is fraught with moments where we have to make time-sensitive decisions based on information that’s not entirely certain, and almost any kind of help is welcome.  Well I wondered if Occam’s Razor might be useful, and made the mistake of googling it…  Immediately cracks began to form in the earth’s crust (and my skull) beneath the mass of pedantic jargon and multisyllabic verbiage that poured forth.  In briefest form, plagiarizing Wiki:

Among competing hypotheses, the one with fewest assumptions should be selected, and for each accepted explanation, there are infinitely more complex, and ultimately incorrect alternatives.

And that’s the Cliff Notes version!  Beyond there we wade into brambles like the Akaike criterion, variational Bayesian methods, false discovery rate and on and on across all academic disciplines.  In logic it’s epistemology versus extraevidentiality; in biology it’s cladists vs pheneticists; in medicine it’s Hickam’s dictum (watch your mouth!) visa vis what normal folks call hypochondria.  And in theology even William of Ockham himself found that his semantical scalpel can cut both ways.

The heck you say.

Then – also just in case – we have a whole family of ‘anti-razors’ believe it or not, none more enigmatic than pataphysics:

the science of imaginary solutions in which every event in the universe is completely unique, subject to no laws but its own.

An apt description of my life story, if I were honest, all corralled together by a personal favorite, Crabtree’s Bludgeon:

No set of mutually inconsistent observations can exist for which intellect cannot conceive an explanation, however complicated.

How nice!  I.e. there’s no Knot Gordy can tie that I can’t tangle tighter.  So what are we supposed to do with that?  Durned if I know.  All these eruditial analyzations only leave me feeling even dumber than before.  Makes me want to call the whole business Occam’s Eraser and move on.  Please, let’s do.

Now if you can still move, forgive me, there is one word that might actually help: heuristic. (A word no bigger than that, you ask, what chance does it have? Oh ye of inadequate belief.) Wiki again:

Heuristic signifies any approach to problem solving, learning, or discovery that employs a practical method, not guaranteed to be optimal, but instead sufficient for reaching an immediate goal.

Still hard to chew, but easy enough to swallow.  Then further down that same page comes the punchline.  Turns out the most fundamental heuristic is – wait for it – trial and error.

Uh, what?!  All of that to get to this?  Yup, the smartest philosophers say when you’re unsure which solution to choose, try one, then maybe try another, and eventually you might learn which works best.   Talk about clever!
So now we know.

One caution though.  Whatever trial you’re erroring, keep in mind our benevolent nemesis gravity will continue unabated…  When tinkering with any of those Oldstimers’ clumsy Gimmicks, try not to drop it on your footnotes!