Sunday, May 31, 2009

I shutter at these!

It's been awhile since I've tossed amazing aviation shots your way, so let's see what the best photographers are producing these days. Now you must promise to click on each photo in order to see the detail, okay? Let's start with the one I shot. It's not an amazing shot, but the subject is interesting. Southwest Airlines likes to do theme planes, and one of the latest of these celebrates Tinker Bell and pixie dust. Now to the really good stuff.

You already knew this, but never go dallying around in front of a jet engine. The amount of suction these bad boys produce is incredible. In this shot, moisture on the runway is being pulled up into the engine in an astounding tornado-like vortex. Hey, you agreed to click on these photos! Do it!

It was God who said, "Let there be light". And soon thereafter, photographers said, "The best of us will maximize light!" Here's a Russian Airbus landing directly into the sun. And the sun exposes incredible detail.

Everybody likes sunsets, especially when you get purples and oranges:

Often, in the mornings, the air contains enough humidity that takeoffs and landings produce contrails, just like the ones you see six miles up trailing aircraft. Often, the wingtips produce wispy, delicate ones - like this slinky trail of circles tagging along behind an MD-11.

The Blue Angel pilots are the best in the business. Their performances walk the fine line between mind-boggling expertise and tragic failure every few seconds. Here are a couple of F-18's that seem to have merged. It's something called a "dirty mirror pass", for reasons that escape me. I just know I'd be looking out the cockpit window, too.

There is a photographer in Amsterdam who routinely produces miracles. He is Tim de Groot and this is but one of his amazing shots. Here he catches jet engine exhaust lit up by the sun, such that it appears to be an engine fire. Tim's pretty good, one of the world's best...and he's still in his teens.

Again, success in aviation photography is in proportion to how one uses light. Many of the most stunning shots capture usual light along with some other remarkable feature, such as weird clouds. Here's the final photo, one that does this perfectly:

Friday, May 29, 2009


I had an interesting discussion with the 6th grade girls who sat behind me on the bus this morning. Today was an exam day and they were studying up for a language arts test. They know I am former teacher and pretty soon they were peppering me with grammar questions. "What's the only part of speech that has a comparative and superlative?" "Can you explain a gerund?" I was doing great and kinda got into the "I'm smarter than you" role, sighing a bit before each answer. Then Jocelyn Ortiz asked, "Mr. Perkins, what's a variable dependent clause?" I slipped a tad lower in the driver's seat and told her I really needed to concentrate on driving safely.

Funny, it was grammar that convinced Carole and me that we were meant to be. One romantic night during the summer of '68, one of us brought up a love for the antiquated practice of diagramming sentences. Quickly, the other chimed in, "You, too?" At that point, nothing else mattered. We looked longingly into the eyes of each other and mentally diagrammed, "I do".

I don't think diagramming is taught much these days. That's a shame because it teaches a way to understand word usage that works 99% of the time. It has gone the way of respect for teachers, phonics, and getting your report card signed by a parent. Oh, you didn't know about that? DISD doesn't require that a student return a signed report card to the school. You can drop it in a gutter on the way home and tell momma you lost it, but it had all A's on it, momma.

Can you diagram, "That's stupid!"?

Monday, May 25, 2009

Customer Service

It was a leisurely Memorial day morning and in an almost random move, I decided to recheck details of an October trip to Vermont that Carole and I are taking. Good thing I did.

I pulled up the American Airlines reservation and the first anomaly that my eyes picked up was our arrival time at Hartford. Then I saw a blue box above the reservation that said, "Please note the change in your reservation." What should have been 3:30 PM ETA or so now showed 12:55 AM on the following day. It quickly hit me that good ole AA had arbitrarily moved us from an afternoon flight to an evening flight. Probably had something to do with making money or staying afloat or somesuch. Wouldn't it have been good customer service to at least inform me via email of such a change? It's like, "we're gonna destroy your plans and furthermore, we won't alert you."

Then I saw a note saying that I needed to call AA, and a 1-800 number was provided. I called. The first sentence I heard was in English, then it shifted to something that sounded very Asian, perhaps Chinese. Thinking I had misdialed, I tried the number again. The results were the same. I stayed with the recording for a long time to make sure that it didn't suddenly revert to English. No luck. So in desperation, I called the American Advantage program directly.

Bingo. I got a human. I told her my situation and we looked for another flight. I should stop here and explain something. Carole and I always have flown in the cabin section...for obvious socio-economic reasons. But I've accumulated a goodly portion of miles on my AAdvantage account now and I want to make this trip something a little special, so we're going first-class, baby. Up front where the bluebloods sit and discuss what art they have hanging in their summer cottages. Well, the lady informed me that on all the other flights to Hartford had only single seats in first-class available for AAdvantage members.

Well, by now you are bored so I'll simply say that I had to change our destination to Boston in order to get an acceptable travel time and our first-class seats. One hotel reservation had to be cancelled and another one made. So I guess we're victims of the tough economic times that impact airlines as hard as any business. AA will make more money selling those previously reserved seats to well-heeled corporate execs. I just wish they'd communicate with the consumers a bit better.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Going outdoors with Macie

The incredibly beautiful weather today afforded Carole and me the rare chance to get Macie outdoors. Macie is our 2 year-old grand-daughter and is prone to stuffiness if presented with cold weather or wind. But today was as ideal as it can get, so we armed ourselves with a camera, adjusted a ballcap to fit her head, and headed outside.

The first thing on the agenda was some tricycle time on the driveway pad. Macie is totally oblivious as to how silly/cute she looks.

Then, we moved to the front porch. Like all good Republicans, we fly our flag 24/7...and suddenly, I thought this would be a good teaching opportunity. So we explained to Macie the word "salute" and showed her how.

Then, things really got interesting when I noticed that a neighbor of ours had moved some of his cattle to a close-by field. Well, we know all 2 year-olds can mimic a cow's "moooo" but that few ever see one up close, so we walked over to the cows.

What we had before us was a bovine harem. About nine cows and one angry-looking bull.

Macie was enthralled. A whole lot of pointing with a whole lot of questions. She also found out not to touch a barbed-wire fence. But the harem began to move away slowly, not knowing what to make of the gabby humans. Carole lingered for a few more livestock shots while Macie and I headed back to the porch. She snapped a wonderful shot of us, a happy grandfather with a cute grandkid.

The funny thing is, I almost went to the airport today to have some photography time. At the last minute, I decided to come home because days with any of our grandkids are so precious, so fleeting...they must be seized. Seems like I made the right choice.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Green, green grass of home

These wonderful, every-fifth-day May rains have filled the reservoirs and provided a nice supply of moisture for our yards to tap into this summer. That's the good news. The bad news is that everything is growing Amazon-like and that means I need to be outside nearly every evening mowing, cutting, and trimming lest our neighbors get angry.

The problem is that my mind still assumes I'm in my 30's. That was 3 decades and five surgeries ago, however. The boys and I used to knock out 14 yards in a single Saturday and laugh and joke the whole time. Now, the joke is on me.

We live on 1.7 acres. Before we even bought the land, I remember Carole asking, "Are you sure you can take care of all that landscaping?" What was I supposed to say, "No, I'm not man enough, dear."? Now, when the temperature is 98 and the field next to our house needs to be knocked out, I struggle with whether I should: (1) just let it turn into a preserve of sorts and sell tickets, or (2) call one of my kids, or (3) teach Carole how to drive a John Deere lawn tractor. But since I'm only 60 and real men don't quit when they're "just" 60, I straggle out there and fantasize about a postage stamp lawn.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009


I looked at the calendar today and we are nearly halfway through May. Wasn't it winter a few moments ago? Does time stomp on the accelerator when one is as old as I?

Today, I was in the office of Thomas R. Conner, DDS., and Dr. Tom told me a story. His church had honored their high school seniors last Sunday, and the gentleman who spoke to them said:

"Let me tell you seniors something. I returned home from my senior prom at 2 A.M. When I woke up, I was 55 years old."

So true. And if time truly zooms by this quickly, our motto, our creed, our mantra should be carpe diem. With no guarantees about tomorrow and with opportunities to do good popping up all around us every day, and with time running hard in the inside lane, we had better carpe our diems.

Friday, May 08, 2009

The Company Line

Today I called TXU Energy to discontinue electric service to Mom's house. One of the problems I have with "customer service" these days is the totally transparent, overly friendly, read-from-the-script attitude from the human at the other end of the line. Of course, just getting a breathing, living organism to talk to you is something of journey.

Anyway, after 3 or 4 minutes of talking to a machine that refused to understand my words, I got a live fellow to talk to me. Here is exactly how the conversation went down:

"Good afternoon, how may I assist you today?"

"Yessir, my mother passed away in December and now we've sold her house and are ready to discontinue the electricity."

"I apologize for your inconvience, sir. And I can take care of this for you."

Yep, Mom's passing did mean that I had to miss work a couple of days. The funeral was during a time I normally take a nap, you see. I didn't really say that, but I was so shocked that I didn't say anything. This guy was so intent on regurgitating the company line at all costs that he glossed over my mother's death.

Advice to customer service supervisors: Just put friendly, caring people on the phones. Don't give them any lines to say. Don't tell the caller that "you are one of our valued customers." And please, prohibit this line at the end of the conversation: "Are there any other ways I can be of assistance to you today?" Caring is one thing. Artificial caring is an affront to the caller and as easily recognized as wart on your nose.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Mom's House is Sold

We have sold Mom's house and the closing is tomorrow. Words can't express how thrilled we are. The past four months or so have been filled with hard work, tough decisions, inevitable surprises, and hasslin' lawyers. The lawyer reference has to do with a title company which wanted to circumvent my brother's authority as executor of Mom's will. That got solved today as my cell phone bill probably shot past $200 for the month.

It will be the first house for the young couple who've bought it. I know very little about them other than the fact that the guy is a teacher. Hmmmm.....I remember when Carole and I settled into our 57 sq. ft. house after the wedding. There was no room to throw a pity party.

We all wish that the buyers will enjoy the house to the extent that our family did. That may be a tall order.