09 July 2014

This is your pilot speaking

I've been researching twin engine aircraft for work recently and my favorite part about that is reading aviator-written descriptions of planes, handling, and the trade-offs with a second engine.  And my favorite part of aviator-written descriptions?  Their fondness for off-hand understatement.

For example, these are from AVSIM Commercial FSX Aircraft Review's* description of the Cessna Skymaster.  And, again, the first one is my favorite.  The last is my second favorite.

It has two of everything to maintain and replace, increasing operating and ownership costs. But, of course, it has two engines and that second engine just might save your life one day. Owners usually agree the extra cost is well worth it within minutes of an engine failure at a critical time.

My favorite Skymaster quote is from a pilot who had an engine failure in IFR** over the mountains at night. ATC asked, "Sir, are you declaring an emergency?" The Skymaster pilot replied, "No, I'm declaring an inconvenience."


In early days it was not uncommon to see aborted takeoffs of the C337 simply because the pilot failed to notice the rear engine had conked out somewhere along the taxi stage and the pilot also evidently failed to do a proper engine run-up and mag check prior to takeoff.  Posted placards state, at the insistence of the FAA that the normal operation should be to lead with only the rear engine for takeoff then follow with the forward engine.  This is to ensure the rear engine is actually running at normal power for takeoff.  Rotation and climb out would not be a good time to discover your twin is actually a single.  Single engine takeoffs are prohibited.

This is one of the reasons you see the C337 taxi with the tractor engine completely shut down.  One, you don’t need two engines to taxi, two, you save on fuel and wear and tear on parts, and [three], you probably won’t attempt a takeoff if the prop you are looking at is not turning.


I like the engine sounds*** so much that I load up the C337H in FSX, start the engine or engines, turn up the volume, minimize FSX, and then work on my writing or editing or forum surfing with these sweet sounds in the background.  It reminds me of those old days sitting in the hot sun in Miami waiting for takeoff clearance surrounded by big iron.  It drives my wife nuts.


The standard line is that there is very little indication of a rear engine failure. Other than the sputtering sound, the sudden and noticeable pressure on the restraining harness against your chest and the rapid loss of about 15 to 20 knots in airspeed, there aren't many clues. If someone cannot feel this and see the drop in fuel flow and cylinder head temperatures, they probably should not be flying anything.

*An aviation simulator.  The actual plane is described as part of the complete description of the simulator. 

** "Instrument flight rules (IFR) is one of two sets of regulations governing all aspects of civil aviation aircraft operations; the other is visual flight rules (VFR)."  So saith the Google and the Wikipedia.

*** Having two 210 hp engines hanging forward and back rather than off to the sides means that the plane is consistently described as being very, very noisy.  Like being inside a lawn mower.

08 July 2014

We are not the droids they're looking for

One of the more interesting things about having my name and email on the company website is that I am the person most likely to get emails from random-ish strangers.  Specifically, I get mail for people looking for customer service for companies with initials like the one I work for. 

I have suggested to my boss that we could generate some revenue by billing those companies for the pleasant (and even possibly helpful) replies that I send.  

Here is a selection.  Some were more fun to handle than others, but Number 1 will always have a special place in my heart.  I wouldn't mind having that lady on my side in a similar situation.


From: [name]
Sent: Sunday, February 03, 2013 2:59 PM
To: Hall, Leta
Subject: Poor, Poor Customer Service

I was just at your Sturgis, Michigan store.  Ahead of me in line was a woman with a return.  She had her receipt, but the barcode wouldn't scan and the date was smudged, but it was clearly a TSC receipt.  The manager, Will, was called to the front and turned the woman away, saying that she could not return the item because of the barcode and date.  She was not even given a cursory apology. Then, after she left, the cashier got on the phone and said, right in front of me "Yeah, I have a lady who just got crappy with me about a return" and proceeded to read off the woman's phone number. This entire incident was rude, unnecessary, and a breach of privacy. I was a long-time customer, but seeing how my future returns and private information might be handled in the future, and that I might be described as a "crappy" customer in front of other customers after I walk out of the store ... well, I think this issue should be addressed. The customer was not even being rude; she just said "I don't understand". Wow.
[name and address]

From: Hall, Leta
Sent: Monday, February 04, 2013 10:27 AM
To: [name]
Subject: RE: Poor, Poor Customer Service

Good morning, Ms. [name],

I agree with you – that sounds *awful.*  Unfortunately the TSC you’ve reached isn’t the same as the one you’re hoping to reach.  The TSC that I work for doesn’t have any stores – we provide engineering services.  

If you wanted the Tractor Supply Company their website and customer service contacts can be found at http://www.tractorsupply.com/.  I hope you are able to reach the right person and get a good resolution.

All the best,

Leta Hall
Corporate Administrator


From: [name]
Sent: Friday, March 28, 2014 3:09 PM
To:  Leta
Subject: WX-110110CSO-CBK

Hi Leta –
Can you please provide a detailed spec sheet on the following part # : WX-110110CSO-CBK

The customer isn’t happy with the quality and would like complete details of the material, etc

Please advise
Thank you!

[name and contact info]

From: Leta
Sent: Friday, March 28, 2014 2:30 PM
To: [name]
Subject: RE: WX-110110CSO-CBK

Hi [name] ~

Unfortunately, I can’t provide that spec sheet.  The TSC that I work for are engineers. 

It looks as though the item you are referring to is made by TSC America and while I can find their product suppliers easily on the internet, I am having trouble finding the actual company.  I’m sorry that I couldn’t be more help but hope that you are able to find the information that your customer needs. 

All the best,


From: [name]
Sent: Friday, March 28, 2014 3:33 PM
To:  Leta
Subject: RE: WX-110110CSO-CBK

Thank you so much for taking the time to respond J don’t find that much now a days !

You have a super weekend!



From: [name]
Sent: Tuesday, June 10, 2014 1:57 PM
To: Leta
Subject: Tsc conventionally raised or organic meat?

Dear Ms. Hall,

Is the meat in tsc's tsatziki steak flatbread conventionally raised or organic?


From: Leta
Sent: Tuesday, June 10, 2014 2:06 PM
To: [name]
Subject: RE: Tsc conventionally raised or organic meat?

Good afternoon, Ms. {Name],

I think that you are trying to contact the Tropical Smoothie CafĂ©, rather than [my employer].  We don’t (alas) have any flatbreads, just lots of engineers.

Tropical Smoothie’s customer service folks can be reached at  http://www.tropicalsmoothie.com/contact-us.  I hope they are able to provide the information you’re seeking.

All the best,


Corporate Administrator


From: name
Sent: Wednesday, July 02, 2014 8:48 AM
To: Hall, Leta
Subject: cable inquiry for vietnam

Dear [misspelling of my name],

 I am working for [company], a Austrian company, which produces various kinds of lighting kits for vehicles. We would like to establish a business in Vietnam and therefore we need several cables. I found out that you company as well has a branch office in Hanoi, correct?

If yes I kindly ask you provide me with a contact person, or forward this E-Mail to a person in charge.

I have enclosed you a folder with the several different cables we need!
For each cable type (cable number) you can find a technical datasheet and a picture. Please check whether the production of each single cable is possible for you or not.

If you can produce those cables I need the following information from you:
From each type we need 600 km per year.
We want to have the cables in big cable rolls. Is that possible?

Besides I wonder what the minimum order quantity is?

I kindly ask you to send me an initial price quotation for each cable type /cable number.

Thank you in advance and I hope to hear from you soon

Best regards


Von: Hall, Leta
Gesendet: Mittwoch, 02. Juli 2014 16:53
An: [namen]
Betreff: RE: cable inquiry for vietnam

Dear [name],

I’m sorry to tell you that the TSC that you have reached is not the TSC you were looking for.  I believe that you are trying to reach Tractor Supply Company (www.tractorsupply.com).    Their page for cables and connectors is http://www.tractorsupply.com/en/store/search/cables-connectors.

Our web addresses are similar so this confusion happens a lot. 

All the best,


18 June 2014

A Wider Circle's Great Eight

This year in Silver Spring Ben & Jerry’s Free Cone Day (held every April) featured volunteers from A Wider Circle,* a local organization which furnishes homes, provides clothing and trains people for the workforce in the D.C. area.  Every year on Free Cone Day, Ben & Jerry’s give away free ice cream** and they host a charity who is allowed to fundraise in the store.***  Give the charity a few dollars and you get a key ring tag for 10% off on ice cream for the next twelve months.  In addition to the free ice cream.

So, really, one isn’t just scarfing down free ice cream, one is being a philanthropist

Anyway, this year was A Wider Circle’s opportunity and the nice volunteers handed out information on the organization and how to help.  I still have the bookmark they gave me with “The Great Eight” on it.  If you are looking for a quick shopping list of “things to buy but not for me” and have donated enough boxes of pasta and cans of veggies for a while, they suggest:

1.  Tissues and toilet paper
2.  Laundry detergent
3.  Whole grain pasta****
4.  Low-sodium beans
5.  Paper towels and cleaning supplies
6.  Cereal and oatmeal
7.  Diapers
8.  Low-sodium, low-sugar canned fruits and vegetables.

I take food with me for the food bank every time I go to church and every so often the shelter gets some of my beloved hotel toiletries.  I’ll probably go to the store this weekend and pick up some paper goods for donation.   

*From their website:  “A Wider Circle’s efforts focus on the provision of basic need items, education, and long-term support. These three components work in concert to create lasting change in the lives of those we serve. A Wider Circle says no to nobody! Anyone in need of help can find it here. In addition to all of the individuals and families that call us, more than 300 government, social service, and nonprofit agencies regularly contact us for help in serving their clients.

Items can be dropped off 7 day a week, 365 days a year at our Center for Community Service: 9159 Brookville Road, Silver Spring, MD 20910.”

**which is awesome

*** Last year it was the Washington Animal Rescue League, so … kittens!  And puppies!

**** Or gluten-free …

15 June 2014

I'm reading Easter Rising: A Memoir of Roots and Rebellion by Michael Patrick MacDonald and got to this passage on page 22 which may be the most surreal thing I've ever read in a memoir.
My first afternoon there I was just about to leave the store when one of the clerks took down a Patti Smith record that was propped on a fireplace mantel that was left over from the days when the shop had been an apartment. I had seen Patti Smith a couple of  years earlier on the Saturday morning TV show Kids Are People Too.  She wore an oversized man's blazer and her gaunt face made her look something like Jesus on the cross.  She sang Debby Boone's "You Light Up My Life" surrounded by an audience of entranced eight-year-olds.  The show host* had announced her a "punk poet" and "the female Mick Jagger."  As a kid I hadn't been into rock 'n' roll.  All we ever listened to in Southie was soul or disco even though the neighborhood wasn't safe for black people - or anyone else different from us - after the busing riots.  Still everyone knew who Mick Jagger was - especially after the Rolling Stones' "Miss You" became a disco hit.  If Patti Smith was his female counterpart I was surprised I'd never heard of her.  Seeing her on TV on that Saturday morning gave me the willies, and I couldn't get her blank stare out of my head all day.  I was probably eleven and couldn't believe she was on a show for kids younger than me, singing the worst soft-rock ever but turning it into an intense dirge with her deep and onimous voice.  The show's host asked her "Are you punk rock?"  She simply answer, "No," her blank stare unmoved by the host's enthusiasm.  "Well, we think you're punk rock, right, kids?" the apple-cheeked host shouted, to the cheers of dozens of eight-year-olds screaming, "Yeah!"  I had no idea what was going on. Punk rock?  And the Debby Boone song?  And that frightening gaze?

Oh, look, here it is:

Be sure to listen to the question portion where she says that she wanted to be a missionary.

And if you want to read a more light-hearted description of the whole thing, try this article on Open Culture.

And the rest of the book?  Definitely recommended.

* Michael Young

18 April 2014

14 is the mew 72

From vetstreet.com, so that Pekoe gets enough candles every January.

How Old Is My Cat?

We all love easy answers, so after the idea of "dog years" became popular, we started seeing the same methodology applied to cats: Take the lifespan of a cat, compare it to a person, then get your formula, which is why you may frequently hear that 1 cat year equals 4 human years.
You’re ahead of me already, I bet: A 1-year-old cat is far more mature than a 4-year-old child, and a 2-year-old cat is fully mature, which can never be said of a human 8-year-old.
Because cats have less size diversity than dogs do, however, in this case we actually can make the formula work, if we start calculating at a cat's second birthday. The first year takes a cat to late adolescence, and the second into young adulthood. You can then start counting in fours: Figure a 2-year-old cat at 24 "human years." and add four years for every one thereafter, making a 4-year-old cat the equivalent of a 32-year-old person. That makes a 9-year-old cat about 52 in human terms, and 16-year-old cat about 80.

17 April 2014

How to let your friends know that you're coming to see their show

Gayle and I will be there to applaud for you guys on Friday.  We'll sit in the front row so that you don't miss us. 

And we'll wave at you every so often so you can remember where we're sitting.  

Try not to suck.



19 March 2014


I once asked my Mom why she didn't like raisins very much and she said that she had a cookie once that she thought was chocolate chip and it was really oatmeal raisin.  And that she has never forgiven those raisins.

So it's really a pity that I can't show this to her.

raisins and trust issues

13 February 2014

Ann's daughter, part 2

I am still my mother's daughter.  If looking pretty much like photocopy of her doesn't make that case, then there's always how I spent today.

We got about 12 inches of snow last night, so ...

I got up this morning on time,
had breakfast,
checked on-line to see if Ride-On* was running (no),
shoveled out my car,
tried to sell the kid near me who was helping his Dad on the moral imperative of cleaning off the top of the car (with illustrative anecdote), and
went back upstairs and changed into dry pants.

Then I made real hot chocolate with milk, **
enjoyed it while listening to public radio,
put on coat, scarf, hat, and gloves, and
walked to work.***

Pretty much every single item on that list comes right out of the Ann Snow Day Handbook.  One time, when Sara and I were kids, there was a snow day on the day we had a dentist's appointment.  So instead of rescheduling, letting us sleep late, making French Toast, and playing board games, Mom rousted us out of bed before our normal get up time because Mom made 8:00 dentist appointments and, because our dead-end street didn't get plowed very often made us walk the mile and a half through the snow to our appointment. ****

I'm pretty sure that it was uphill both ways, too.  Mom had lots of hardy pioneer spirit.

She would have been so proud of me today. *****

* The county run bus system.

** Mom wasn't a fan of processed foods.  Among the things that Sara and I loved that Mom hated were Pop-Tarts, tubes of raw cookie dough, and Swiss Miss.  Once, in an effort to lure us away from the grey powder, she made us "instant cocoa" from powered milk, powdered sugar, and cocoa.  The fact that we thought that it was "good but not Swiss Miss" and "kinda weird" probably gave her a real nice warm glow inside.

*** So that I didn't lose my good parking space.  It's easier to walk a mile in this weather than it is to get over losing the space one has shoveled out.

**** It can safely be assumed that I am still outraged by this.  

***** Of course, she would also be very confused because as I remember any shoveling that she asked me or Sara to do -- or anything else that even hinted of hardy pioneer spirit -- made us complain loudly and piercingly or quietly and sullenly.  Probably me more than Sara.  She had at least some hardy pioneer spirit.  

12 February 2014


I was given a bottle of Lagavulin 16-year-old for Christmas.  I hadn't opened it yet because I've been finishing the bland-but-pleasant Concannon (Irish Whisky) that I had bought for myself, largely because I liked the name.

And often trying something new because you like the name is fine.  You might end up with something you love.  I found a wine that I love that way.*

Lagavulin not only has a cool name, but the back of the box has marketing educational text which I reproduce here, for the pronunciation help if nothing else.

And tonight I'll give it a try while I continue to read Last Call, Daniel Okrent's fascinating look at Prohibition.

*I can't actually remember the name, but I remember the label, so I'm sure there will be more of it in the house soon.  

Many believe that this is one of the oldest distillery sites in Scotland.  In 1816 local farmer and distiller John Johnston founded the first legal distillery here at Lagavulin (pronounced Laga - voolin, after the Gaelic Laggan Mhouillin, "the hollow where the mill is"). 
Today, the four onion-shaped stills at Lagavulin are neatly tucked into a whitewashed jumble of buildings by the sea on Islay's (pronounced Eye - la) rocky southern shore, guarded by the imposing ruin of Dunyvaig Castle. 
There's  nothing hurried about life on Islay or about dark, intense Lagavulin, which receives the slowest distillation of any Islay malt, then spends sixteen years in old oak casks before being bottled. 
Pungent and potent, this is the great Islay malt.  With richly peaty, deep, smoky flavours, it has an intense, long, ambrosial finish. 
Lagavulin is the majestic Islay destination on a journey around Scotland's six malt whisky making regions.  The other Classic Malts are:
Glenkinchie - Lowland
Dalwhinnie - Highland
Cragganmore - Speyside
Talisker - Island
Oban - Western Highland

See?  Now I feel like I've learned something.

11 February 2014


Whenever Mary Ann would ask me to direct for the children's theater, I'd always ask for the June slot because that's when my theater year is usually least active.  Looks like I'm not the only person who thinks that way.  From a New York Times ArtsBeat piece on Linda Lavin agreeing to be in Nicky Silver's new play Too Much Sun:

Whether Ms. Lavin would like the play was only one potential hitch. There was also the question of whether she would be busy filming episodes of the sitcom “Sean Saves the World.” Mr. Silver took a gamble on that. 
“When I was talking with Vineyard about doing the play,” Mr. Silver said, “I asked for the last slot in the season, because that would be hiatus time. It’s hard to cast plays in New York with TV going on, but that last slot is always your friend.”

10 February 2014

My people*

9 Chickweed Lane

I am German and English on my Mom's side and English and Irish on my Dad's side.  So I am one quarter German, half English, and one quarter Irish.  Nonetheless, I ascribe 90% of what I am and what I do to either my German background or my Irish background.

As I never wear socks with sandals and never would, I don't tend to attribute any of my character or behavior to being of English descent.

"9 Chickweed Lane" by Brooke McEldowney

*The Germans, not the Nazis.  Just ... thought I'd clarify that.

09 February 2014

The bisque is recommended

Fenner also spent a few years in Washington, working for the Justice Department, and he shared quite a few meals there with John E. Smith, a lawyer from Atchison, Kansas, not far down the Missouri River from St. Jo, who was then working for Senator Dole and later became the house attorney of an Omaha trucking company.  Fenner still likes to talk to Smith about eating in Washington - the Cuban food at the Omega and the Middle Eastern food at the Calvert Cafe and the chili at Hazel's Texas Chili Parlor.  Fenner believes that Hazels' recipe was so secret that she carried it with her to the grave, although some other Washington eaters believe that it was handed down intact to a man with a tattoo, and still others believe that it was not the sort of recipe anyone would have to guard very closely.*  Fenner's favorite restaurant in the Washington area was the renowned Silver Spring fish house called Crisfield Seafood Restaurant.  He misses practically everything about Crisfield's. 
"They know how to treat children," I heard him say once. 
"They know how to treat oysters," said Morisseau, who did some eating in Washington himself.**

My Dad used to have lunch at Crisfield's pretty often because it was just a few blocks up Georgia Avenue from Hopkins APL where he worked, but I have an even better connection to Trillin's paragraph:  Two of the people who "knew how to treat children" at Crisfield's were Ned and Nancy, my friend Mollie's parents.  Ned ran the raw bar and Nancy ran the cash register and you'll never meet two nicer people.

I got to know them during the years that Mollie and I were housemates and during part of that time Mollie was the day care provider / favorite aunt / playmate for then babies and later toddlers, Charles and Samantha. Mollie's folks are the kids adopted grandparents and even though Ned and Nancy have retired to North Carolina, the families are still close with lots of visiting.  They do know how to treat children.

*Crisfield's is still open in the same location.  Omega closed after a fire.  The Calvert Cafe was renamed Mama Ayesha's in 1994 after its founder Mama Ayesha Abraham, who died in 1993.  It's still be run by her family.  And Hazel's Texas Chili Parlor is also closed but is the gastronomic mother, if not legal entity parent, of chili parlor chain Hard Times.  This article from DC's City Paper tells the fascinating story.

**Alice, Let's Eat by Calvin Trillin.  Page 122 in the 1978 copy of the Vintage Books paperbook I have.

07 February 2014

Typical work email

From our receptionist who has had to put up with me for nearly 15 years:

From: [the front desk]
Sent: Friday, February 07, 2014 3:31 PM
To: Leta
Subject: Boxes in mailroom

My reply:

From: Leta
Sent: Friday, February 07, 2014 3:43 PM
To: [the front desk]
Subject: RE: Boxes in mailroom

Thank goodness.  I was afraid the kittens wouldn't get here before the weekend.

Can’t believe the vendor forgot the air holes *again.*

Hey, do we have a litter box anywhere around here?

20 January 2014

Inclement Weather Policy

I asked my boss and he confirmed that this is, indeed, the basis of our Corporate Inclement Weather Policy:

On May 19, 1780, an unexplained, near-total darkness fell over much of New England, at midday. The more superstitious believed that doomsday had come. In New Haven, Connecticut, Colonel Abraham Davenport spoke out against adjourning the town council on account of the darkness. He said: "I am against adjournment. The day of judgment is either approaching or it is not. If it is not, there is no cause for adjournment. If it is, I choose to be found doing my duty. I wish, therefore, that candles may be brought."

My Civic Duty

By the time I reached the Age of Majority in Maryland I was a tax payer, with a vehicle registered with the MVA, and registered to vote.  In Maryland, one is (or was, at the time I first became eligible) eligible* to serve on a jury once every three years.  Montgomery County is (or was, I should check this**) a one-day or one trial jurisdiction, unless one is chosen for Grand Jury service, which is three months, once a week, usually on Thursdays.  

So my history of being called for jury duty looks like this:

In my 20s:  

-  I got a summons for Jury Duty, showed up at the court house, and found that the only possible trial for that day had just settled, so we were released.  Time spent doing my civic duty:  about 15 minutes.

-  Three years later I got a summons for Jury Duty, showed up at the court house with a bad cold, a box of Kleenex, and cough medicine.  Dozed in a chair until we were released around noon.  Time spent being on site and willing to do my civic duty:  3-ish hours.

-  Three years later I got a summons for July Duty, showed up at the court house, and was part of a group chosen to be interviewed for selection.  It was a robbery case and I had had my purse snatched a few years previously, so I was dismissed. 

In my 30s:

-  Three years later?  No summons.  

And none ever since.

Frankly, I was beginning to wonder what they thought was wrong with me.  I'm pleasant, I know how to dress for a grown up occasion, what?  

So, even though I figured that I would get a bureaucratic run-around, I called the Jury Office for Montgomery County.***  Phone was promptly picked up by an actual person who was delighted to help me.

She looked me up.  And just like Gopher in Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree, I wasn't in the book.  It seems that Montgomery County thought that I had moved out of their jurisdiction.  I said that, no, I've lived here a long time.****  

And so the nice lady put me back in the system and mailed me an invitation to complete a Juror Questionnaire (Do you live here?  Are you a criminal?  Can you read this questionnaire?  Are you old and possibly demented?).  I've completed the questionnaire and now and waiting to once again join the folks who are entitled to decide the fates of others.  I won't get to stand up and yell  "You're out of order!You're out of order! The whole trial is out of order! They're out of order!"*****

In fact, I won't get to say anything in the courtroom, probably.  But as a big fan of our civil liberties and the documents on which they are based that speak so highly of the right to a trial by a jury of one's peers, I am happy to be given the chance to be one of those peers.

Truly.  The joke is that one's fate is decided by 12 people too dumb to get out of jury duty, but is that really what we want?  

I'll be checking my mail!

*This is one of those times where I agree with the bureaucratic language.  Serving on a jury truly is a privilege and one is "eligible" to receive privileges.  

** I checked. All of these are still the case.  

*** David's reaction when I told him that I outed myself to the Jury Office:  "You *called* the Jury ....  Huh..."

**** So it wasn't me, it was them.

***** Come on.  Al Pacino in And Justice for All, of course.