I'd like to talk to you today about world shrink.

"World shrink" is what I have named the phenomenon that probably has a fancy name in a psychology textbook somewhere. There is probably also a very apt and jargon-filled definition for it. I don't have that to offer, but I can tell you more about it than the average bear can.

World shrink is what happens when you're stuck somewhere for prolonged periods and you're under constant, significant stress. Your perception of the world shrinks down and things that would otherwise have never been noticed, or forgotten immediately, take on massive personal significance. You boil over at the slightest provocation, because in your tiny, stressful world, minor issues seem massive in comparison.

This is something I learned to recognize and deal with early and often in deployed environments. You learn that no matter how genial at first, everyone needs more and more extra slack as time goes on. Otherwise, the atmosphere turns poison and people start to bicker, even come to blows, over things as stupid as who gets which controller for a round of Madden, or the weight difference between wet and dry sandbags.

Ask me how I know. Ask me where these examples came from. I will tell you a story of two grown men, best friends since grade school, stopping a bloody brawl when the air raid sirens start, walking calmly to a bunker like a fire drill, and resuming their brawl as soon as they are sheltered from the incoming fire.

So what were these best friends brawling over, cursing mothers and loosening teeth for? The last red gummy worm.

Otherwise mature grownups revert to childish behavior, because they revert to a childlike perception of the world. Whose turn it is to do a chore, or who killed the coffee pot but didn't make more, or the veracity of some random statement become massive monoliths when scaled to fit in a reduced reality.

Somehow, I didn't see it coming when my world started to shrink. I spent a year focused so tightly inwards that I didn't see my horizons screaming towards me. I was staring at my feet while crossing the street, and never even saw the bus.

I spent a year in shithole apartments, was burgled regularly, unemployed and unhirable, few to no prospects to bootstrap myself, frustrated and angry. Chasing after ghosts and memories, I was blindly taking my first tentative steps down a road of total self destruction.

Inevitably, drama occurred in my tiny world. Drama happens when you get multiple humans interacting over a long enough time scale. With my world shrunken down to nothing, everything scaled up appropriately.

Normally something to be laughed about and just as quickly forgotten, I went into complete panic mode in some sort of desperate attempt to hold onto whatever turf I imagined myself to be defending. It was in the aftermath of that absurd, animal reaction that I realized how bad things had become. I had no other outlets and absolutely no other human contact that didn't involve drinking too much, chasing punk kids, or fighting with the VA.

In a sober moment, I realized that I needed to get moving again and see what else was out there. E2 had become the borders of my world, rather than a place to visit.

I made a concerted effort to expand.

Oddly enough, it took me back to the last place I ever thought I'd go. Working again, in Afghanistan, but this time with the prerogative to build and educate, not eradicate. I mean, someone has to figure out where these folks can poop that isn't the roof or the back stoop, so it might as well be me.

Someone has to teach the next generation of Afghans that their horizons are too wide to keep killing each other over tribal squabbles or what color the flag should be or who gets to pocket the most aid money. I am in a world of shit now, many days literally, but it's good work, and I am invincible.

So, this is part explanation, part apology, and part warning: Always expand your horizons and never allow them to collapse. Keep your perspective, and cut everyone some extra slack. Otherwise, you'll find yourself not just finding your inner child, but taking orders from him as well.

On politics: A 'Northern Tier' strategy?

I have heard it speculated amongst politically minded friends that Obama is setting up the board, in the final weeks of the election, to lock in on a 'Northern Tier' strategy. In this strategy, Obama counts on the Western states -- California, Oregon, Washington, and Hawaii -- which are solidly blue pretty much no matter what happens, and then focus on only Northern states -- from Minnesota to Maine -- to win the election. Specifically, in addition to those two, Obama would aim to win Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, and the District of Columbia. Naturally, most of those are deep blue, with only Iowa and Ohio being seriously contested, and Wisconsin requiring some effort to win. Added together, this collection of states brings 270 electoral votes, exactly the number needed to win.

Now, this strategy essentially writes off the geographically inconvenient contested Western states of Nevada, Colorado, and New Mexico (though Obama likely will win New Mexico, and quite possibly Colorado, anyway), and more critically abandons the expensive (and always somewhat inconvenient) Florida campaign. Florida is a hard state because it's media markets are spread across that long distance from Miami to Pensacola, with Jacksonville being out of the way as well. This strategy gives up on winning Virginia and North Carolina as well, though it leaves those states open to large last minute expenditures if one of them looks winnable come election day (probably Virginia; Obama hangs onto a slim overall lead there, due to shifting demographics, but has already essentially shuttered his North Carolina campaign). The idea behind the strategy is simple. Forget about doing any more than is necessary to accomplish the victory, and focus on ensuring it in an even smaller-than-usual handful of truly contested states -- which at this point, from that group, would be Iowa, Wisconsin, Ohio, and possibly New Hampshire. And, focus advertising dollars and the now-even-more-important campaign appearances (more important since advertising seems to have maxed out its ability to change minds in this campaign) just in that narrow band of close-together states.

The strategy, meanwhile, forces Romney to go to much wider expense and inconvenience, for he must pick off one of those heavily targeted Northern tier states and still must spend and appear enough to ensure winning Florida in the East -- as well as North Carolina, and Virginia -- and must win at least one, and probably two, of those three contested Western states. It is notable that Obama could choose one of two other variations on this strategy as well, going after Florida after all, while abandoning efforts in Iowa and Wisconsin, to achieve 283 electoral votes; or going after Virginia and North Carolina instead of Iowa and Wisconsin to reach 282 electoral votes.

Possibly the biggest downside of this strategy -- in addition to the absence of a margin for error -- is that it would write off any ability for Obama to claim a mandate in victory, and in fact makes him appear weaker in a second term, for winning with so much smaller of a map the second time around. It would have trickle-down effects into Congress, as well, for Democratic House and Senate candidates in those abandoned states would lose the enthusiasm of voters looking to support a presidential candidate in a contested state. Indeed, such a campaign tactic would much increase Obama's chances of winning a second term, but at the expense of losing the Senate and so essentially guaranteeing a hostile Congress (though, notably, a Congress which would be unable to do much of anything). So the question of strategy boils down to whether Obama would prefer to all-but guarantee himself a toothless victory where he would serve a largely irrelevant second term; or whether he would prefer to extend his risk of losing in order to claim a mandate and possibly hang on to the Senate.

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Question of the day:
What is today's question of the day? How about, 'who want's to post a log today'?
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In node auditing news:

Dannye is done-ye

Jet-Poop -- on page 20 of 27. 2/3+ there!!
etouffee -- on page 3 of 14

iceowl, and teleny are in the queueueue. Well, I mean, they are it....

Blessings, all!!

Hop #22

(Again, this probably isn't actually Hop 22, I've flown since the last daylog, but I'm starting to skip ones which would really just be "got airplane. Took off. Practiced. Landed. Done.")

Woke up around 7:30am because I woke up in northern Vermont. Gulped coffee, packed, threw my shit in the car and departed, headed south at a consistent 86MPH according to the speedo. Managed not to stop for gas or potty or get stopped by cops, so I arrived at 7B2 exactly two hours and thirty two minutes later, one minute past my scheduled time of 11:00. My CFI was still flying, so I grabbed the clipboard for N12732 and headed out to do the preflight.

Preflight was fine - 30+ gals in the tanks, 6 qts oil, all systems go. My CFI and his prior student landed and parked their Piper Warrior next to where I was busy dipping the wing tanks, and he came over and said "Hey, how about we do hood time?"

I said "Excellent" because that's another one of Those Things We Need To Do before I can take a checkride. Ticking off that list is good. He brought out a hood and a set of foggles (goggles fogged in the upper half so you can't see out the windscreen) and we strapped into 12732. Ran the checklist, started the plane, we put on our headsets -

...aaaaand nothing. No headset audio whatsoever, either on radio or intercom. It looked like the intercom unit wasn't powering up at all. We poked at it for five minutes before he made a 'pull it' motion, so I pulled the mixture to full lean/cutoff and the plane fell silent. We took off our (useless) headsets. "No point in flying hood if we can't hear each other," he said, looking irritatedly at the instrument panel.

I should point out that this airplane has dodgy avionics. I've gotten into it multiple times to see the dreaded INOP tag on COM/NAV2, or on the DME, or the second VOR indicator. I looked out the windshield at the four Pipers parked across the row (there's only the one 172) and said "Maybe I should switch to Pipers."

"Naaaah," he said. "We're too close. Get your ticket, then get a checkout in Warriors." We climbed out and headed back into the FBO where he and the desk clerk talked about the airplane. Turns out the clerk hadn't been able to hear our radio check request, either, so nothing had been working. But my CFI said "I'm gonna go try it just using the right side, the left headset jack can be twitchy" and headed out. A few minutes later, we heard him ask for a radio check, loud and clear - so I borrowed a different headset from the desk and carried my gear and his iPad back out to the plane. Plugged in the loaner, and everything worked fine.

Damn it. Hope it isn't my headset. Just bought that. But he shrugged. "Probably not," he said. "Might have needed a breaker reset."

Oh well, if he's not worried...heh. Meh, it's just an intercom.

So we prepped, taxied out, did the runup. "Let's depart to the north and head up to 3,000," he said. I nodded, announced and took off. We climbed out, chatting.

"So what're you gonna do to me today?" I asked.

"Me? What do I ever do?" he asked, innocently.

"Schyeah. I treat you as 'the airplane' when you're over there."

"Northampton traffic, Cessna Five Zero Five Four Uniform is five miles to the south, inbound to Northampton."

He fiddled with the radio as I turned crosswind. "Where was she?"

"Five miles south, inbound," I said absently, holding 80 MPH on climbout and starting to turn to the north along the downwind leg heading. She came back again.

"Northampton traffic, Cessna Five Zero Five Four Uniform requesting airport advisory."

My CFI clicked in. "Northampton is One Four, left hand traffic, winds calm."

She thanked us and we continued to the north. "My airplane," said my CFI. Surprised, I lifted my hands off the yoke and he handed me the hood. "Strap it on, birdman."

Ah, the hood.

So a minute later, he gave me back the airplane and I busied myself trying to keep us on course, on climb and wings-level. I was okay at it until I reached cruising altitude. I have found that I have real trouble staying level under the hood. Partially, this is because the altitude instruments (altimeter and VSI) both have a 'lag time' which makes it very difficult to maintain altitude without outside visual references. The heading indicator and turn and bank (and artificial horizon) all respond pretty much instantly, so it's easier to avoid turning. The artificial horizon is harder to see climb/descent on than a turn, too.

When we hit 3,000, my CFI let me fly for a minute or so, then said "Okay, give me a standard rate turn left to one eight zero." Translated: Turn left, at 3 degrees per second, until your heading is directly south - rolling out of the turn appropriately to end up on that heading. Did that.

"Let's descend to two thousand, and give me a right turn to zero nine zero."

"Descending to two thousand, turning right to zero niner zero." Busied myself doing that. Pulled out power, added carb heat, and busied myself both trying to keep the turn steady and to keep the rate of descent consistent at five hundred feet per minute. Did marginally well at both, but ended up at zero niner zero, still descending, and leveled out at 2,000 - adding power to stop the descent.

"Okay, not bad." He took us back to 3,000 feet, then, "Let's descend at 85 MPH to one 1,500 feet at five hundred feet per minute."

"Okay..." Juggled power settings and was reaching for flaps when he said "You don't need those." Burn. Okay boss. Pulled power right out, added carb heat and soon (he was right, of course) had the airplane at 85 MPH in a 500 FPM descent.

We continued in this vein for about fifteen minutes, then he had me climb from 1,500 back to 3,000 while turning right to one eight zero, and just as I got us into a climb and turning he said "Hey, what heading would we need to fly to go direct to the KEENE VOR?"

I blanked for a second, then realized what he was doing. "Uh, to answer that..." I flailed behind me on the rear seat - "...I would need my damn charts, which I left in the back." Got a hand on my Cessna flight kit and yanked it to the front, one eye on the turn and bank and the heading indicator and the altimeter and...argh. Opened the kit, found the sectional...ah, the right one, current, thank goodness. Put the kit back. Realized I had a bigger problem - this was a fresh, new sectional and had never been unfolded.

Ugh.

I kdi you not, it took me five minutes to get the chart unfolded to the right area (not even prettily or efficiently, just so I could see it at all and it was the right way up). I managed not to climb past 3,000, but I did go 10 or 15 degrees past 180 while fighting with the map. My CFI didn't say a thing, but I glanced over once and saw his shoulders shaking. Laughing his ass off, polite enough not to use the intercom.

"Okay, KEENE VOR is...(" found the box on the sectional) "109.4..." Punched that into NAV1, pulled IDENT and turned up the volume (*DIT* *DIT* *DAH-DIT*) "...got it. Okay, we're on the two zero seven radial from Keene, so we'd need to fly..." spun the OBS- "...zero two seven."

"Let's go, then."

Got us turned around, got to zero two seven heading and fishtailed a bit, hunting for the right heading as I moved back and forth across the radial. Finally found it and got us steady. Found that I'd ballooned up to 3,200 feet and corrected, easing the nose down and accepting the airspeed gain to get down to 3,000 - 100 feet is acceptable deviation, but only 100. Along the way, he switched COM1 to various freqs and checked in with various airport traffic areas we were passing over; I had no idea where we were until the VOR question. Now I knew the heading from the VOR, but not where I was.

"Great. Let's fly a two two zero from the KEENE VOR."

Spun the OBS to two two zero FROM; found the needle was deviated to the right. Turned right another twenty or so degrees to two four zero to intercept the two two zero radial; got a nod. When we found it, I fumbled around for a bit making the turn to align myself; but finally got it steady on course.

"Hey, let's test NAV2. Where are we?" I'd been waiting for that. Using VORs, you find the intersection of the two radials you're indicated FROM both known points - and that's your position. I didn't have a ruler, but I knew another VOR in the area. Tuned the second NAV to GARDNER (ident...right) and trued the needle. Traced out both lines, stabbed a finger down onto the sectional. "We're there."

He leaned over, looked. "Yup. I think so too. Cool. Okay, fly the two two zero, that'll take you back to Northampton. I'm going to be ATC and vector you into an approach, because you've gotten lost in cloud."

"Okay."

True to his word - "Cessna One Two Seven Three Two, I have you over Sunderland at three thousand, turn left one eight zero and maintain 3,000."

Okay then. "Control, understand position over Sunderland. Seven Three Two is turning left to one eight zero and maintaining three thousand." Did that.

He vectored me around the area for a while, and then had me make turns I recognized as 45 degree intercept for the downwind for One Four. Sure enough, he said "My airplane - take it off" and when I did so, I was on a left downwind for that familiar runway, at the right speed, right height, and on the right course. I grinned at him. It was a weird feeling, but a really empowering one! I got it down through the pattern - came in a bit low, had to add power (YOU LOSE POINTS FOR THAT, I am learning, hahaha) and landed gently near the numbers, and although I had to turn a bit far around, made the turnoff.

"So?"

"So I learned to always have the sectional at hand, ideally folded properly. I learned I need more practice flying under the hood because I have issues with altitude, and I learned I tend to turn the airplane right when I'm not paying attention. Also, I learned that coming out of hood or weather and seeing an airport is just fucking awesome."

"Bingo."

Taxied back in, shut down the airplane and went in for the day. We made plans to do night flying next week, and a long cross-country (> 50 miles) the week after that.

Later in the evening, I was thinking about it. I logged an hour of time under the hood. That means, given how we were flying, that I flew an airplane for over 100 miles, following instructions that could have come from the ground, and ended up in the pattern at the airport, ready to land. Weird weird weird but really, really cool. And - bonus, because I was worried about it - I didn't get nauseous or really disoriented once. Of course, it's easier when you know you can just rip the hood off in an emergency...

Now I wish the 172 I fly had full ILS, so we could try to shoot localizer approaches under the hood. It doesn't, but I think when I get checked out on a Warrior I'll make him take me to do that.

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