Parsed Participle

The personal weblog of Faiz Kazi: Mostly oddities in programming, life in Japan, occasionally music.

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Tue, 10 May 2011

Point Cook Airbase

I went on an aerobatic joy-flight on Sunday. Melbourne offers a variety of aviation-related adventure sports, but I was on the lookout for something like a biplane ride. More specifically, an aerobatic flight.

Now options abound if you have a valid pilot's license: Even without an aerobatic endorsement, you can actually get the controls and do simple loops and barrel-rolls, or perhaps even engage in a dogfight.

In my case, with only a day's notice, and hardly over twenty hours of non-aerobatic flight experience which are already over 10 years stale - my options were limited to joy flights. I found a small organization that conducts short joy rides in the legendary Tiger Moth. The most surprising thing was the airfield where these rides are conducted. The RAAF Williams Point Cook Airbase is known for being the oldest operational airbase anywhere in the world. It is also the birthplace of the Royal Australian Air Force (which was known as the Australian Flying Corps at the time).

My flight was scheduled for 10:15 AM on Sunday morning, with a briefing at 10:00 AM. It turns out that George, an old friend and aero-modeling mentor from my school days just happened to be living at Point Cook, by sheer coincidence. Unlike me, over the years, he has taken the pains to realize the kind of childhood dreams we'd shared - He actually does a good deal of RC flying, and also has a pilot's license. We decided to meet at the RAAF Museum, which is also located within the airbase and also open to the public.

I had flown into Melbourne the day before; not only was I tired from this flight, I was also generally sleep deprived and seemed to have caught a cold. I spoke to the Tiger Moth joy flight people, who advised me that the aerobatics would not be very wild, but that one must be prepared for experiencing up to 3G. This worried me somewhat, both because of my tourist-weary state, and also because of my general physique (lanky/skinny, poorly developed abdomen/torso muscles). The best I could hope for was to do some sit-ups prior to the flight, and eat a compact, dry, yet nutritious breakfast. This is not something I even bothered to research, I just assumed that it would help.

I promised to meet George at the RAAF Museum, joking that this was provided that I did not pass out on the flight.

So did I?

I arrived at 10:00, and there was hardly any briefing. There was a small hangar (actually just a tent), and a couple of Tiger Moths and a Yak-52. I was greeted by three men, one of whom was the pilot and they simply tossed me a jacket and asked if I was ready to go. I asked if there was a toilet, to which they replied, "If you just want to take a leak, go for it." and pointed to the nearby bushes. I did so, and also took the opportunity to do some 50 sit-ups before I returned to put on a warm leather jacket, gloves, a helmet and hopped right into a Tiger Moth cockpit. They strapped me in, swung the propeller, the engine started and we were off. I have flown a plane with a tail-dragger undercarriage before; (the HAL Pushpak), so I was familiar with the experience of Taxing without being able to look over the nose. To my untrained ear, the engine sounded great, I remarked so over the intercom, but over the noise all I could hear back was something about the plane being very old.

Take off was not very interesting, but I was surprised how quickly we were airborne. At hardly a hundred feet, we banked sharply to the left and then climbed to 700 feet, headed off to a vantage point between the airfield and the city which was supposed to be the scenic leg of the flight, over the ships, beaches and fields. The Melbourne skyline was very clearly visible.

We then climbed to 4000 feet. I should mention that up until now I had the wind in my face, sans goggles. I put them on, and mentally prepared myself for 15 minutes of aerobatics, the format of which I was not told in advance, but the pilot did ask if I was feeling OK, and once we hit 4000 feet, we started with a dive, a loop, then a few barrel rolls. The first sensation was not like I expected, but very exhilarating nevertheless. I did the whole stomach-flexing and breathing routine, and did not feel the least bit uncomfortable. I think I let out a yell of exhilarated joy at the end of the first barrel roll, and quickly asked how many G's we'd pulled. I doubt there was an accelerometer on board, but was told we'd probably pulled some 2.5G. I felt like I could handle some more, and replied saying so when asked if I'd like to try something more wild. Thus followed a few more minutes of slightly more intense maneuvers, which I think began with a short spin. Only the spin was slightly scary, but I was having too much fun as we pulled out of it, gained speed and did a series of maneuvers I could not clearly identify because I was looking all around enjoying every minute.

"She's not bad for an ol' girl, eh?"
Said the friendly pilot. The G's felt stronger towards the end but I think I could have handled a little more. We landed in the grass, and I tried in vain not to smile like a monkey as we taxied to a halt. And that was that. They just said bye, and I was on my way.

I met George at the Museum, and we took some photos of the F-111 Aardvark, a plane I have always been fascinated with:

2011-05-08 11.36.08

The Museum was OK. As one can expect, they support the theory that Von Richthofen was killed by Australian infantry (machine gun fire) when he flew too low in pursuit of an RFC machine. I wish I had also taken photos of the Mosquito, yet another object of my childhood fascination (what aircraft wasn't?) at the restoration hangar, but oh, well.



Sun, 08 May 2011

Colloquialisms

Chocky Milk Chocolate Milk
Brekky Breakfast
Bottle Shop Liquor Store
Barbie Barbecue
Bendie Bus Buses with vestibules
Footie Australian Football


Sat, 30 Apr 2011

Australia

I flew into Sydney this morning, and from there to Mebourne. I am here on a short Golden Week vacation. The family is rendezvousing here instead of Chennai, India for various logistical reasons, but from my part, a visit to Australia has lonjg been overdue. Sadly, at least one old friend from school who used to live (Arjun) here no longer does. I ended up buying one of those 'pocket wifi' devices at Sydney Airport. I had to do that because I was depending on my Android and tethering for connectivity but apparently NTT Docomo does indeed lock their Galaxy-S phones. Let's see how how the pocket wifi thing works out. The funny thing is I was under the impression that I was hiring it and not buying it (as one usually hires a phone at an airport). More later.
posted: 04:54 | path: /travel | permanent link to this entry


Wed, 23 Mar 2011

Optimism (with references to bananas, no less)

I discovered this post a while ago: Some Perspective On The Japan Earthquake. On radiation, and bananas:
At present, in terms of radiation risk, the tsunami appears to be a wash: on the one hand there’s a near nuclear meltdown, on the other hand the tsunami disrupted something really dangerous: international flights. (One does not ordinarily associate flying commercial airlines with elevated radiation risks. Then again, one doesn’t normally associate eating bananas with it, either. When you hear news reports of people exposed to radiation, keep in mind, at the moment we’re talking a level of severity somewhere between “ate a banana” and “carries a Delta Skymiles platinum membership card”.)
On luck, and preparedness:
(An earlier draft of this post said “lucky.” I have since reworded because, honestly, screw luck. Luck had absolutely nothing to do with it. Decades of good engineering, planning, and following the bloody checklist are why this was a serious disaster and not a nation-ending catastrophe like it would have been in many, many other places.)
posted: 23:57 | path: /japan/quake | permanent link to this entry


Mon, 21 Mar 2011

Radiation In Tokyo

UPDATE (Wed, 13 Apr): The daily graphs are no longer updated, as the do not show any interesting trends any more. I will stop auto-updating the week/month graphs perhaps by the end of this month.
Graphs courtesy Ishida-san. The data is pulled off of here. JAIST is the "Japan Advanced Institute of Science and Technology". All graphs are updated once every 30 minutes.

Radiation in Tokyo, By Day

Note that 0.035uSv/h is the normal amount. This means that Tokyo is still experiencing almost thrice the usual amount of radiation.

These graphs also feature values recorded at Tsukuba, Ibaraki Prefecture. (Ibaraki Prefecture is where the Contaminated Spinach was discovered)

Radiation in Tokyo, By Week

Radiation in Tokyo, By Month

posted: 21:12 | path: /japan/quake | permanent link to this entry


Sat, 19 Mar 2011

Earthquake, Tsunami, Nuclear Crisis

I am in Sapporo now. Despite news of radioactive iodine traces found in tap water, I do not believe that Tokyo is actually dangerous to be in at this time. However, having left Tokyo for Sapporo, the fears of most friends and family outside Japan have been allayed greatly. Quite frankly, these fears themselves, and repeated pleas that I flee the country have been a greater cause of anxiety than the actual events themselves.

There is far much more alarm felt overseas, I believe, than within Japan itself. This is understandable - in a way, the international media has exacerbated the panic felt outside of Japan, especially as far as Fukushima is concerned. Some headlines from this week that talk of the situation in and around Fukushima read as though they also apply to Tokyo, and in some cases, the whole of Japan as well. It's very true, for example, that quite a few emergency workers at the plant are risking their lives by exposure to high levels of radiation - but in Tokyo, where the readings are still too small to pose any long-term risks, the current level of panic is not justified. It's triggered by ignorance that in a way cannot be helped - it's very difficult to explain technical details objectively, given that we're talking about nuclear power plants. If one has an objective look at the numbers, the panic seems both exaggerated and in a way, disrespectful to the people who are actually risking their lives at the location of the reactors. As of Sunday, the situation at the reactors is looking up, if anything.

MEXT (The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology) publishes readings by area:

According to this, taking a chest X-ray is far more dangerous than being in Tokyo even at the time of the radiation spike (approximately 9:00 AM last Tuesday).

Tokyo University publishes readings measured at the Campus as well.

Sweden, apparently, has regions where there are higher levels of natural radiation.

NHK World and Kyodo News provide faster and more accurate updates (in English):

Meanwhile, here in Sapporo I have access to television, which I did not have in Tokyo, having only just moved to a new apartment. Things are not great, but they are not as bad as the international media makes them appear. And, at the present moment, they are getting better. Will things get worse? If so, what exactly is the worst case? I found this summary of background information very useful (Thanks, Curt). Read from the section titled, What in the hell is going on here? It's recommended if you started on Wikipedia with Chernobyl and found it too technical to read through. I only wish I found it before having spent a few hours on Wikipedia myself.

To sum it all, I'm not planning on leaving Japan. And that is not just about solidarity, it's more about common sense and practicality, at this point. I do have a holiday planned, towards the end of April / beginning of May, and I'm hoping to stick to that, though. In any case, I am sufficiently far from both Fukushima and Tokyo (Sapporo is about 500km North of the reactors). People are upbeat, cheerful, and there is news of reconstruction everywhere. Sapporo City has already begun issuing temporary housing to evacuees from Fukushima (as of the day before yesterday).

posted: 22:57 | path: /japan/quake | permanent link to this entry


Wed, 16 Mar 2011

Massive Earthquake and Tsunami

Today's earthquake is apparently the largest ever recorded in Japan.

Once things settle, I will post in another blog about my general disappearance from the blogosphere. But first things first:

  • I was in Tokyo, in Office, on the 8th floor when it struck.
  • I am safe, and so is everyone I know - almost - I have yet to speak to my landlady.
  • The shaking lasted for several minutes, and a good component of the vibrations were on the vertical axis. There were at least two, long (of the order of several minutes) large spans of violent shaking, and continuous tremors till nearly evening.
  • Trains are not running. As a result, the streets are filled everywhere with millions of commuters walking back home. For some, it may take well over six hours to get home.
  • JR (Japan Railways) has offically stopped all operations until morning.

posted: 04:47 | path: /japan/quake | permanent link to this entry


Tue, 01 Sep 2009

Leaving East Harlem

I'm moving out of my East Harlem apartment today. The actual moving took place on Friday (August 28th), and was a complicated affair involving a route that took us (and the movers) through various neighborhoods in Manhattan picking up and trading used furniture, rendezvousing at intricately planned moments and locations, and finally arriving at the new apartment, where two entire van-loads of furniture, books, appliances, CDs and random junk were hauled up four flights of stairs.

I should point out that the new apartment is on the fifth floor of a very old pre-war walk-up building. You never realize that you've been taking elevators for granted until you suddenly don't have one.

In general, my new residence seems typical of apartments in the Upper East Side. It'll take me a while to get used to, and it appears that I've grown used to thinking of Harlem as home - despite having lived in the area for only seven months. I am at my old apartment on 120th street as I write this, and I'm still feeling regretful of my decision to move. Today is the last day of my lease. It's only natural that I feel this way: This apartment was unusually spacious for Manhattan standards, had a great view, an elevator big enough for my bike, and a washer and dryer inside. It was a much higher standard of living than I anticipated before I arrived in the US. But the real reason I am sad to leave is the neighborhood - despite it's stereotypical reputation as a 'dodgy' neighborhood, El Barrio is not only very safe and peaceful, it also has a lot of charm, great food, lots of family run businesses and restaurants, hardly any chain stores, and a sense of community which you can find in only very few other neighborhoods in New York. There were several times I felt guilty about the comfort I was enjoying. It's a well known fact that gentrification has been forcing local residents out of the area for a few years now, and newly-built 'luxury' apartments such as this one - which sticks out like a sore thumb among beautiful old townhouses - are to blame for the rising rent.

Prices seem to have fallen badly this year, though. We were offered a decent reduction on the monthly rent by our landlord, as were our neighbors. The offer came too late; I had by then, already signed up for a new place (the UES apartment), and plans for the move were pretty much irreversible.

On the bright side, I will be saving some money (I had better, given that the new house is nowhere as comfortable as the last). I'll also be closer to work/University, which means my bike ride will be shorter. The most interesting thing is my room: It is connected to the house by a spiral staircase, and leads straight to an almost private terrace!

posted: 03:19 | path: /life | permanent link to this entry


Thu, 11 Jun 2009

Squatting cats

This link on YAHOO! Japan with funny cat pictures was brought to my attention. YAHOO! Japan has a contest for the best photos of cats sitting in a certain funny (squatting) way:
The title reads "Sko-suwari contesto, neko gentei" (in Japanese: 「スコ座り」コンテスト【ねこ限定】). In English, if I dare try:

"Scottish-fold-style sitting contest, for cats."
Suko-suwari got me curious, and after googling it on a few Japanese blogs, I learned that it is a made-up phrase that refers to the peculiar sitting style of Scottish Fold cats.

posted: 01:11 | path: /japan | permanent link to this entry


Sun, 08 Mar 2009

Founder of NYU Computer Science passes away at 79

Jacob Schwartz, the founder of the Courant Institute's Computer Science Department, and designer of the SETL programming language passed away last week. He was behind the NYU Ultracomputer project.

SETL is incidentally one of the languages we will be studying as part of the 'Honors Programming Languages' course. SETL is said to have indirectly influenced Python. It is based on Set Theory and allows very succinct list-comprehension-like one-liners. At the start of the course (in January), we were told that it was decided to drop Python in SETL's favor since SETL would be more 'fun'.

posted: 16:20 | path: /programming | permanent link to this entry


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