I never fly to visit my parents for Christmas as I figure the five and half hours it takes to get there by car is the same if I fly. This year I tried flying ... and I've been sitting at the airport for two hours with two more to go as my flight is delayed almost three hours -- because of the Philadelphia connection.
Not complaining, but wondering why one city is the center of so many flight delays. I really don't mind delays, as much as I travel I'm used to them -- but what is up with Philadelphia?
I've even heard pilots mumbling four-letter words about getting stuck with the Philly route. Are they unorganized there? Or is it a lack of runways? It can't always be the weather ...
I really don't know. If someone out there does, please tell me.
Anyway, it's a cold, but sunny day and the Internet here is free and I am finally on vacation.
Now I remember why I do not often travel. It can be a living nightmare. I know people say that; I say that quite often, in fact, but I really, truly mean it this time, from the depths of my being.
I was a victim in an armed robbery once (stay with me, I promise there is a point to this tangent), when I was in my early twenties. After the terrifying ordeal, I sat in the safe confines of a NH state trooper's vehicle, recounting the event three times: verbally while the officer took notes, verbally while being recorded, and then committing the harrowing tale to paper in my own hand.
I recall it now like it happened last week, and the worst part of it for me was the complete and utter sense of helplessness. Two men held guns to my head while I knelt on the cold, hard floor of a convenience store covering my face with my hands, so as not to see the man who I thought was surely going to end my life.
I feared for my life then, but what was most frightening to me was that at that moment I had absolutely no control over what happened to me. I felt and witnessed a similar helplessness rampant at the Northwest Airlines areas of multiple airports this week. (Now I know why it has earned the unfortunate "NorthWORST" moniker.)
I am no shrinking violet; rather, I have been described as "outspoken," "strong," and at times, "resilient." Yet, a--let's say--less-than-helpful Northwest agent/supervisor (P. Freeman in Minneapolis/St. Paul, you know who you are) let me know that, in no uncertain terms, she was in control of my destiny that rueful day. She was without question the worst airline representative I have encountered in more than 20 years--no small feat. She reveled in her power over travelers from all walks of life, who were forcibly corralled and slowly shuffling along like farm animals being led off to slaughter.
What did this agent do with her power over the 20 or so of us unfortunate enough to be ushered into her line (by pointing at us with two fingers and grimacing, mind you)? What she did for me, specifically, was reduce me to tears, opt against re-routing my checked luggage, rule out the meal vouchers other agents were handing to stranded passengers, and put me on "puddle-jumpers" to such fun locales as Newark after a nice, lengthy stay in lovely Minneapolis, where the temp was a balmy two below zero. Little did I know, that was just the beginning.
I had no way of knowing that I had just embarked upon a trip that would involve: four airports, three delayed flights, two hours sitting on the tarmac, one cancelled flight...and a partridge in a pear tree. Wait, I'm not done: add to that one long stint in a holding pattern, ridiculously long lines, numerous phone calls, several pathetic (but not apathetic) agents, watching Monday Night Football among stranded travelers in Newark, and luggage that has yet to rear its head--all to get from one coast to the other. It was not even accomplished in a full day.
This agent who I thought hailed straight from Hades is not alone, sad though it may be. I would not be writing this blog if she was acting alone. No, I'm sorry to say, there are many others like her who seem bent on making travelers' lives miserable during their commute.
I have long witnessed the same horrible distemper and subsequent mistreatment by TSA personnel, who often don't even use words, opting instead to point at us and then at the spot where they want us to be. Many airline and airport personnel do not even deem us worthy of eye contact. Who thought I would miss the days when they barked commands at us, rather than pointing at and directing us with two fingers? Not me.
Most times these days, travelers are reduced to the stature of a preschooler upon just entering the airport. Perhaps that was an unfair analogy--after all, even preschoolers get a free snack. When did things go awry? We are the customers. We spend the money that pays their salaries. What happened to "the customer is always right"? Are we not entitled to friendly, helpful customer service? What happened to this industry? When they put someone through hell, why don't they feel compelled to make things right or, at the very least, pretend to care? No wonder few people list "travel" as one of their favorite hobbies. I have had it with planes. Bring on the trains and automobiles.
Ok, maybe not fighting but sponsoring companies of the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) were flipping coins to see who got which journalist at their table at the AIA Year-End Review and Forecast luncheon last week at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington.
BAE Systems beat out DRS Technologies in the very hotly contested McHale sweepstakes. Gotta love America -- where else can you find multi-billion dollar companies flipping quarters to hob nob with disheveled tech writers.
The AIA forecast was remarkably positive for the next year, predicting growth of 4.8 percent in 2009. I've been hearing good vibes from my defense contacts as well. They say their backlog is all set for next year and that they barely have time to field all the orders coming in for military electronics.
It is a much rosier view than that of my brother, who is in private equity. He fears unemployment may hit 12 percent by June.
If the other markets tank, I hope our industry can hold steady till the business cycle turns.
In aviation a lot will depend on how the global economy holds up as much of the backlog for commercial aircraft comes from foreign orders.
¶ 12/16/2008 11:15:00 AM0 Comments
Sunday, December 14, 2008
Living like a pioneer in the wake of Northeast ice storm Posted by John Keller
I've got an overwhelming desire to wear solid colors, suspenders, and a tall, wide-brim hat after spending the last few days without electricity after last Thursday's ice storm that has paralyzed large chunks of the Northeast.
That was Thursday. Today is Sunday, and the local power utility says we'll be lucky to get our electricity back by next Wednesday. Lucky. I gotta tell you I'm not feeling all that lucky.
I'm writing this from the office in Nashua that, thankfully, has power. A colleague just sauntered in -- toddler in tow -- who said, "I'm just here to get contact with the outside world."
The power went out Thursday night as my wife and I sat up most of the night listening to trees snapping and limbs breaking that sounded like gunshots, and electric utility circuit breakers giving way that sounded like grenades. Flashes of lightning in the distance lent to the feeling of being in a war zone.
The sight outside on Friday morning was more of the same. Trees were across the road outside, which had taken down the electric, telephone, and cable TV wires of several neighbors. Near-panicked motorists were just trying to find a clear route out of the neighborhood.
I'm glad I have a chain saw, because I put it to good use Friday and Saturday -- first helping to clear my street, then to get downed trees out of the yards of two neighbors, and finally to start cutting up the limbs and trees littering my yard and threatening my ugly brown shed.
At least the electric wires are still connected between my house and the physically intact (I think) power line that runs down the street. Neighbors were not so lucky. One big tree sheared off the wires to a neighbor's house but left the connections into the house. A friend a couple of streets over had falling trees snap a power pole in two, ripping off all the wires to her house and taking the electric meter with it.
We're going to be hunkered down for a long while. We have heat from the wood stove, thankfully. The big problem is water. We have well and septic, and no power means no water. We're hauling buckets for flushing and buying water by the gallon when and where we can find it.
I got a refresher course last night in the joys of taking a sponge bath from a pan of water heated up on the stove (at least the gas stove works). I suppose it could be worse.
I'm not missing television. I do miss the Internet, I have to admit. But when we're warm, it's not so bad to enjoy the calm, golden glow of candlelight. We have a hand-crank radio we used last night to listen to A Prairie Home Companion. My wife said, "I feel like we're back in the '30s."
It was kind of a peaceful feeling. Lose power and water, and it brings your priorities into focus very quickly. Keeping wood for the fire close by is one. Finding water is another (our neighbors own a shop in town that still has water).
Many of our stories this past year have covered how U.S. Department of Defense leaders are pushing aside funding for long-term programs to get equipment and technology into the field quickly to help the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan -- especially for technology to defeat improvised explosive devices (IEDs).
Developing technology for mission critical applications is not typically done over night, and it taxes engineers to find a viable solution in a short time while still ensuring the reliability necessary for harsh environments
I had the opportunity last week to visit engineers at Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control in Orlando, Fla., to learn more about a quick-turn around effort they did for electronics aboard the U.S. Army Apache helicopter.
The Army Aviation Applied Technology Directorate (AATD) tasked the Lockheed engineers to design the Apache Video from Unmanned Aircraft Systems for Interoperability Teaming -- Level 2 (VUIT-2) program last year. Lockheed engineers completed the system in just over 10 months.
Production engineers in the Lockheed manufacturing facility told me it was the fastest they ever had to turn around a program from start to finish, but now they know they can do it. They said that the lessons they learned will he applied to other programs they are working on to possibly speed up the production cycle.
The VUIT-2 essentially enables video to be transferred to ground units for improved situational awareness. It will also be used in conjunction with unmanned aircraft, Lockheed Martin engineers said. The VUIT-2 does not interfere with the helicopter's avionics, which helped shorten the design cycle as well, they said.
¶ 12/09/2008 03:33:00 PM0 Comments
When the economy turns south, most businesses reign in expenditures by curtailing travel. It is easy, however, to become cloistered in the office and detached from the industry. I know of what I speak, as I often and inadvertently find myself holed up in my Spokane office, conversing only by digital methods. A trip to I/ITSEC in Orlando, however, saved me from my Emily Dickenson-like existence and put me back in touch with the markets I so happily serve.
I noted a dichotomy in Orlando. On the show floor, enthusiasm, optimism, and hope for future technology advancements, profit increases, and budget expansions abounded. Outside the convention center, the mood was somber, even in a locale that boasts various family attractions. Sure, children cheered, "I'm going to Disney World," but parents' faces and audible sighs told another story. (Did you know that the entry fee for Universal is $75?!)
In the morning, I read of 20,000 jobs lost this week alone and unemployment rates reaching their highest level since 1974. I will admit that when I am working away in my office, this news elicits little response from me, other than a "huh." Out in the real world (if you can call Orlando that), however, the news made much more impact. En route to the convention center, I noted a baker's dozen signs hanging in merchant windows that read: "We are NOT hiring."
As I was sitting in the airport, I saw an interview with a man in Manhattan seeking employment. In the CNN piece titled "Sign of the Times," a middle-aged business executive wore a sandwich-board sign, the heading of which was "Almost Homeless." His story followed the eye-catching headline, and he told reporters, "I cannot afford pride; I need to care for my family."
All this put things into greater perspective for me, so I resolved to try and live on the cheap. I ate inexpensively at fast food restaurants, only to find that in many places, the "dollar menu" is no more. As I was tightening my belt, however, I noticed that everything else was tightening--not the least of which is the rest of my outfit. Alas, I must find other means of saving money during travel; after all, what do I gain in paying more for insurance premiums and health care as a result of saving a buck in a fast-food line.
I am interested in how you and your company are dealing with the declining economy. Let us know here, or in the Command Post online community. Here's to more prosperous times!
It's all simulated of course, but if you enjoy video games or really want to see how the military uses modern technology to improve training it's a show worth attending.
One of the hot areas for new training techniques is in dismounted applications such as urban warfare. For decades most of the military has trained for open field battles with large forces, but the scenarios in Iraq and Afghanistan have changed that paradigm.
Virtual reality system integrators are showcasing systems at IITSEC that enable soldiers to train in a computer generated urban environment, then review the performance for the point of view of each warfighter in the unit.
One company designing these systems is Atlantis Cyberspace, Inc., in Honolulu, Hi. Their booth is strategically located next to that of Military & Aerospace Electronics at booth number 1454.