Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Miracle on the Hudson

Definitely the picture of the year if not the awesome news story of the year was the whole Miracle on the Hudson/US Airways plane crash debacle from last week. In all the coverage, the talking heads just kept going over all the variables that made this such a ridiculously crazy event. And so with a nod to The Trampoline Bear and its fun gimmick, I present the top ten variables from this disaster turned miracle.

1.) Birds!

So who knew that birds possessed such a threat to airplanes? I kinda figured planes would just zip through flocks and shred them to bits. Even if one did hit a plane, I wouldn't have thought that it would bring down a jet. We aren't talking experimental, wimpy aircraft here. This was a real plane! How many planes and how many birds share the skies on any given day? And today the elements came together to cause a crash.

2.) Decision

Quickly, the pilots knew of impending doom and quickly they made the decision to crash land in the Hudson River. That in of itself is a mighty tough decision to make. Yes, we have a plane full of people, and yes, we are making the conscious decision to crash it into a busy waterway. What a responsibility and what a responsibility knowing that an attempt at the nearest actual runway might endanger New Yorkers on the ground.

3.) The landing

I read something in the USA Today that said there had been something like four successful water landings in the modern jet era that would not qualify as a disaster. This type of landing, despite whatever training the pilot had had, is not well practiced at any level. Thrown into a real life situation with hundreds of lives at risk, those pilots made one heck of a landing.

4.) It floats

Much like the bird situation in point number one, I cannot say that I would have ever considered the possibility of the plane floating. As soon as that thing hit the water, I would have thought for sure that water would rush in and sink it in moments. Sure enough, the jetliner stayed up long enough for people to evacuate and leave safely.

5.) The back door

A Dateline report revealed a lesser known good break in the case in that a flight attendant, upon water landing, attempted to open the back door. Training had told them that exiting at the nearest door was the best option, but in this case opening said door would result in water rushing into the plane. After the jammed door would not open, flight attendants and passengers moved toward the front of the plane and left via doors that were not submerged.

6.) The picture

Truly one of the most amazing pictures ever. A crash landing in the Hudson River and survivors standing on the wing.

7.) Ferry help

The same Dateline report revealed that the pilots attempted to maneuver the aircraft toward the ferry terminals to maximize the amount of rescue help available. Sure enough, boats motored up to the aircraft in mere minutes after the touchdown. Boats of passengers made their way to shore, getting individuals to the safe and sound shore as quickly as possible.

8.) Calm and orderly

By all accounts, everyone involved was incredibly calm and made for an orderly evacuation. In a crisis such as this, I would not have thought it possible to have over a hundred calm passengers in a plane crash exit without pushing, shoving, and utter chaos. I go back to that picture of people lined up on the wing, patiently waiting for help to come. No sign of panic exists at all.

9.) Freezing

I have complained and will continue to complain about the arctic conditions here in Minnesota, but the weather in New York was no balmy afternoon. The cold air temperature and the frigid river waters surely would combine to cause some serious problems, wouldn't they? No major cases of hypothermia, no frost bite. The weather might as well have been 75 and sunny for the lack of damaging effect on the plane crash.

10.) Not a single fatality

But of all the events and all the factors, that there was not a single fatality is the most miraculous. In any other replay of all the factors that went into this event - birds taking out jet engines, a water landing, freezing river water - there is no way that everyone makes it out alive. What a blessing to all those involved that this disaster was salvaged into what is now called the Miracle on the Hudson.

Monday, January 12, 2009

The West Wing

This past weekend, Becky and I concluded our enjoyable quest that began over a year ago. Back in 2006, we decided that a nice Christmas present to one another would be a subscription to Netflix. For we believed that this medium would be a nice way to watch old TV series that we had never had the chance to see the first time around. Our schedules made renting discs full of episodes unfeasible, and we didn't want to commit to buying entire seasons of shows that we might decide weren't worth our time or money. And so we subscribed to Netflix with the full intent to try the West Wing.

What followed was a delightful viewing of what I consider to be the finest television drama ever produced. Many a wonderfully boring Friday night was spent at the Wolf household watching the adventures of the Jed Bartlett White House and those who made the fictional government go round. This past weekend, we watched the final episode of the series and with it a bit of sadness as characters we had come to know and love concluded their existence.

What made the show special was an ability to create fascinating characters and place them in unique settings. Furthermore, over an eight year Presidency, one would expect people to shift roles and have different responsibilities, which is exactly what the West Wing gives the viewer. For just the President stays in the same position throughout the entire series, and in the last episode only when a new President is inaugurated does the show conclude. The reworking of different people in different roles rejuvenated the show, keeping story lines fresh for the seven seasons the program aired. A few new characters entered the West Wing, and while none of them were as memorable as the original crew, they did a nice job of mixing in and relating to the old characters.

What I enjoyed most was the witty, quick moving banter. In a day and age of "lowest common denominator" humor trying to appeal to the masses, I greatly appreciated the effort to slip in intelligent comedy. Aaron Sorkin gets a good deal of the credit here as the West Wing was his brainchild. While I would have loved to have had Sorkin write the entire duration of the show, those seasons after his departure still had value if not a little off pace from the killer early shows.

The series finale was a nice mix of nostalgia, wrapping up story lines, and even a bit of drama as the President waits until the very closing seconds of his Presidency on whether to issue a Presidential pardon. I was pleased with the last West Wing effort, which given some other disappointing series finales, was something I feared might happen. But alas, I walk away from the West Wing pleased and satisfied, wishing the show would continue yet longer.

And so I say goodbye to President and Mrs. Barlett, Toby, Josh, Sam, CJ, Leo, Charlie (who had the best closing scene of them all), Donna, Mrs. Landingham, Santos, and Vinnick. May readers of Wolfden V find your adventurers as delightfully wonderful as I did.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Walk the plank, matey

The lead CNN story this morning concerned a Saudi tanker being freed after ransom was paid to its Somali pirates. This incident being one of dozens of pirate stories that have originated from the region in the past few months. While horrible and terrible for the crew and devastating to the commerce of the area, I am having a difficult time coming to terms with why this isn't more preventable.

The general idea, from what I have read, is to throw a whole bunch of good guy war ships in the area to patrol for the bad guys and keep them at bay. Sure fine, good start, whatever. The area is massive and is akin to throwing a grain of rice in a bathtub and expecting it to cover all this terrain. Simply, it's not feasible, and I get that.

But, how is it that we are able to pinpoint parachute a million bucks on to the deck of the captured ship, take pictures of it, and then let everyone get away clean? We aren't talking Harry Potter invisibility cloak here. How about following them? How about capturing them as they reenter home base? How about using a pinpoint parachute technique to bomb them (less ideal but you get the point)?

Is it a matter of international waters and no one taking responsibility here? If that's the case, I think the terrorized business and countries harmed in these piracy attacks would find it in their best interests to work something out. After all, so long as pirates are going to continue to be rewarded and left to sail away unharmed, they are going to keep doing it. Figure it out.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

We have a coach!

Continuing in the fine and proud tradition of Chris Palmer, Butch Davis, and Romeo Crennel, the Cleveland Browns enter 2009 with a muppet at the helm.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Satellite Radio

I was a slow believer in satellite radio. In fact, I still hold some reservations on the idea. After all, as a radio broadcasting major, I appreciate and enjoy the art of the human disc jockey, which is pretty much absent from satellite radio. The local feel of terrestrial radio is another plus as weather, traffic, and news for specific towns is better than listening to CNN on the radio, which you can in fact do with XM/Sirius.

The debate between the two was never especially relevant as I didn't have a drive or really a feasible medium to try XM/Sirius. That changed when I bought my new Malibu this past fall. Part of the enticement of purchasing the vehicle was a temporary subscription to XM/Sirius. Early on, my favorite part was being able to enjoy Cleveland Indians baseball at all times, which despite the team's pathetic showing in 2008, was still a plus. The radio stations were a plus, too, as there were three or four that I could flip around and find a splendid tune to hum along with.

In all, I still think that there is a place for traditional radio, but on the way home today, I became convinced that despite XM/Sirius bleeding money the concept will succeed. Why?

Play list for XM Lithium:
Stone Temple Pilots: Plush
Our Lady Peace: Clumsy
Foo Fighters: Stacked Actors
Counting Crows: Round Here

I might as well have been listening to a Violent Rhythmic Cadence rock block. Blessed 90s rock! Can't beat that stack of songs, and I definitely wouldn't find it on any Minnesota station.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

The 2008 election will never end! Behold Minnesota's Senate race.

I thought Election 2008 would be long over come the first weeks of January, but us Minnesotans have managed to stretch out the process an additional two months. I'm pretty sure that this whole campaign started back in the 1900s sometime, but I digress.

Yes, we've stretched out this election process because of our stupidly close Senate race which has pitted incumbent Norm Coleman up against Al Franken. The vote was so close that we triggered an automatic recount because the final tally at the end of election day was something like one tenth of one one hundredth of one millionth percent. Like I said, stupidly close.

After the original count, Coleman claimed victory with a couple thousand votes narrowly separating himself from the SNL alum. Then the recount began. I never had put much thought or interest in a recount since nothing I had ever voted in was that close that a recount was necessary. Here in Minnesota we have those optical scan ballots (think elementary school scantron), which really eliminates the subjective nature of voting that marred the 2000 Florida recount with those hanging, poking, touched, looked at chads that officials had to guess as to the true nature of the voter. I figured that we Minnesotans and our technology savvy optical scan ballots would avoid the potential problems. I was wrong.

I thought that recounts would be honest and quick. What would be so wrong with double checking the ballots and making sure the right guy won? In short, a lotta stuff.

Subjectivity reentered the picture with election crews determining whether an X through one circle was really a vote or was retracting that vote, whether duplicate ballots had been counted, whether absentee ballots should be allowed or not, whether the moon was waxing or waning. It's insane the amount of effort people put into screwing up an election. There is no massive conspiracy here, but for heaven's sake, it's a damn bubble. Fill it in or don't. There shouldn't be gray area here.

As the legal challenges mounted, ballots were found, others disallowed and the recount entering its ninth week, Minnesota is edging closer to having a senator. The margin of difference varies daily, but it looks like Al Franken will represent this fine state as he somehow made hundreds of votes appear after the election that weren't there upon the November 3rd count. I shall restate that I don't think that there was some conspiracy, but I will say that the noble thought of an election recount is forever tarnished after having seen the unbelievable amount of subjectivity that has entered the picture and ultimately reshaped the election.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

A University of Phoenix grad reflects

As alluded to in an earlier post with forgotten songs from forgotten bands, I have indeed completed my time with The University of Phoenix's on-line MBA program. Some pros and some cons with this booming new educational forum, and what better forum than Wolfden V to reflect on this experience?


1.) Length of Time

With each class lasting six weeks and there being ten classes, I was done in just over a year. Granted I did have three classes from Valpo that carried over and counted for credit, but even still a year is a neat and tidy amount of time to obtain a degree.

2.) Topics Covered

The classes are diverse and practical. I took theory based classes on strategy and implementation as well as hard hitting numerical classes steeped in business statistics. Human resources, business law, and other diverse offerings made for a nice ten course make-up of the MBA program.

3.) Convenience

No doubt this has to be the number one pro. The on-line forum allowed me to continue working while receiving an education. Working retail, I could do the work at inconsistent times and hours. I never had to drive anywhere for class, and I didn't miss a single deadline at work or school because of the program's flexibility.

4.) Freedom of Direction

A little discussed benefit of the on-line forum is that the message board, classroom participation provides a depth of knowledge and shared experience that made logging into the University of Phoenix enjoyable. Message board discussions can go any number of directions and reveal stories, experiences, and ideas that highlight the primary message of the class in a way that a textbook cannot begin to approach.

5.) Research Tools

The University of Phoenix offers a University Library with multiple academic search engines. I don't remember specifically, but I would guess that there were no fewer than 15 different ones for students to try out. I fell in love with EBSCOhost and used that more often than not to find articles for my papers, but there were many other search engines focusing in different areas of expertise readily accessible.

6.) Advisers

The University of Phoenix is a for-profit organization, which in itself holds lots of pros and cons. But the pro is that they want to retain you as a customer and to do so, they roll out an elite fleet of advisers. From finance, to enrollment, to academics I had a team of people at my disposal trained for prompt and profession response to minimize issue that might cause me to waver in my commitment to the program.


1.) Teamwork

At the conclusion of every class, the student has the opportunity to fill out a feedback form. In every class I wrote some variation of the following:

"As a learning institution designed for working professional who work long and uneven hours, I do not understand why the University of Phoenix places continued importance on coordinating a group of students around a single project. While teamwork is no doubt an important part of any workplace environment, the continued requirement of forcing busy individuals in different time zones into a project better suited to individual performance threatens the effectiveness of the class and the entire MBA program."

2.) Variation in expectations

I realize that variation in expectations is a part of any learning experience at any level of schooling. What one teacher finds important another finds trivial and vice-versa. That said, the MBA program is of a largely a cookie-cutter course structure. While the topics varied, I could expect to write an individual reflection in weeks 1 and 4, a lengthy team paper in 2 and 5, and a massive research paper in weeks 3 and 6. One comes to expect a certain regularity with such a standard in scheduling and even so, the professors' expectations varied wildly with some putting importance on personal experience, others on drawing conclusions, others on research, and yet others (not enough) on basic paper writing ability.

3.) Write or bust

I understand that in writing a blog it will sound narcissistic to say that I had an inherent writing advantage over my colleagues, but my background in high school and college would have backed that up anyway. Virtually every meaningful evaluation of student came from paper writing ability which as alluded to, I do fairly well. I didn't take a single test, and I wasn't required to memorize a single thing. If one can write, one can pass the University of Phoenix MBA program. While writing is certainly an important medium in the workforce, I think it silly to place such an overwhelming importance on just this single way of learning as not all workplaces or learning ability is defined in the written word.

4.) Retention of knowledge

Piggybacking on what I just wrote, I compare much of what I learned to be comparable to reading a newspaper. Some is interesting, some facts register, and lots is glanced over. Since I could pick and choose what I found to be important themes in my papers, I could (and did) left vast sections of information untouched that might have been more important if a professor said, "You need to know this idea for a test." While no one is going to remember every aspect of a class, I probably would have remembered more today if instead of picking and choosing parts for my paper, a professor objectively picked the most important pieces of a class and forced students to learn them.

5.) Quality of Professor

Professor quality varied tremendously is perhaps the scariest aspect of the MBA program. Some professor are incredibly knowledgeable, very engaged, and offer valuable feedback. But in the ten course program I had probably three that shouldn't be teaching a class. Much like the students, these on-line professors are not full-time teachers. Rather, they hold a full-time job in the real world and understandably are not 110% committed at all times, as they have other pressing concerns. This dilemma, though, is not as bad as those who are less than experts in their field, show little interest in classroom discussion, and don't offer feedback in a timely manner that in a rapid paced 6-week course can cripple the ability of the student to adjust and react.

6.) That guilty feeling

Also a part of probably any educational experience, the guilty feeling that one should be doing work for a class instead of something fun is always lingering. I tried to stay ahead of the class as inevitably real world things would cause my ability to keep up with the class to fall behind. But even when I was all even with where I should be, I always felt like I should be reading or writing something to prepare for the next week. The school only takes one vacation - a break for Christmas or New Years - which puts the student in a constant state of worry with lots of work right before him or her.