Friday, October 26, 2007

Of Harmonicas and Gyroplanes

One could suppose that playing the harmonica while at the same time flying a fragile and unpredictably unstable ultralight gyroplane could be a plausible multi-tasking act.

But trying to master playing a harmonica while concurrently trying to learn about flight and flying from scratch, or from the ground up (pun intended), is appearing to be quite a daunting and irritating task.

While learning the basic factors to be considered in flight, which are lift, weight, thrust, and drag, are considerably easy to visualize, learn, and remember, one has to be extra careful not to throw in the factors of blow and draw. Huh? Well, the last two represent motions of the mouth when playing the harmonica. Blow is when one exhales on the holes of the harmonica, and draw is when you suck in air from the holes of the harmonica.

Concurrently reading materials for both activities could easily lead to a hair-pulling confusion on which lessons apply to which. Let me see, circular breathing. Is that a lesson pertinent to plane take-off or what? Well, dullard, that is a difficult process in harmonica playing where one learns to exhale and inhale at the same time. What? Yes, inhale from the nose while exhaling or blowing on the harmonica in your mouth. Now, make sure the notes do not break or are interrupted. And adding to my learning misery is my stubborn inability to learn it, even while I am feeling faint and dizzy earnestly trying to acquire the skill. I may have to pay with countless fainting spells before I can get the handle on this tongue-twister of a process.

And speaking of handles, is this the gyroplane lever that controls the tail rotor, or the collective lever that controls pitch and forward flight? Oh, gee.

I have been gathering during the past weeks the initial materials (pictured here) necessary to start my late-term journey toward first mastering a musical instrument before singing the blues or flying to the great beyond (more unfunny puns), to add to the number of musical instruments that I have mastered which numbers none; and secondly, in a dogged pursuit to acquire an ultralight gyroplane, toward learning how to fly the damned dragon fly.

With harmonica playing, I am confident I have collected all necessary materials to insure some amount of progress. The literature with a plethora of practice songs has all been printed out and compiled in one neat folder with each page protectively enclosed in plastic, the latter to preclude any liquid damage from abundance of salvia extruding from my mouth while blowing and drawing on that silly thing. I have even on a previous trip purchased two additional harmonicas just in case. Just in case, I get too mad and start throwing the thing around. Or instead of using my soft kissable mouth, I start using my grated teeth on it. And You-Tube has been a welcomed harbinger of basic lessons galore, thanks to man's innate nature to show off on a grand scale, video yourself and publish on the net. But then again, maybe it is man's inborn desire to teach others of skills passed and learned. Now, the only thing I need is a live teacher to slap the back of my stubborn head and point me to the proper ways to play the harmonica.

But compared with flight and flying, it is much like night and day. This is much more involved, and requires one to be conversant with physics, possessed of workable understanding of the vagaries of winds and weather, adept at not throwing up during flight, and etc., which decidedly I am none of those.

Then after this, if I am lucky enough to safely clear this obstructive thicket, I would need to circle around and look for a cheap-enough flight school to get some basic training on flying. Hopefully, it includes getting the chance to fly solo on a gyroplane. Silly, it will have to be solo, it is a one-seat gyroplane that I am contemplating.

So far I have collected several books and more are forthcoming from Amazon. But right now, I am still way up in the clouds and in the thick of a fog (more puns, hehehe) unable to see ground and know where I am at.

But tomorrow is another day, another new day for a renewed look at the flight plan.

Up, up, and away . . . . while blowing and drawing..

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Wind As Productive Energy

Nasa Picture
Today as the unaffected rest of us in the United States go about our workaday lives, about a million harried and displaced residents in the Southern part of California, specifically San Diego County, are caught in the vise-like grip of fear and uncertainty caused by fearsome conflagrations unabatedly fueled by fierce winds popularly referred to by natives as the gusty Santa Ana winds. This added deadly factor has made possible the indiscriminate razing of hundreds of thousand of acres dotted with many precious residences, in spite of having the best fire-fighting technology and people in the world. Many separate fires that now may have been purposely started by loathsome arsonists.

We no doubt fully understand the destructive powers of wind energy in deadly combination with other factors, such as dry as tinderbox conditions in certain wooded or grass areas whether accidentally or purposely combusted with the introduction of sparks or fire.

And overly cautious people that we are, I and the wife wondered whether such an unwanted calamity could happen in our very neck of the woods, Tracy, in Northern California. We see hills and mountains to the west, openly bald-headed and coated brown by dead flora. And we have the added ingredient of gusty winds, too. The Altamont Pass being home to thousands of wind turbines that rely on steady streams of winds to turn them on.

And of course, it could happen. As a matter of fact, it has happened in the recent past and we used to see unmistakable signs of their aftermath as evidenced by easily distinguishable blackened spots while driving through the pass after reading or hearing about them.

While cognizant of its gale-force destructive powers, we like to think of the wind in more benign, soothing and constructive ways. The wind as fatherly image blowing on lifeless sails of ships carrying homeward-bound sailors to familiar ports, or so our early children’s books used to fancifully regale us with.


The Altamont Pass which actually knifes through a range of stretched-out hills of comparative height and ominously called Diablo Range, is precisely one such location where wind energy has been harnessed to provide an alternate source to electrify our homes, our businesses and industries. The pass and several other locations in the state proudly define the area’s worthy contributions to the country’s resolve to tap other sources of energy to satiate our ever-growing needs for power. A commendable drive toward possibly independence from foreign energy sources such as oil.

Geographically the pass could be considered a defining landmark for Tracy because it separates it from its western neighbors. Like the daring riding adventures in the Western movies of the past, the narrow mountain pass with its maze of winding uphill and downhill grade have to be carefully negotiated to arrive in Tracy from the west. And would be the only straight and direct way to Tracy, of course, discounting the other surface roads and the original Altamont Pass Road which can be taken as alternate routes when not using Interstate 580.

But beyond this romanticized depiction of the pass, the Altamont Pass is stellar because of the pivotal role it plays in the generation of wind energy for the state.

According to the California Energy Commission, the pass is one of several major wind energy resource areas in the state, the rest are: Solano, Pacheco Pass, Tehachapi Ranges, and San Gorgonio Pass.

On this list two are located in Northern California, namely Solano and Altamont.

Three sites on the list, namely Altamont, San Gorgonio Pass and Tehachapi Ranges, comprise 95 percent of the commercial wind energy generated in the state. And to understand the global impact of this production, this represents 11% of the world’s wind- generated energy.

And to reduce further to terms we can more readily relate to:

“With an average California household using 6,500 kWh of electricity per year, 3.5 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) of annual electricity generation from wind resource in the state provides electricity sufficient to power over 530,000 homes.”


Altamont alone generates 1.071 gWh from 4,788 wind turbines (2003 figures), making it the world’s largest wind farm in terms of number of turbines. These turbines are spread out on hilltops stretching some 15 kilometers in diameter, many of them visible from the highway.

So gusty winds are not necessarily bad all the time. At the very least like most fortuitous events in nature, they are indifferent.

And loosely speaking if it is any consolation, Southern California’s ongoing wind-caused losses may somehow be offset by Northern California’s benefits from wind-generated energy resources.

Credits for Altamont panoramic picture.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Little Dipper Swim School - Pleasant Hill, CA

Little Dipper Swim School 552 Boyd Rd Pleasant Hill, Ca 94523 (925) 932-5861











Click here to learn more.

Watch and be inspired: A video

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Tracy, CA: Is it Biker-Friendly?

Lately I have had ample opportunity to look into the bicycles that have been sitting idly in the storage sheds at the back, slowly collecting dust and becoming hapless victims to rust.

They have been cleaned, greased, re-aligned, tires pumped, and finally checked off as roadworthy. So now I am the grateful user of three bikes of different sizes and configurations. One is a full-sized menacing Fuji racer left behind some years back by my twins when they finally left the house for good. The other two while of similar stance and profile have different uses, one having balloon tires and intended off-road, while the other has racer tires and looks like the typical wimpy road bike. The hulky off-roader was left by my daughter who moved to another house, and the wimpy one I believe was left behind by a girlfriend of one of the twins and never reclaimed


So now the late autumn afternoons have seen me exploring the immediate environs of our development, treading faithfully along bike/pedestrian lanes which fortunately encircle the entire grid bounded by Lammers to the West, Corral Hollow to the South, and Byron Road and 11th St., North and South respectively. Stretching maybe close to three miles circumferentially, it makes for a good afternoon workout.

The few leisurely driving jaunts that we have taken around the city, going through the new and not- so- new residential housing developments around the city made us aware of their ample provision for bike lanes along inside roads and around the outside perimeters. Thus, one has been encouraged to plan for extended ventures farther out of the comforting familiarity of home and to boldly explore the many storied nooks and crannies of the city of Tracy.

Driving around one cannot miss the many bike lanes around city streets. And a little Googling even informs us that the city is ever vigilant about providing bike lanes, when it can and has the opportunity. Thus, a bike lane(s) with no parking allowed will stretch along Grant Line from Corral Hollow to Tracy Boulevard. Has this particular ordinance been passed and implemented? Will try to see the next time I get the chance to drive over in that area.

So from that scanty perspective one is predisposed to declare that Tracy appears to be biker-friendly enough. But the next few months will confirm or challenge that when I do get the chance to pedal my bike along the different areas. Till then.

From where I have been, I have seen many bare-headed bike riders. So bike crash helmets are not mandatory in Tracy? Google was not helpful in assisting me on this score.

Officer Sir, Mr. Policeman. Can you supply me with the answer to this question? It would be seriously appreciated.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

What Differences Perspectives Make!

My blogmate Phil over at PhilippinesPhil ponders on certain observations acquired with living life large in the country of his Filipina wife. Certain life experiences that are judged unique or different enough to merit a comparative look to life in his old homeland, The United States. And since our family is on the same boat except that it has gone the opposite way, couldn’t help but be piqued with interest at his and his commenters observations.

So I thought I’d scribble a thing or two about it, this time from the perspective of the observee rather than the observer.

And I say what differences perspectives make! And stoutly glad to note that the observations are coming from transplanted residents in my old homeland, the Philippines.

Because we ex-pat Filipinos know too well that indeed during daytime and all through the night, Filipinos tend to congregate outside their houses and converse in audibly loud conversations among the neighbors. Children cavort on streets and are shooed indoors only when daylight has faded. And houses are so located and constructed such that neighbors invariably hear what the others are listening on radio, the kind of music being played, and even intimate conversations among family members. And even what the neighbors are cooking because the smells waft through and permeate the neighborhood from open windows and doors. And this even when tall fences separate the houses.

And city streets are almost always crammed with pedestrians walking about or simply loitering around. Even driving around or between towns can be hazardous given the propensity of residents, their pets and fowl, to walk in the middle of or cross over roads and highways unmindful of vehicular traffic.

People appear to be everywhere. And even people passing by your house look and stare at whoever they can find visible, whether outside or from open windows or doors.

This revealing difference almost always gets into my conversations with the wife during our trips back.

And we think that a good part of the reason for this is the hot and humid weather which carries over even into the dead of night. Thus, many males loitering outside are naked from the waist up, in shorts and slippers, or in sando (sleeveless T-shirts). Staying indoors, especially where accommodations are tight and crowded, can be quite challenging. Staying outdoors as long as practicable then becomes the practical alternative.

I confess I revert to this practice when I get back there, retracing childhood when going to our rooms was when it was time to sleep, no earlier and no later. Except when the rains come. But then it gets cool enough inside for comfort.

Of course, a happy part of the culture is also being gregarious, leading to a lot of fraternizing and exchanging tsismis (light banter) with the neighbors. Some would say, tending toward being busybodies.

And needless to state, many poor people in a third-world setting practically live outdoors anyway. Their abodes very crude and threadbare, their worldly possessions very minimal.