Saturday, August 9, 2008

If Man Were Meant To Fly . . .

While I don’t take to the friendly skies often, I do love to fly. I love most manner of flight. I’ve been on jets, small fixed wing, helicopters (which is my favourite) and even the Goodyear blimp (which is slow and majestic but it will ruin your hearing).

I have no problem with people learning how to fly. A few of my friends are licensed pilots and I have even taken the controls of an aircraft in the past. Most people who make the effort to learn how to fly are responsible individuals who have the utmost regard for safety and security, unless of course they are in a sleeper cell. The cost of learning to fly and the time involved usually weeds out the dunderheads who might otherwise soar into the clouds and then accidentally plummet into populated areas.

When the Wright Brothers took that maiden voyage at Kitty Hawk just after the turn of the last century it was a simpler time. They didn’t have to concern themselves with connecting flights, lost baggage or the type of liquids they were carrying. They just had a dream – to successfully sustain heavier-than-air human flight. From that day forward, every Tom, Dick & Harry thinks they too have a dream to leave terra firma on their own. Sometimes this frightens me. I recently came across a couple of stories to illustrate this harrowing trend.

Rev. Adelir Antonio de Carli was a 41-year-old Roman Catholic priest in Brazil. Back in April he came up with the bright idea that he could take off from the port city of Paranagua with the help of 1,000 helium-filled party balloons.

It was all for a good cause. He was hoping to raise money to build a rest stop and worship center for truckers. He had intended to fly to the city of Dourados but strong winds, or one could say the hand of God, swept him out to sea.

I often get this image of God looking down at this planet and shaking his head at times for some of the things we attempt to do. He has faith in most of us and I’m sure He has faith in his loyal soldiers, but every once in awhile along comes a Rev. Carli, floating on a lawn chair in the sky. I’m sure the good Lord said, “Rev, since you’re already aloft, perhaps you could come into the office for a word?” The flying father disappeared over the Atlantic back in April, but medical examiners said DNA tests confirmed body parts found floating off the coast of Rio de Janeiro state in early July belonged to the padre. 1,000 helium-filled party balloons should really be used for . . . parties.

Meanwhile, back in the United States Glenn Martin has a dream. He wants to make it possible for all of us to strap on a jet pack and soar into the heavens. This will make our commute to work faster, just as we all envisioned it on The Jetsons.

Martin demonstrated his contraption at a recent air show in Wisconsin. It weighs roughly 250lbs and is about the size of a piano. Actually, he strapped his 16-year old son into it, which in some way must contravene several child welfare laws.

As thousands looked on, Martin’s helmeted son, fastened himself to the prototype jet pack, revved the engine and hovered about three feet off the ground. With two spotters preventing the jet pack from drifting in a mild wind, (gee, the priest could have used these guys, but no, he chose faith) the younger Martin hovered for 45 seconds and then set the device down as the audience applauded. It was Kitty Hawk all over again.

In theory, the Martin jet pack can fly an average-sized pilot about 30 miles in 30 minutes on a full five-gallon tank. This is where I have a problem. As I mentioned earlier, there are some idiots who shouldn’t leave the ground. It’s sad enough that we let them leave the house, never mind letting them drive vehicles, or use heavy machinery.

With the high cost of fuel these days, we are constantly reminded of the stories of people who are trying to get that last drop of gas out of their cars. Our highways are littered with vehicles that have coasted to a halt because their drivers couldn’t properly gauge how much gas they had left. It’s one thing to coast to a stop. It’s another thing to literally fall short of your desired goal to get to work, clipping trees, power lines and the back of the heads of unsuspecting pedestrians.

If it were available today, the Martin jet pack would set you back $100,000 and is designed to conform to the FAA definition of an ultralight vehicle, weighing less than 254lbs and carrying only one passenger, meaning you won’t need a license to use this thing.

I don’t want people above me calculating the math, trying to figure out how much further they can get on five gallons. Starting with that first flight in 1903, leading up to today, flying is not meant to be in the control of everyone – it’s not necessarily for the masses. And speaking of mass, this contraption is for an average size pilot. Look around the United States. There are no average sized people left!

That’s the Stuph – the way I see it.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

With Friends Like These . . .

I’ve been very lucky all my life with the friends that I’ve had. There are many childhood pals that I am still in contact with and I am very quick to state as an adult male that I have best friends. Sadly this is a statement that most men leave behind with their childhood. I could never understand why this is.

Women grow up saying, “I’m going out with my best friend,” or “I’m going out with my girlfriends,” but when a guy talks like this there always seems to be some question about sexuality involved. I don’t know why this is.

Well, as a heterosexual male I’m not only proud to say that I have best friends, but I am also very proud of my friends. I don’t know what I would do without them. At the top of the list is my friend Mario. He’s more than a friend, actually. I love the guy. It’s like having the kid brother I never had, especially since I grew up in an estrogen factory with four older sisters.

I defy anybody to find a better friend. I have already mentioned him in several blog entries, especially post knee surgery, with all the help that he has been to me above and beyond the call of duty (you can read the previous posts to find out more). I’ve even written about him in a newspaper article about when he taught me to snowboard more than a decade ago (you can see that story on my website by clicking here).

Friends support each other. They can be argumentative, but they should never be combative. True friends have your back and never put you in situations where they dare you to do something you shouldn’t or wouldn’t. True friends always have your best interests at heart. As comedian Dave Atell once said, “A friend will help you move. Best friends will help you move . . . a body!” Everybody should have friends like this, but I know that I am extremely lucky because I have such a friend and not everyone does.

As a matter of fact, I have a couple of stories that deal with people that perhaps you shouldn’t really call your friend. Two practical jokers are behind bars for setting their passed-out drinking buddy's crotch ablaze while boozing in Grover Beach, California recently (yes, another story with alcohol involved).

Matthew Craig Pillers and Jack Brent Nicholas Keiffer pleaded no contest to a felony great bodily injury charge. Elliot Tuleja was passed out when the men poured cologne on his groin and set him on fire on January 18th. Hilarity ensued! Tuleja had second-degree burns on his testicles. Prosecutors say the 22-year-old Pillers, a parolee, was sentenced to two years in prison and the 19-year-old Keiffer got 45 days in San Luis Obispo County jail.

Maybe the idea is to stay away from parolees, but I can guarantee you that if I fall asleep in the presence of my friends, I don’t have to worry about waking up with dry roasted nuts!

I also try to stay away from people who can’t securely deal with a firearm. I’m not a fan of guns; have never fired one or handled one, but my friend Mario has. He is issued one and it comes with 48 bullets (he keeps reminding me of that count); 47 more than Barney Fife had. Mario is a police officer. He knows how to use weapons and he knows how to use handcuffs. These are vital talents to have on the job and possibly when dating.

I would never be around such irresponsible clowns as these guys. In Great Falls, Montana, Henry Haviland, 23, and Zachary Enloe, 20, were having a mock gun battle. They had unloaded their pistols – a 9mm and a .45 calibre – and were having “quick draw” contests at each other.

After they were done, they went their separate ways, but several hours later, they were in an apartment when Haviland “dry fired” his gun at Enloe again. Enloe dove for his pistol and turned and fired at Haviland – “forgetting” that he had loaded it back up in the meantime. Haviland was hospitalized in serious but stable condition with a gunshot wound to his face. Enloe was charged with felony criminal endangerment.

This was one of three such events reported in Great Falls in the past three months. A 17-year-old boy was shot in the leg and 18-year-old Kirk Jordan is facing felony charges in an almost identical incident. The bullet hit the victim's left leg and then went into his right foot.

In May, Airman Jonathon Higgins was accused of firing a shot that killed fellow Airman John Howry while the two were joking around at a party at a home near Great Falls High School. Higgins is charged with negligent homicide.

Meanwhile in mid-June, 24-year-old Brian Walsh was sentenced to 25 years in prison for pointing a gun at his friend's head and killing him in May 2007, though he said he thought the gun wasn't loaded at the time.

As the NRA would say, guns don’t kill people. Stupid people kill people. It’s wise to choose your friends carefully and to always be vigilant. I know I have chosen my friends carefully and Mario is the best. We’ve even talked about going on a trip together someday. That wouldn’t be a bad idea, because spending quality time with good friends is always a worthwhile adventure. But just to be on the safe side, I think I’ll say no to Montana.

That’s the Stuph – the way I see it.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Cold Plague

Okay, so it has been awhile since I had the chance to post here. I’ve been a little busy with work and all, plus there is still the matter of my convalescence from recent tendon surgery involving my right knee (it’s coming along slowly, but nicely, thanks for asking).

There are many things that I wanted to write about, but I think this time around I’ll just deal with water. I’m sure you’ve seen many news items of late telling us how much water we should be drinking. I’ve never been a big water drinker. At its best water is colourless, odourless and tasteless, which means I have no use for it. It’s never been a thirst quencher for me.

But as creatures made up mostly of water on a planet that is mostly covered with water, it might be understandable as to why we are preoccupied with the substance. With two thirds of the planet somewhat wet, we still send spacecrafts to other orbs in search of more water. We can’t seem to get enough of the stuff.

This brings me to Dr. Daniel Kalla. He is an emergency room physician in Vancouver who, when he’s not busy saving lives in his chosen profession, he’s scaring us to death with medical thrillers in his creative profession. His latest book, his fifth, is entitled Cold Plagueand, as you can guess by my preamble, it deals with water.

I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing Dan on several occasions on the radio and he’s always been an engaging and fun guest. His previous titles include Pandemic, Resistance, Rage Therapy and Blood Lies.

Let me pause for a moment to tell you a little secret about my interviewing style. When it comes to authors, I never read the book before conducting the interview. I find as a listener when I hear a conversation with two people who have travelled the same literary journey, I feel like someone who has entered a cocktail party and wandered over to a conversation that has already begun. I don’t know what’s being discussed.

I much prefer to engage an author in the discussion of their writing technique, their background and mostly their personality. An author without personality only writes technical manuals and they rarely get interviewed – or read.

Besides leaving the listeners in the dust, the other drawbacks I find to reading before talking is one of two reactions – either I loved the book and will gush profusely about the work, or I hated it and will have to feign interest (the latter is infinitely more difficult because in my mind I would be saying to myself that I’m only spending 20 minutes with this guy but reading his book took days off my life that I’ll never get back!)

Since I talk to a lot of authors, people think I get a lot of reading done. Sadly, that is not the case. I’ve already stated the reason why professionally, but also my schedule is so crammed with work for the nightly radio show and for the television show I host that I don’t get much recreationally reading done either.

But, Cold Plague is a book that I cleared a lot of my schedule for because I couldn’t wait to read it. If I had read Dan Kalla’s latest book before interviewing him it would have been a gush fest. That’s why I’m leaving the gushing to posting here on the blog.

Reading a medical thriller as I continue with my physiotherapy, being manipulated by torture specialists, might be considered ironic, but I found this book compelling. It deals with what could be considered the purest water ever found, hidden for millions of years, miles under the Antarctic ice.

Yes, it’s man’s preoccupation with water again. With water so pristine – untouched by human industrialization – just think of the natural healing powers it must contain; think how rich those who found it could be if it were marketed to the masses.

But is it a coincidence that this therapeutic water is being consumed during the same time as a cluster of new cases of mad cow disease in France? Is the human outbreak of the trifecta of rapid onset symptoms of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and schizophrenia somehow connected? And what does that mean for the rest of the world if we as a society can be done in by a simple water bottle? Those are some of the questions you’ll be asking yourself as you take the rollercoaster ride that is Cold Plague, along with the book’s hero, Dr. Noah Haldane of the World Health Organization.

Cold Plague has short, crisp chapters with the excitement building with each page turn. Without spoiling anything, I was halfway through the book, telling myself how much I enjoyed the pace, when I was suddenly rocketed into a different direction that I had not expected and I was now compelled to finish the book as fast as possible to find out what happened. I just couldn’t put it down. The sun was coming up, birds were chirping and I was still reading.

When I talked to Dan I asked him how he comes up with his thrillers. He said that as a doctor, he wrote what scares him. I don’t know if it’s a good idea to know what scares doctors but Cold Plague certainly has a chilling effect. As I said, I don’t drink water, but it got to me.

While I don’t usually like to pigeonhole books into reading seasons, I have to say that Cold Plague could be one of the ultimate reads of the summer. It’s perfect for a lazy day in the backyard, on the porch or even at the beach, when you’re relaxing on a deck chair enjoying nature and hydrating with some nice bottled water . . . on second thought, just enjoy the book, skip the water.

That’s the Stuph – the way I see it.