Monday, October 22, 2007

I Flew, I Flew! In a Hot Air Balloon!

Yesterday was another first for me. Thanks to a dear friend who gave me a belated birthday present, I got to go up in a hot air balloon! The weather was gorgeous, which was a lucky thing because you never know what DC weather will be at this time of year (late October). The wind, however, was iffy, a little too strong to go up until the last minute when our pilot decided it was safe to go up, primarily because there happened to be a hot air balloon festival not far from us and our pilot could see that other balloon pilots had already taken off.

We got to participate in prepping the balloon. In the first photo, you can see the balloon pulled out of its bag and elongated on the ground. In the second photo, we see the balloon being filled with air from two large fans. At a certain point, we had to pile into the basket quickly. There were ten of us, including the pilot.

We took off so gently, I wasn't immediately aware that we had left the ground. There was no sound whatsoever except when the pilot added lift by activating the propane tanks for a few seconds at a time (see photo 5). That was loud and the heat of the flames would make our heads warm.

While the pilot's wife followed us in their truck (on the ground, naturally), we let the wind push us in the direction it wanted. The pilot is able to control the height of the balloon but has very little control over the direction we go. However, after decades of piloting balloons, he already knew the best landing spots.

We aimed for some school grounds and made it with a landing that was just slightly jarring (but fun). On the way there, to slow us down the pilot actually had us skim the tops of some trees! That was a bit of a thrill, especially because he hadn't let us in on his plan so we were wondering if we were going to crash. On the way down, we also flew just slightly above some home rooftops. I'm sure the residents of those homes have learned to keep their blinds closed!

As the sun set, we landed and piled out, securing the basket while the pilot got the balloon all the way down. After that, he pulled out the champagne and soda and we toasted a successful flight!

Is it The End of Time? At Least As Far as AT&T in LA are Concerned!

Time of day calling it quits at AT&T
From the Los Angeles Times
David Lazarus

August 29, 2007

It's the end of time, at least as far as AT&T is concerned.

The brief note in customers' bills hardly does justice to the momentousness of the decision. "Service withdrawal," it blandly declares. "Effective September 2007, Time of Day information service will be discontinued."

What that means is that people throughout Southern California will no longer be able to call 853-1212 to hear a woman's recorded voice state that "at the tone, Pacific Daylight Time will be . . ." with the recording automatically updating at 10-second intervals.

"Times change," said John Britton, an AT&T spokesman. "In today's world, there are just too many other ways to get this information. You can look at your cellphone or your computer. You no longer have to pick up the telephone."

Indeed, time already has stopped in 48 other states, he said. California and Nevada are the two remaining holdouts.