Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Follow-up info for new Ham Licensees

Congratulations on your new

Ham Radio license!

What Radio Should I Buy?

January 27th @ 7:00 pm – 9:30 pm

This class provides the new ham with information about radios in general, with “'show ‘n tell” by experienced hams.

  • Now that I have my license, what do I do with it?
  • What radio should I buy?
  • Can't I just wait and take it out of the box when there's an emergency?
  • What's a "net"?
  • How do I use the radio from the car?
  • How do I use the radio from my home?
  • What did all that technical stuff on the exam mean, and how much of that do I really need to know?

In advance of the class, have a look at this page, put together by the PAPA Group: http://papasys.net/phpBB3/viewtopic.php?f=6&t=45&start=0&st=0&sk=t&sd=a.

How Do I Program My Radio? – and Other Stuff!

February 10th @ 7:00 pm – 9:30 pm

This class provides hands-on individual instruction, where experienced hams show you how to program your own radio. The class is scheduled a week after the first class, so you have time to buy or borrow a radio. Instructors will bring radios for you to practice on if you still haven't bought one. Make sure your radio battery is charged, and bring the manual in case the hams aren't familiar with your model.

  • How do I turn my radio on?
  • What frequency do I transmit on?
  • How do I key-in a frequency?
  • I just want to talk to another local ham, not on a repeater - how do we set up our radios?
  • I want to talk on a repeater - what settings do I have to know how to make?
  • What repeaters can I talk on?
  • What's a repeater input frequency? Output frequency? Tone?
  • What's "tone mode?"
  • How do I get my radio to memorize stuff?
  • How do I get my radio to display a repeater name rather than just the frequency?
  • What do I say when I want to talk to someone? Who's call comes first?

Both classes will be held at the

Agoura Hills/Calabasas Community Center

( 27040 Malibu Hills Rd – adjacent to the Sheriff’s Station)

Please R.S.V.P. to

Debbie Larson @ (818) 224-1600 or dlarson@cityofcalabasas.com

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Getting back in to flying (BFR)

This indecisiveness about getting back in to the air again as Pilot In Command is getting to be irritating.

My detailed aspirations/checklist are:
-Complete BFR in Katana DA-20c1 (Note: I was formerly checked out in the DA-20)
-Schedule and take up passengers in DA-20c1
-Study Garmin 1000 and POH for DA-40
-Get checked out in DA-40 and take up passengers
-Study Machado's new Instrument Book, which is great
-Purchase Microsoft Flight Simulator with the Garmin 1000 download
-Take the IFR Written Exam
-Schedule time with instructor to work towards getting IFR Ticket
-Complete the IFR program and receive ticket
-Study Video material for Aerobatics Program
-Study for and take Commercial Written
-Go to Santa Paula (SZP) and take Aerobatics course with goal of completing Comm airwork
-Take Commercial exam and receive ticket

Several months ago I attempted to complete the BFR (Biennial Flight Review) and found that it was just not going as smooth as I expected. It's been nearly 10 years since flying PIC and I was just far too rusty on some of the bookwork stuff. The physical part of flying started coming back relatively quickly, which was good, but my brain was way behind the airplane.

I'm a big fan of Rod Machado's (www.rodmachado.com) materials and have a relatively outdated copy of his Private Pilot Coursebook - I believe it's since been updated. My goal was to read through this book in hopes of filling in the knowledge gaps. The book is great, but my attention span wasn't holding on tight enough.

I've now decided another tactic -- the Machado book is going to be used a reference book (because it contains literally everything).

Seeing as I've been a member of AOPA (Aircraft Owner's and Pilot's Association -- www.aopa.org) since 1994, I started perusing their online material. They've done a great job and have a slew of CBT (computer based training) modules that cover all the missing gaps in a fun, interactive and effective format.

My next steps are, with a completion goal of December 5th, 2008 are:

-Complete all AOPA CBT's
-Use the Machado book for reference
-Download and review the PTS (Practical Test Standards) from the FAA
-Download and review the POH (Pilot's Operating Handbook) for the Katana DA-20c1
-Work with the Garmin simulator for the NAV/COM system the Katana has
-Go through the AOPA Flight Planner tutorial and system
-Review the manual again with my E6-B calculator (metal and electronic)
-Go through the AOPA Weather online system
-Review Weather Channel to practice weather forecasting
-Review some of the videos I have
-Contact Gavin Aviation in Oxnard (OXR) for a BFR
-Take BFR Ground School and Flight Review
-Have the BFR signed off and schedule taking up passengers

Friday, April 25, 2008

Red Cross "Disaster Preparedness" presentation

The Red Cross will be hosting a free presentation entitled, "Disaster Preparedness" at St. Andrew's Episcopal Church, corner of Ojai Ave and Bristol Road, on Saturday 4/26/08 from 9AM to 11AM. Everyone is welcome. Learn how to build a disaster kit and make a disaster plan to keep you safe in the event of fire, flood and other disasters. Kits will be available. Call (805) 339-2234, ext. 269 if you have any questions.

For further information and driving directions, visit the St. Andrew's Episcopal Church web-site at: http://www.standrewsojai.org/

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Ojai Valley CERT -- check it out!

It's been a while since I posted something on "Paul's World".

Recently, I've been involved with OVARC (Ojai Valley Amateur Radio Club) and Ojai Valley CERT (Community Emergency Response Team). Goal is to bring some cohesion to a relatively new CERT program here in Ojai, CA.

Check out the Ojai Valley CERT Blog (http://ojaivalleycert.blogspot.com). I've put quite a bit of effort into this site.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Camarillo Air Show (August 18 & 19)

The Airshow is on Saturday and Sunday. www.camarilloairshow.com for more information.

Should be fun -- bring water and sunscreen...

Rod Machado's Private Pilot Workbook

Not sure if I mentioned I have a Private Pilot's License -- was certificated back in the mid-90's in New York.

Haven't been Pilot-in-Command in a while, so I'm reading Rod Machado's Private Pilot Handbook (www.rodmachado.com) to review all the material. He's very humorous and makes the learning fun.

Try this at home -- take a piece of paper and hold it by the top two corners. Gently blow over the top of the paper and see what happens. This is a good demonstration of Bernouilli's Theorem where increasing the speed of a liquid (air) creates a lower pressure system which causes the higher pressure (under the paper) to lift the paper up -- this is the major source of airfoil "lift" because the upper camber of the wing is longer than the lower camber and therefore the air on the top has to speed up to meet up again with the lower. Fun stuff to learn...

My intent is to get back into flying and pursue an Instrument Rating. Will fly out of Santa Paula (SZP) and Oxnard (OXR) in California. He's coming out with another book in September which focuses on Instrument Rating.

Stay tuned to more blog entries of my aviation experiences.

Currrently Reading... GTD Book I (again)

I decided to read David Allen's "Getting Things Done" Book (http://www.davidco.com/store/catalog/) again. There is value in re-reading material, I've found - you pick up on distinctions that may have seemed overtly obvious in the moment, but can be subtly overlooked. His teaching style narrative also magically brings in to my conscious mind - "OH!! Now I get it -- I have to DEFINE and transform my stuff!!!"

A key distinction is transforming and clarifying "Stuff" into intended desired outcomes (which requires thought) and deciding the next physical action (which requires more thought) and then placing the resulting actions in a system you trust. Throughout my former Franklin Planner years (since 1997) I realized I was making lists (without much thought applied after), but didn't have a clear picture of the desired outcome and didn't have a specific next action to work on (but, I had really quite creative lists that filled pages, so I must have been quite busy...). I got REALLY good at drawing "-->" on each of my list entries and re-writing them all over again on the next page.

Anyway, humor aside, I must run and empty my mind, and then decide on the desired outcomes as my next step. Cheerio...

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Currently Reading...

Now I'm reading David Allen's second book -- "Ready for Anything".

The sub-title is, "52 Productivity principles for work & life".

It's extremely easy to read and really helps bring the first book to life with all its examples.

It's been gnawing on me for a while why I've been met with consistent resistance as I've mentioned the concepts of GTD to various people at T-Mobile. I think there is a general response of fear when you ask someone to do a core dump of their consciousness onto paper. Of course, resistance is good because it shows that there is a great ongoing business opportunity to be had.

Their concern may be:

1. Other people will now know what I know and I lose my "special" place in the organization.
2. I may have to admit that I don't know as much as someone else (aka ego).
3. I'm too busy to be writing down what's on my mind.

What I'm realizing is that the GTD methodology IS for everybody, but requires a preamble of discussion and understanding of their current state, levels of self awareness, and committed interest in moving to a different state.

GTD is a profoundly basic system, hindered only by the human condition.

New Job -- Director of Technology (David Allen Co.)

I'm very excited to announce that I'm leaving the world of Retail (T-Mobile, 5 years serving the Marina del Rey community) and joining The David Allen Company (DAC) as its new Director of Technology. I will be reporting to Robert Peake, CTO and eventually replacing their current Consultant/DOT, Eric Mack. Of course, the objective will be to hang on to Eric for as long as possible -- there's always Skype...

The company (www.davidco.com) is based in Ojai, CA and I will begin effective 5/28/07.

This requires a move from Culver City up to Ojai -- a town I've dreamed of living in for years. I reviewed my Franklin Planner notes of January, 2003 and am astounded that everything I wrote has come true -- there truly is something in writing a statement of intention about what is important in your life.

My mother, Francisca Beach, is living with me (after numerous years apart, when she lived in the UK) and will be also relocating to Ojai. Stay tuned for theatrical productions coming to Ojai soon -- she is a very talented director.

My immediate impressions of DAC are extremely positive -- a group of very smart, dedicated people committed to delivering tools and systems that will ultimately transform their clients from being a Good Company to a Great Company.

While I have a couple weeks lead time, my self-created task is to lay a structured foundation upon which to layer the onslaught of information, processes, procedures and systems that their current consultant, Eric Mack, will share with me. My implementation of the GTD system will truly be put to the test, and I'm confident that all will work out.

In reading David Allen's second book ("Ready for Anything"), he has an uncanny talent for writing "the next chapter" that answers questions that pop into your head as you read the book. The key is, when a thought comes to mind, briefly stop what you're doing and jot it down. The mind seemingly fires off random thoughts that are sitting in "Psychic RAM" as David calls it.

As time goes on, I will be sharing my newfound skills and GTD experience with the world via company Blogs. My immediate focus will probably be IT Systems Support Managers, but will include all interested parties.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Printer Sensitivity Training

Printer Sensitivity Training (PST) was a concept I developed when beginning my first corporate job as a Technical Support Analyst (PC Tech) for Loeb & Loeb, LLP in New York City, NY back in 1993.

Ultimately, my entire day was running around installing toner cartridges, cleaning up toner spills, unjamming paper, fixing busted printers, troubleshooting why different paper trays weren't being recognized and dealing with upset and stressed out legal secretaries and attorneys. Fun stuff!!!

This blog discusses my approach and strategy for turning around a living nightmare into a very manageable working environment which then enabled a future "permission-based" relationship for successfully rolling out new systems and technology. Read on...

What was happening? Users were:

Slamming paper trays into the printers
Shaking the toner cartridges
Spilling toner all over the floor (and themselves)
Spilling toner inside the printer
Seeing a long vertical line on the pages
Leaving the tray in the printer skewed, which created paper jams
Having multiple pages pulled in at one time
Not being able to select the correct paper tray
Getting really upset and stressed out beyond belief
Hoping I would come around and install the toner cartridge for them

Interrupting negative emotional states

I had just worked through my "Personal Power" audio-tapes by Anthony Robbins.

One basic takeaway I learned, was that in order to effectively communicate with an upset person, one has to first interrupt their current emotional state and steadily bring them back into a peak state of success.

A law firm can be a stressful place with a lot of money, power and outcome at stake. Ultimately, the printer is the final piece of the process flow and can bear the brunt of negative emotions and feelings by the user.

My job was to build dynamic rapport with each user, whether they were: legal secretaries, admins, mailroom, summer interns, paralegals, associates, partners or even clients. My strategy was to creatively use humor to interrupt their current state, for example, "OK... Lead me from the point where the printer was working up to when you broke it!" By being creatively silly I was able to make them laugh and let them be more objective about what was really happening.

The technical issue could be a printer jam. The user unfortunately was expanding the scope of the problem by adding "meaning" to the problem because the print job was now associated with wasted time, pressure, deadlines, profits, lives, delays, extra work, etc.

Having integrity of follow-through and communication

It is not enough to build rapport. It is a requirement to build trust by holding yourself to personal standards of integrity. For example, if you say you'll stop by at noon, then stop by at noon precisely, or communicate beforehand to adjust an appointment. Always leave notes attached to the monitor saying that you had stopped by to do whatever was needed. If a part has to be replaced, then redirect them to another printer and keep them in the loop on the repair turnaround time.

Because the user is living in a world of variance and chaos, the support staff must become a solid foundation upon which the user can "bounce off". People feel more confident when they know that someone is there to hear them and give feedback -- if you don't have a solid inner foundation, your technical and human response is not adequate enough for them.

Time to resolve problems

If you create rapport, demonstrate integrity, build trust, keep in communication, and fine-tune your follow-up, you will be given adequate time to appropriately and completely resolve the problem. This is a huge gift in the world of providing support -- being given time to think and prioritize. If trust is built then you can: change their behavior; give them new skills; create an appreciation for technology; and they won't be on your case to respond to everything immediately. At the law firm I steadily weaned senior partners from a 2 minute response to a 4 hour response

Technology is fundamentally designed to work -- so, why doesn't it sometimes?

The following is an examination of technical problems with a comment on user behavior and suggestions for how to resolve and then proactively minimize future issues:

1. Slamming paper trays into the printers

The problem is at some point either the paper tray will break or the tray will be pushed too far into the printer chassis and something will come loose inside. My pet peeve with manufacturers is that they state they, "tested the product 100,000 times in really bad conditions", but the fact is that if users are too hard on their equipment it will steadily decay and then break at some point.

A big factor here is that users may not have an appropriate awareness of the tolerances of technology because they may assume that they can be rough with everything they use -- slamming shut a cellphone, slamming a car door shut, etc.

If there is any emotion, distress or anger attached to the action of inserting the paper tray then future problems abound.

A suggestion I have is to make continuous contact with the tray while closing it -- keeping your hand on the tray and give it a steady, relatively slow (but assertive) push and allow the chassis to gently push back on the tray indicating it is fully in place.

2. Paper Jams from tray inserted skewed

This problem happened a lot with the HP IID and IIID Series where the tray sticks out after being inserted. The problem is that the user typically was using one hand and just shoved the tray in and let go. Because the tray is not centered evenly, the paper gets pulled too much on one side and then jams.

The best solution I have is to always use a two handed steady (but assertive) push and follow the directions above for #1.

3. Paper not being picked up by rollers

This typically is not a user problem, but just happens over time when the pickup rollers get too smooth and don't have enough traction on the paper going through the system.

Only permanent solution is to do printer maintenance where you take printer apart and replace various rollers. A quick fix is to take some sand-paper and rub on the large pickup roller that you see when you take the paper tray out. Of course, this is a real quick-fix and won't last long.

4. Too many sheets being picked up at once

Several reasons I've found here:

Relative humidity in the air can cause printer problems -- not much you can do with this but to keep printer in a cool dry environment.

The user didn't do a quick fan of the paper when inserting paper into the tray. Some reams of paper even have a suggested "this side up" arrow -- if so, follow the directions.

The user placed new paper over old paper and didn't even up all the sides in the tray.

The paper tray may have too much tension on the upward force on the paper and the pickup roller grabs too much. For some reason, we don't think about getting new trays often enough -- I've solved many issues with a new tray.

5. Printer is just way too fast!!!

Things were relatively slower in the early 90's with the HP IID and HP IID, then some genius came out with the HP IV which processed 16 pages a minute or something. I think the HP IVSi was chugging 45 pages a minute. Of course, if all the above items are not taken care of you will have paper jams -- they just happen quicker!!!

6. Toner issues -- Should I use a remanufactured cartridge (to save money)?

I don't recommend remanufactured cartridges. I know some bean counter thought it was a great idea, but the typical lure is that you got a cheaper cartridge with greater printing capacity.

Here are the gotchas:

-The quantity of toner typically will exceed the OEM maximum hopper requirements and you will get toner spills inside the printer

-The quality of the toner may be different than OEM and you may get smudges. I remember that one company advertised "darker" toner

-The photoreceptive drum may not be replaced often enough (this is where the money is in the cartridge) and theoretically should only be re-used three times maximum on a reman. How can you guarantee that and how do you know if you will get a cartridge with scratches on the drum?

-The thin wire going the distance end-to-end may become loose over time and it needs to be taut

-You don't know the history of the cartridge -- it could have been used prior by some angry user powering it into the chassis!!

7. Toner issues -- care and handling

The following are some tips for proper handling and insertion/extraction of toner cartridges:

-Open the new toner box, take out the toner (typically in a sealed foil bag) and - while cartridge is horizontal - slit bag open on one side with scissors.

-Remove toner from bag and place cartridge on table -- keep it horizontal and keep bag

-Open printer so the top part is on a 45 degree angle and gently extract cartridge -- and keep it horizontal (see a pattern yet??)

-Place used toner in bag and seal shut with tape -- now you see why you only slit bag open on one side...

-Pickup new toner cartridge and, while keeping horizontal, pull the tape out from the side firmly and assertively to completely remove tape - take care to not break off the plastic handle piece from the tape. This releases the toner into the hopper and will also release onto your clothing/floor if you don't hold the cartridge horizontally.

-"Bathe" the toner in the hopper evenly by holding each of the long sides of the cartridge in front of you and gently rock back and forth up and down at 45 degree angles. You can add unnecessary swaying arm movements to the left and right to have fun with this process. This is actually an important step because the toner becomes even in the hopper and you have more toner life and less chance for lines on the page.

-Gently... I said gently... insert the cartridge into the chassis and make sure everything goes in evenly and completely. Ideally use two hands.

-Close the printer lid gently in two phases -- first phase to just slightly open and then a gentle final push to close the lid. If you slam the lid down in one motion you will get a toner spill and probably break something.

-Make sure printer is back online

-Take sealed foil bag and place back into box with packaging material and affix the return label on box and give to mailroom/UPS guy/whatever.

8. Why do have a vertical line on the page?

This could be because toner has attached itself to that wire that runs the length of the cartridge. There should be a small brush in the printer that you gently insert into the cartridge and then run back and forth to clean the wire. When done, replace brush back into its housing inside printer chassis because you will lose it. Gently bathe the toner, keep it horizontal and insert cartridge evenly... etc.

9. Why when I insert the "Legal" tray does it still think I have the "Letter" tray installed?

This could be because you have been power-slamming the tray into the printer chassis. There are small plastic protrusions on the tray that make contact with micro-switches inside the printer -- these depress specific switches which then tell the printer which tray is installed. If the tray is slammed in too hard then the plastic stoppers on each side of the printer come loose and tray contacts the micro-switch too hard, which then becomes confused. Note: The plastic stoppers cost a quarter each and the labor is about 1 hour at $125.

10. Courier font looks too light on the page, even with a new cartridge

Believe it or not, when we went from the IID/IIID to the IV, the font engine somehow made Courier much sharper looking. Typically, law firms like boring mono-spaced fonts because of pleadings, etc. The secretaries thought there was a problem with the new cartridge because the new courier font gave an impression of being too "light" on the page.


So... if you are willing to do the above you will create a positive printer experience for users where you have:

-Radically reduced printer jams
-Users changing their own cartridges
-Longer life on printers -- techs can charge $125/hour for repair labor plus parts
-The beginnings of good relations where you can now steadily integrate more systems and new technology and be received warmly

Phone Sensitivity Training (PST)

Do you own a cell flip-phone and like hearing a "smacking" sound when closing it shut?? If so, you are heading toward various technical problems that can be avoided. Read on...

The following will happen when closing the top too hard or opening it too quickly:

1. Audio (Mike and Headset) distortion because sensitive audio equipment gets jarred
2. Shadowing effect of keyboard image on screen because of micro-abrasions on contact over time.
3. Mechanism that knows phone is closed will think phone is closed when open -- ergo a blank screen when flip is opened
4. Hinge problems where, for some reason, the left hinge becomes loose and the wire connecting main body to screen becomes taut and then breaks. Samsung did a good job with adding a protective rubber bumper to cushion the opening blow.
5. Opening the top too quickly creates a slight hyperextension and future hinge loosening.

Issues to address with Ego and Emotion:

1. Don't slap your phone closed when done -- nobody is really impressed you have a cellphone.
2. Don't take out negative emotion on equipment -- it will bite you back when you need it.
3. Leave the cool opening flip motion to characters on Star Trek.

Proper Technique for opening and closing a cellphone:

1. When opening the top, use thumb and forefinger to rotate to open while maintaining light pressure with forefinger on top edge and therefore controlling the stop to full extension. Don't allow the flip to fully extend on its own force -- this creates a slight hyperextension over time. You will probably notice that the forefinger naturally slides to the other side of the screen while extending.

2. When closing the top, place a thumb on the side while closing the top with your other hand -- allow the thumb to be a cushion. Over time, you will know how much cushion you need - you may hear a slight tapping sound, but it's nothing compared to a "smacking" sound.

If you choose to not follow these instructions, well...:

1. Understand that the Limited 1 year warranty, that all wireless providers offer, doesn't cover customer damage.
2. You may not be paying monthly for insurance to cover damage.
3. You will have to extend your contract to get a lower price on a phone.
4. You'll break the darn thing and won't be able to use it until you get to a store.
5. Good luck on finding a store that actually has a functioning loaner program...

Other things to consider to create longer life with cellphones:

Instead of pulling out the power cord or earbud cord, use a tweezing technique. This creates minimum pressure to remove the cord while preserving the shape of housing and cord socket.

1. Take thumb and forefinger and place around head of cord with slight finger pressure against side of phone.
2. While keeping hand steady, bring thumb and forefinger simultaneously towards hand.

Note: This is REALLY important for users with the USB type of jack - especially on BlackBerry devices. If you don't follow these instructions you will typically side load the jack by pulling cord out on an angle and will loosen the jack. You are basically then hosed because you can't power or backup your device.

How do I know this stuff and where does my interest come from, you may ask...
-5 years as a Retail Store Manager for T-Mobile - I've heard and seen everything...
-Six Sigma Green Belt Training (Polar Air Cargo -- General Electric's Cargo Airline)
-Several Semesters at Cal State Dominguez Hills -- Masters in Quality Assurance
-Ongoing interest in Process and Continuous Improvement in the workplace
-PST was originally Printer Sensitivity Training - this will be my next posting.
-PST then developed into: People, Systems and Technology -- stay tuned to future posting

SCUBA Diving - thoughts & opinions

The following are my experiences & thoughts of SCUBA Diving, with the disclaimer that I am not an instructor, but I do have an Advanced Open Water Certificate from PADI.

I was introduced to the idea of going SCUBA (Self Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus) diving while working at Fordham University in the early 1990's -- can't remember who it was.

The Master Instructor was Greg Kincheloe -- who I think is still doing this, including being a flight instructor in New York.

It’s fun to do this with someone so I took classes with two co-workers (Mike and Mark). We also went on a couple of SCUBA trips together which was a blast.


One could purely look at SCUBA diving as just having fun swimming around underwater playing with fish. I, of course, have expounded other virtues of diving -- addressing fears of claustrophobia; learning basic principles of anatomical physiology; teamwork; awareness of self and others; time & task management; humility of being a guest in a foreign world with different rules, etc.

My wish is that you too experience the thrill and responsibility required of SCUBA diving.

Acquiring basic equipment

When you first sign up for SCUBA lessons, you will typically (after the first class) be sent to a SCUBA store to purchase some equipment. Mask, Fins, Snorkel, books.

Spend an adequate amount of time in the SCUBA shop and don’t feel pressured to rush any purchases. Mark was with me at the same time driving me nuts because he was taking forever. Of course, I ended up buying a mask that was too small and fins that where too big!! Basic SCUBA equipment can be inexpensive, but this is not really a cheap sport.

Trick to finding a mask that fits works by placing it on your face and breathe in through your nose to see if it sticks well on your face. The snorkel should fit comfortably in the mouth – they have a ton of different mouth bites to choose from. Snorkels can be either very basic or with several purge valves – I went basic. The fins must fit well on your foot (width and length) – try on a pair of booties before putting the fins on. It’s important that they have the right amount of flex. Mine were a bit too big, wide and floppy, but I was able to adapt my stride underwater so it was OK – with practice I was literally flying through the water, which was fun.

Compass, slate boards, grease pencils, dive tables, knives, lights, SCUBA bags all need to be purchased. Go with whatever the instructor recommends.

Do I do all the training at a Resort or in a swimming pool?

My opinion is that vacations should be about having fun, not about learning new stuff. Therefore, I would advise doing all the formal training at home with an official SCUBA school that offers pool training. I seem to remember that it was at least 5 or 6 formal classes (lecture style with quizzes and written exams) followed by pool training. SCUBA is reasonably basic to learn and understand, but you need the right environment to ask questions, learn and practice what you learned in the pool. The pool has built in safety mechanisms you can fall back on and it’s a familiar environment.

The culmination of the training is open-water dives – in my case it was a two day trip with two dives per day. A strong recommendation is to time all of this so that (soon after training) you do the open water dives in a really nice, warm place with awesome visibility and colorful fish – maybe a RESORT!!! Check with the dive school because PADI is an International organization and if you get the correct signoffs then the “finishing instructor” shouldn’t have a problem doing this. Some dive schools even organize trips where you all do the pool training together and then go abroad to a foreign country to do the open water dives – Turks and Caicos, Cayman Islands, Greece, and so on.

What I don’t recommend is going to a resort to learn SCUBA diving from scratch – I had a bad experience with this. I was already certified and was introducing SCUBA diving to my mother while on vacation. The “training” was too basic - “Don’t stop breathing and try to relax”. We went down to about 35-40 feet and my mother started hyperventilating. In hindsight I should have known better because during the pool sessions I too had to overcome the initial panic of breathing underwater, but I could easily stand up. SCUBA is basic, but not THAT basic.

The pool is a great training ground because the visibility is awesome and you know you have an easy out if you get spooked. It definitely is a weird experience being able to breath underwater. I remember when we started going from the shallow to the deep-end I got just a tad scared, but I decided to go beyond my fear and it all worked out.

You will learn how to do all kinds of cool things like take the mask off/on, take the tank off/on, share the regulator (breathing component) back and forth with your dive buddy and a myriad of other skills including trying to maintain buoyancy. Freshwater is tough to maintain buoyancy, but you'll be in salt water soon at some point anyway where it's much easier.

Freezing my ass in Dutch Springs, Allentown, PA

In my case, I did the pool training and then (for some stupid moronic reason) agreed to do the open water training in the Fall in Dutch Springs – some freshwater quarry near Allentown, PA. Here I am in a full body ¼” wetsuit in freshwater (which is harder to maintain buoyancy) with no visibility, no point of reference, no fish, and best of all – FREEZING MY ASS OFF with cold!!!

Of course, I was a slow learner because after getting the first certificate I went back to the same place a couple weeks later to do the Advanced Open Water Course – this meant doing a deep dive down to 100 feet to practice tying knots, raising a heavy weight to the surface by inflating a bag, and practicing getting to the surface from 100 feet by exhaling ONE breath of air – quite trippy! Oh – you’ll learn about thermoclines. At 100 feet, I was at the 3rd or 4th thermocline – this roughly translates into it being about 3 to 4 times as cold as it was at 33 feet. Yes… You guessed it….. FMAO!!! Never again!

SCUBA Diving is dangerous at really deep levels.

Actually, SCUBA diving is technically more dangerous between sea level and 33ft because the lungs expand relatively more at shallower depths than at deeper levels. Listen to the instructors carefully because understanding the principles of human physiology is important.

At deeper levels, if you’re down for too long you could get Nitrogen Narcosis (Narced) which is not good for the bloodstream and you start doing stupid stuff like giving your regulator to fish and losing track of time and tasks. You’ll also end up in a decompression chamber with your friends on the outside cursing you through a small window because you messed up their vacation.

Book Learning

Reasonably easy stuff to learn and remember and the instructors usually have tons of well photocopied materials to hand out. Read one chapter a week and you’ll be OK.

Checking your ears (ear wax buildup)

Because you have to use the Valsalva Technique to equalize the pressure between the inner ear and the water (holding your nose and gently blowing – which pops your ears), I would STRONGLY recommend cleaning your ears out several weeks before doing the open water dives – use Debrox or whatever. See a doctor if you have excessive wax build up.

If you ignore this step then it will negatively affect your dives and enjoyment because you’ll get too much of a pinch and won’t be able to dive down very far.

After a while, you’ll get the hang of the technique and can clear your ears just by swallowing.

I think my next post will be at NIM (Nasal Irrigation Method) – this will be good additional information that helps with SCUBA diving and overall health.

Check your health

It’s important to not go diving if you are congested or blocked up with a head cold. It’s all about equalizing pressure – there will always be other times to go diving.

In between dives it’s important to stay warm and get out of wet clothing quickly. I saw a pattern where people got sick on the second day of diving because they weren’t taking care of themselves.

Buddy System

SCUBA is one of these sports that is relatively dangerous so it requires having someone with you as backup. None of this has happened, but you could run out of air, get caught up in seaweed or whatever. I’ve had one awesome buddy, mostly good buddies and a couple of terrible buddies.

In my opinion a good buddy system is where two people dive together for each other. That means that the moment we start descending together until surfacing my entire focus and attention is on the welfare of my buddy. This relationship works well when it’s reciprocal. It doesn’t work to go down and focus on doing your own thing. If something happens it will happen quickly and I want my buddy to be there for me in a second.

SCUBA equipment is extremely reliable because the concept of the breathing regulator is quite basic and the equipment is not difficult to understand. If somehow you have a breathing malfunction, then your buddy can scoot over and give you his/her backup breathing regulator. During training you also learn how to pass the same regulator back and forth to each other.

If you’re diving in tall weeds and someone gets tangled then your huge bowie knife is to cut loose your buddy free, not yourself. Note: On the surface, coat your knife with Petroleum Jelly – it prevents rust, but be careful because they are really sharp.

I’ve had a “buddy” that did the OK sign and then dove straight to the bottom without waiting for me – I just waited for his butt to get back to the surface. If someone wants to be dumb then don’t add to it.

Professionalism of instructors

One of the Divemasters/Rescue Divers I had with me during initial training was (for lack of a better description) a complete BONEHEAD on land and on the surface of the water -- someone you wouldn’t want to trust with your life. BUT, the second we were 1 inch below water he transformed into a complete professional and was awesome to dive and work with. If you have instructors that you can’t work with underwater then find someone else – quick.

Underwater cameras

On a trip to Key Largo with Mike and Mark, we took a regular underwater camera and also rented a video camera.

When you take pictures you typically just hold the camera out front at arms length and just shoot – you don’t look through the viewfinder. Everything is magnified underwater anyway.

We had the freakin’ lens cap on the regular camera, so were happily taking 36 pictures of the inside of a lens cap. Lessons learned – take the lens cap off before leaving the boat.

The videocamera is a regular videocamera encased in a heavy plastic box with a built in arm that pushes against the record button. Of course, we get down to depths and want to start recording – the darn internal arm was about ¼” away from the record button and we couldn’t record anything. Lessons learned – make sure you can turn the camera on and off before leaving the boat.

When taking pictures, slow down and capture everything reasonably close up before zooming off to find something else. After a while you’ll be able to have perfect buoyancy and be able to navigate up and down through the coral just by using relative, but steady breathing.

Time, Task, & Breath Management

This will get better over time, but it’s really important to always keep breathing and get out of the habit of breathholding. Breathholding is only for skin diving without a breathing apparatus.

If you go on a charter, then the Skipper may cop an attitude if you come up with less than 500 PSI and require you to sit out the next dive as a punishment/lesson. Couple reasons – one is that you can damage the tank by bringing it up empty because now water can get in because there’s no air pressure left. Second, and more importantly, is that you’re a liability because you were not managing your air and could have needed a rescue mission. Just keeping checking the dials every so often and ensure your buddy does this as well.

Task management basically means that you have an agreed plan of what you are going to do – planning out the dive, etc. The basic rule is that whoever has the least air left decides the final phase of the dive. Learning to communicate with sign language is fun and there’s always slates and grease pencils for backup.

Open water dives in ocean

Much more fun that in freshwater because it’s typically: warmer, better visibility, more colorful fish, better buoyancy (saltwater is easier to maintain buoyancy than freshwater).

Learning your equipment on land before water

I remember buying a new compass and just slapping the thing on and going down for a dive. At depth I looked at the compass and realized that its mechanism was reverse of what I was used to. Because it was new I started panicking and ruined the dive. Lessons learned – play with compasses in the parking lot until you are thoroughly comfortable with the equipment.

This also goes for dive tables. When I was diving, someone invented the whiz wheel which allows for different levels of diving within the same dive. Bottomline is that the device is more complex than a basic dive table and I never really mastered it on land. Good thing I also had brought the regular dive table. Note: Most dive operators plan the dives so that they can compensate for the average diver – listen to their instructions for safety.

Of course, if you buy a dive computer, they’re a lot of fun, but make sure you understand it thoroughly on land first.

Purchasing more advanced equipment

SCUBA can get expensive quickly because pretty soon you’ll want your own wetsuit, instead of renting. Then you’ll want your own Buoyancy Compensator (BC) and Regulator and then computer and so on. Just make informed buying decisions. It’s a fun sport to get addicted to.

Visibility and warmth in Florida Keys

That trip to the Florida Keys was awesome. We saw giant eels, whole schools of Parrot Fish and Barracudas and tons of other stuff.

God's underwater Garden

SCUBA diving is the great equalizer for me, because there is a very obvious realization that you’re a visitor and this is foreign ground for humans. The rules are different and you must respect that. Barracudas are somewhat blind and have very sharp teeth and powerful jaws - if they get close then put your fingers into a fist, wrap your arms around yourself, don’t make any sudden movement and don’t torment them. Human physiology is not designed naturally to be underwater for extended lengths of time, so follow the rules.

Coral basically dies if you touch it – so, don’t touch it and maintain skills of buoyancy.

Don’t leave trash behind.

Really enjoy the spectacular beauty of the whole experience – it’s quite humbling.

Dog biscuits are a good way of attracting fish to you so you get a good camera shot. Problem is that it’s not really that great for them. Find something that works, but is more suitable.

SCUBA diving is cool and snorkeling is for wimps

That was my initial attitude until I went to the US Virgin Islands

SCUBA diving was fun, but we spent 90% of the time doing just snorkeling. It’s free, no time limits and you can basically see all the same stuff anyway. We saw all kinds of fish and turtles. Recommendation is to practice in the swimming pool with your mask and snorkely. It may be difficult to use the fins in the pool unless you’re practicing skin diving underwater, then it’s OK. On the surface there is too much of a slapping sensation.

SNUBA Diving (contraction of Snorkeling and Scuba Diving)

I’ve never done this, but my understanding is that you drag around a buoy with a machine that provides the air to a regulator attached to a hose with a fixed length. Because you can’t go that deep you don’t have to worry much about nitrogen levels in your blood. Just have several lengths of the cord wrapped around your arm so you can let it out loose if need be.

Suntan Lotion

Don’t forget to apply this to exposed skin before diving. The sun’s rays are magnified when they hit the water and you can get a serious sunburn UNDER the water.


Breathing dry air gives you a MAD case of the munchies. Always have healthy snacks with you and bring lots of water.

Have fun!!!

I’ve tried to outline my full experience with SCUBA diving. Like anything, follow the program and it’ll all work out. When you find the perfect buddy, hold on to him/her for as long as you can.

Geneaology Research

I'm researching my family tree and recently registered with www.ancestry.com.

So far, I've found a cousin on my mother's side and a possible relative on my father's side. The possible relative is in England and offering all kinds of support and effort in researching.

The ability to upload data and then search various databases is quite powerful. The Internet has definitely eased the process of researching genealogy -- which is much like detective work.

On my Father's side I'm researching possible connections to family members in service as the Queen's Bodyguard (Yeoman of the Guard) and then going back to Wales.

On my Mother's side I'm researching the long history of the Brown family (in Scotland) and my Grandfather's Jewish geneaology -- possibly Cohanim going back to Sephardic tribes in Spain. I'm considering doing a DNA test to check for Sephardic/Cohanim strands.

Aside from collecting names and dates, this project (for me) is really about learning/understanding how historical events affected family members in their life experiences. It offers insight and a deeper appreciation of what my ancestors addressed and overcame and encourages me to go beyond my current perceived limitations.

Volunteering for Los Angeles Marathon - Ham Radio

I've volunteered for the Los Angeles Marathon (www.lamarathon.com) each year since 2002 -- typically as a Finish Line Marshal. Keeping the finish line clear is really important because at its peak approx. 300 people per minute cross the line and just one obstruction can hose everything up! In years past, I did the same job for the New York City Marathon (http://www.nycmarathon.org/home/index.php) from 1992 to 1995 and various other events for the NY Road Runners club (http://www.nyrr.org/) at weekends.

The last two years I've volunteered as a Ham Radio Operator (my FCC Callsign is KI6USA). In 2006 I was at Mile Marker 18.

In 2007 I was a Ham Radio Shadow for the Acura Bike Tour (http://www.acuralabiketour.com/), shadowing the Race Director Lynda Habash. While having to be on site at 4AM, it was a lot of fun and good experience with logistics.

The race was delayed by several minutes because DOT wasn't ready on the course. Lynda was having a hard time hearing using her cellphone, Motorola WalkieTalkie and Nextel cellphone. With my trusty Yaesu VX-7r (www.yaesu.com) and my Secret Service type earpiece, I could hear Net Control real easy.

At the Command Center in Downtown Los Angeles (we were at Exposition Park), DOT finally cleared the course. DOT spoke to the Shadow Net Ham Operator, who spoke to me, where I could then update Lynda, who then started the race -- the delay from clearance to wheels rolling was about 10 seconds. Not bad! Good example of the utility of Ham Radio.

After the Bike Tour I went over to the Command Center and spent the rest of the day communicating messages between the various Ham Nets and the Los Angeles Fire Department.

The head of the Ham Radio contingent (Greg Powell - KD6AIS) has posted a web-site with various links to stories, pictures, Ham Radio Operations Manual, sign-up information, maps, etc. Checkout the link at: http://www.lamarathon.ham-radio-op.net