In this blog I will be trying to get to the truth about what is really important in life, and to write satirically about what is not - all in my quest for The Stuff Reality is Made of.
I also write articles on Religion, History, Travel, Flying, Philosophy, Physics, Meta Physics, Natural History. Mathematics and Psychology.
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Life in the Afternoon - much more than a story of
soaring - and reflections of that on my life by P.K.Odendaal. 23 October 2011.
Part 5 - Mapping.
Joburg ATC :Alfa
Sierra Kilo, no 'known traffic' to affect your flight up to flight level 150. ASK21 (me) :Copied, Alfa Sierra Kilo.
'Known traffic' - yes - that's the keyword and the reason
why I wear a parachute when I fly a glider. If they do not know about traffic
due to some pilot not calling them, it is not 'known traffic', meaning that if
one of these unknown traffic objects hit me in mid-air by chance, it will not
be their responsibility - it will only be me who will be doing the dying. I
know that there are normally, over weekends, other gliders in this airspace who
do not talk to ATC, so I wear a parachute in the not so unlikely event of a
mid-air collision. If you go from A to B, the chances of a mid-air collision
are very slim, but if you linger in one area going up and down and circling, it
becomes a hazard that you must watch out for. This is a (not so good) photo of my cockpit :
From top left in rows
to bottom right :
Air speed indicator : showing 76
km/hr, max speed (redline) 280 km/hr. Minimum speed in level flight is 65
km/hr., called stalling speed. I keep to (almost) minimum to make tight turns,
in order not to go out of small thermals. When I go below 65 km/hr., she goes
into a very docile stall from which it is easy to recover.
Variometer digital : showing 1.1
m/sec down and 16.9 km from Witbank (coupled to my final glide computer). When
I do more than two turns, this instrument indications change, to adapt to my
mode of flight, and will go over to indicating other information important to
me in a thermal.
Variometer mechanical : showing
1.4 m/sec down.
Altimeter : showing 10 230 feet
Next row :
Solar panel charger selector -
selected to main batteries
Main circuit breaker for engine
: on for emergency
Radio : Johannesburg Area
Control selected on 128.9 MHz - standby frequency Witbank Traffic 123.5 MHz.
This radio also shows me the volts in my three batteries, if I select another
Final glide computer : Witbank
airport selected, showing bearing to Witbank 265 deg. magnetic, current
tracking direction 004 deg. magnetic, 16.9 km from Witbank, average sink rate
0.8 m/s, wind arrow from left, 2836 feet in the bank. If I go to Witbank now, I
would be 2836 + 1000 feet above the airfield, when I arrive there. Wind speed
and direction 248 deg. at 15 km/hr
Secondary radar transponder :
Squawking code 5475 and flight level 99 Magnetic compass : showing heading of
006 deg. magnetic
Next row : Fuel pump (for high
altitudes), engine control showing propeller stowed, 15 litres of fuel left,
and various other controls (if full, it can hold 23 litres, and I use about 3
litres per take off - for the first 10 minutes of each flight, until I shut
down the engine.
Under that is the main electrical
circuit breaker and propeller stop.
These are figures, not tangible items - they map my actual
Mapping one set of
facts and phenomena to another ... or ... variation on a theme is the crux of
Joburg ATC :Alfa Sierra Kilo, call me detail complete.
So this is what my flight is called - a detail - and a very
minor one at that - a very small blip on a radar screen. What does a detail
look and feel like -and does it have
any rights or shape or future or aspirations?
To them (ATC), I do not exist - it is only my detail which
exists. When my batteries run flat, or I cannot reach home - they are not
interested in that. To them I will be moved from their list of details to their
list of statistics, when this flight ends - no matter how it ends - and I do
not even want to think of how it will feel like to be a statistic, should I
have a mid-air collision.
I will always remain a detail whilst in the air, like points
are to pilots. We have points we fly over - call it route points or reporting
points or navigation points - and we call then point A or point B, so very
impersonal - but to us, they are just points. Points are usually large towns
that we can see from afar. Points are small circles on my aviation/navigation
map - about one millimetre diameter. Talk about a conventional sign - this is a
very weird comparison. Mapping ten thousand people with a small circle - almost
of no import.
Yes - there may be ten thousand living and loving souls
dwelling in that town, but to us they are just points. We don't care whether
these humans are well, what their aspirations are, what they have to eat
tonight, what their griefs and joys are. They remain just points to us. For us,
they have no human or other rights - they just should not be able to move,
because it is very difficult to navigate on a moving target.
Much like a voter is to a politician. A politician does not
care whether they are well, what their aspirations are, what they have to eat
tonight, what their griefs and joys are. They are just voters, and their only
qualification is that they should be able to make a cross in a pre-instructed
block - that is all - and that as few times as possible. They are not even
required to know for whom or for what they vote. They just need to make a cross
as instructed or coerced into.
Mapping is the process of 'drawing' one set of
circumstances, facts or phenomena onto another. In fact - that is what I have
been doing from the start of this story - mapping my soaring flight onto my
life. In this series of stories, I have all along used mapping, to map every
glider manoeuvre to a similar thought process together with a secular or
The thermals are getting more and more vicious and enticing,
as the afternoon thunderstorms start to develop and build up, and I stay near
the fastest developing ones. Once they have reached their mature stage, and they
start to rain and hail, I will get the h... out of here. Rain makes a lot of
sink and hail will be like cannon balls hitting me.
As I watch these storm cells developing, I come to the
insight that I am looking at the universe developing. The underlying science is
again the same, so why can't I map it to the universe.
The science is not the same as to the actual forces, events
and phenomena involved, but on a more basic level. I will illustrate this with
an example. We start to count with apples, and once we are used to this, we may
move on tocounting oranges. If we wish
to further develop, we may move away from counting fruit and start to count
people. You might say that counting people are not like counting apples, as
people differ so much and you cannot count different things and add them up
together. My, my, my ... you may only compare apples with apples. You may be
right - but at a more basic level it is still counting - and even apples are
not all the same.
Without getting too technical, and adding the thunderstorm
equivalent in brackets after it :
The universe (thunderstorm) started off as very high energy
light (heat) from a single point called a singularity (the sun) being emitted
by an (almost) infinite energy source. As this light (air) cools off, gases
(moisture in the form of tiny rain droplets) start to form, until it becomes
visible as star forming clouds (rain clouds) out of which solid material (rain
and hail) is formed, when the energy in the developing gas cloud (rain cloud)
becomes too high. Due to gravity (heat energy and wind) these gas clouds (rain
clouds) are sucked up by other larger nearby gas clouds (rain clouds). At one
stage it becomes so dense, that the star/s (rain clouds) explode (with rain and
hail), forming a super nova (mature thunderstorm).
Because I always rush in where Angels fear to tread, I find
it is quite easy to map one scientific phenomenon to another, even if the
intrinsic forces and phenomena are not exactly the same, because, on a more
fundamental level, they have so much in common - and that is the reason why
Johannes Kepler and John Flamsteed did not become as well known and popular scientists
as Isaac Newton. The aforementioned two gentlemen believed, as I believed for
too long, that God made six different subjects for us to study at school. I
believed then, that any of these subjects were totally independent of the other
and that each one of them can be studied in isolation. It was only very much
later that I learned that God really made only one subject, and that it was our
education system that subdivided it into six subjects - but they never told me
that when I was at school. I was small, then, and believed some really BIG SHOT
had established these subjects.
I quote from the views of
Oscar Wilde :
'Education is an admirable
thing, but it is well to remember from time to time that nothing that is worth
knowing can be taught.'
What would I do now that I realize it was indeed some small shot who established that? I think I will
listen to my English teacher of matric. During the first fifteen minutes of a
class, he would in general tell us about life 'out there', of which we knew so
little, and after that enjoyable exposure to things not English, he would
always conclude with this remark : 'And so we end our brief visit to the
greatest of all generals : General Knowledge'. Yes - we should only have one
subject called General Knowledge.
John Flamsteed, being Astronomer Royal had the most
elaborate and detailed star observations in the world, but nothing else, and he
did not know that one could do something useful with it. His job was to take
these measurements and observations and keep it to himself. It is the view of
Johannes Kepler had the best theory (even totally valid
today) of the way planets move through the sky. But that was it. It was his dream
to do only that and publish his theory, but he would never be able to formulate
any other theory based on that.
Isaac Newton read the laws of Kepler, got John Flamsteed's
observations from him - under duress - and just said : 'If I apply Flamsteed's
observations to Kepler's laws of planetary motion, then Gravity must exist -
this is how it works and these are the formulae to calculate it' - and so he
opened new vistas for scientists even till today. He was able to transcend the
barriers between subjects and disciplines, which they were not able to do.
Many years after Doppler published his theory on the
frequency shift in sound waves, which occurs when two objects move relative to
each other, it had not dawned upon scientists working in astronomy, that there
might, just perhaps, be a light wave frequency shift as well. How could you
expect someone working on a light based subject to use theories published in
the audio based world. It took a belated discovery of Hubble to establish that,
and calculate the size of the 'known universe'. This is of course the same
concept as 'known traffic' !!
And while we are at calculating the size of the universe,
let us not forget who first calculated the size of the Earth - also by a
magnificent philosopher. His name was Eratosthenes, and being a general
philosopher, he never excelled in one subject, and became known as Beta, being
second best in everything. But his second best was much more excellent than
anyone living before or after him.
One day in Alexandria Library, he, being the Chief
Librarian, read this interesting statement in one of the parchments : 'The sun
does not make a shadow in Syene at 12 noon on a certain day of the year'. He
argued that if he could, at that same time, measure the shadow at Alexandria,
and get to know the distance from Syene to Alexandria, then he could calculate
the size of the Earth, which he did to a remarkable accuracy. He also
calculated the distance of the moon and the sun, from the earth, during
eclipses, that are also remarkably accurate. However, most of these articles
written by him were destroyed, when the library at Alexandria was destroyed,
mostly by an Islamic leader called Omar, who argued that if those parchments
were important, that same information would have been in the Koran. That act
led mankind from an Age of Enlightenment into the Dark Ages, an era that would
last for about 500 years. The next Age of Enlightenment only dawned during the
eighteenth century again.
Why did I tell you all this? Simply because I want you to
map one system of facts, events and phenomena onto another. I think one must be
able, in the extreme simplification, to add up apples as well as oranges,
because counting stays the same. ... and that brings me to ...
Secular and Religious
... two very different words for exactly the same world.
Before the Renaissance, all the (Western) world had a
totally religious lifestyle, as every Christian only lived for his Faith and
his God ... and then the Renaissance and the Reformation came, and things
changed forever. It is not incidental that these two very important and
different awakenings happened almost simultaneously, and both were instrumental
in dividing the world into two lifestyles (read six subjects) - Religious and
Secular. In fact, the really big start was the unabashed, opulent and shameless
transformation of the Catholic Church into a secular organisation who used the
world as a stage to play the Baroque Concert (or masquerade) - inspired by
great artists like Bernini and Borromini.
The rationale was that the Catholic Church would never
assimilate concepts of the Reformists into their dogma or compromise on anything.
The Reformists could serve God as they liked, but they, the Catholic Church,
would serve God as the Pope liked?!! If the Reformists left the Catholic Church
because of the opulence, domination and power play of the Catholic Church, the
Catholic Church was adamant that they would take this difference to new
extremes of opulence and excess never seen before.
Of course, the other side of the coin, namely for states to
be governed by religion was as old as mankind itself, but in this new twist of
fate, it became the other way round - and that is where our philosophy went totally
wrong. Instead of Religion (read God) ruling the State, the State started to
rule Religion. Christian Churches started to be governed by secular people, and
in another twist, secular people came to be governed by Religious Islamic
What is true however, is that there is only one world,
regardless of the lifestyles of people, but we became ingrained with this two
system world and by our religious practises. When I grew up, God had only one
hour per week of us, and that was during Church service on a Sunday - not that
I ever attended that voluntarily, but, for hostel hogs, that was the law. We
filled the other 167 hours with secular activities, neither voluntarily, because,
for hostel hogs, that was the law. For me to have made the transformation from
a Protesting Involuntary Coerced Church Goer, to a Voluntary Dedicated
Christian, had to take something radical - even more radical than my own lifestyle
- and which I will tell you about in the last part of this series - Part 7.
The above story, was much like the subdivision of our lives
at school into six subjects.
After our session with General Knowledge, our teacher would
proceed with the terrible totally unconnected subject called English - a
language very alien to our mother tongue. Only later I got to know the English
Literature and Culture, and I became very fond of it. Was English one of the languages
which started at Babel? Maybe the roots were already there. Please, do not
understand me incorrectly - loving the English language does not mean loving
the English people!!
Why did Babel happen? A very interesting question, on which
I will not linger for too long.
The whole of creation is in a flux, and whilst it was
necessary at that beginning of the Earth, to spread people over the globe,
incited by language differences, we are coming to the conclusion of the Earth,
as we come together in globalisation, with only one universal language - broken
The difference between the intensity of the up draughts on
my wings, is getting so strong, that I have to use maximum aileron deflection
to keep the glider from rolling its wings vertical. Fortunately these forces do
not last for long, so, if my wings do become vertical, it will only be for a
few seconds before I can roll them horizontal again.
Because the thermals are so strong and the moisture in the
air so high, I cannot climb above 11 000 feet, before I reach the base of the
clouds. Also, all around me, small rain cells are developing, and I need to
watch them closely, before these cells join each other and envelop me in a very
large thunderstorm, which will whack me with all its built up energy - and it
may even break up my glider. I also have to keep a vigil on the condition of
the airfield I took off from, so that it remains open for my home landing.
Small rain cells do not bother me, as I see them moving expeditiously over the
airfield, leaving the airfield open most of the time, but I cannot go out too
far, in case I cannot see the airfield anymore.
It is thunder and lightning all around me now, while I am
sitting pretty between these storms, but I will have to return soon. During all
these intense thoughts of mapping, I have omitted to watch the development of the
thunderstorms around me carefully, as I should have.
To conclude this very heavy part ... (almost) anybody can
pilot and aircraft or a ship, but it is when the storms in our lives come, that
we need a seasoned pilot like Jesus Christ, who will not take us through the
centre of a storm, and who will ride out the bumps and waves with us.