Flying Sdrawkcab

UnknownThe first time I saw it happen, I was taking my boat out of the harbor, and about 50 yards away I saw a seagull flying backwards.  It was one of those quirks of nature, one of those things that shouldn’t be possible but happens anyway.  It was a beautiful sight, his wings outstretched, his nose pointed one direction and his body moving backwards against the landscape of the island behind him and the water below.

Recently, on a particularly windy day, I told my instrument instructor that I always wanted to fly backwards, and as is typical of him he said, “let’s do it.”   We had other plans for that day, and I wasn’t in the mood to change them, so I opted for another time. Apparently, it’s an easy thing to do, especially in a small, low-powered airplane such as a Piper Cub or a Cessna 150.   The wings of a J3 Cub stall at about 33 knots, or about 38 miles an hour, so all you need to do to fly backwards is to point your nose into a 45 mile an hour wind, fly just over stall speed, and you can find yourself flying backwards over the ground.  Find a stiff 60 mile an hour wind or more and you can fly backwards at 20 miles an hour.

Although I have never flown backwards, I have done many other things backwards.   The Pimsleur language wizards somehow figured out that it’s easier to learn difficult foreign words by rehearsing the syllables backwards, which is how I learned how to say thank you in Armenian (shnorhakalutyun).

Reading backwards is tricky at first, but after a while it gets easier, because, just like reading forwards, one begins to notice patterns.  When I first moved to California, the moment I looked at the sign for the street named “Moorpark” I cracked up laughing.   Reading it backwards, I thought that it was a joke, but none of the locals seemed to know it.

In Northern California, where I wrote the first draft of this post, there is a town called Ukiah.  I never looked it up to see if it was intentional that it was named for the 17-syllable poem we all had to write as kids in school.  Maybe someone else who values his or her precious time even less than I do will look it up for me.

A friend was visiting me from New York, and when somehow the conversation came to reading or speaking backwards, he immediately mentioned the Long Island town of Lynbrook, which is not really backwards, just a swapping of the syllables of Brooklyn, but still, I think, clever enough to be mildly entertaining.

There is a natural food store in LA that is called “Erewhon.”  It is actually one letter off, but it is more difficult to read “Erehwon,” and as far as I’m concerned they can be forgiven.

I had always assumed Oprah’s parents were Marx Brothers’ fans, until I read that her birth name was actually Orpah, after a biblical character.  Apparently, people mispronounced it as “Oprah” frequently enough for it to stick.   Oprah calls her production company Harpo Productions, so at least she gets it.

There is also a coffee shop called Amocat in Washington (guess what city it’s in?) and one in Tokyo called Alucard, which as far as I know does not serve doolb.  And my old buddy Francis Albert used to sign his oil paintings as Artanis.

The philosopher Soren Kierkegaard said “life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”  So, by illogical extension, perhaps if I get up in the air on a particularly windy day, rent an old Cessna, point my nose directly into the wind, and slow down, I will begin to understand life as I find myself flying backwards.   But I doubt it.

The 80/20 Rule

Unknown-2I thought I understood the 80/20 rule pretty well when I first read about it in a management book I was reading.  The author suggested that 20% of a company’s customers took up 80% of the company’s time.  If you got rid of those demanding customers your time would be spent more effectively.

Since then, I have heard or seen several other definitions of the 80/20 rule.  LinkedIn, for example, phrased it this way:

Did you know that only 20 percent of what you do each day produces 80 percent of your results? Eliminate the things that don’t matter during your workday: they have a minimal effect on your overall productivity. For example, on a project, systematically remove tasks until you end up with the 20 percent that gets the 80 percent of results.

This is kind of a reverse way of getting to a similar place.  The basic idea is that one shouldn’t waste one’s precious time on things that don’t have a proportionate yield.  My own thinking about this is that in a life and death endeavor such as flying, it’s the little things that can kill you, so neglecting them may not be such a good idea.

While nearly all accidents occur as the result of a series of mistakes or bad decisions, some of them occur because of neglecting a single detail.

A flight instructor once told me that 80% or more of accidents could be traced to a poor pre-flight inspection.   I’m not sure if that’s entirely accurate, but because it only takes one accident to ruin your day and perhaps all future ones, it is clear that one should never cut corners on a pre-flight.

I just read an accident report where a newly minted pilot killed himself and his parents because he simply neglected to retract his flaps on takeoff in an unfamiliar airplane.   When his airplane refused to climb, he turned back and spun into the ground.

In the business world, it is often the small things that differentiate between those who get where they are intending to go and those who don’t.  Cold calls, as an example, are tedious and ridiculously time consuming, but they are a necessary part of nearly every sales job.

Investing in the least likely scenario, that is, spending time on the 20 percent, is important when the stakes are large.  In poker, the odds may be 11 to 1 that your flush is going to come up, but you will stay in the hand if the pot is big enough.

For me, investing in the least likely scenario has paid off often enough that I really can’t imagine getting anywhere if I didn’t.  Given the odds, I certainly wouldn’t have had the nerve to start a conversation with that pretty girl in Innsbruck who eventually became my wife.

So perhaps the 80/20 rule is just like all the other rules of The Game; they work most of the time, but are made to be broken.