Coping: A Personal “High Performance” Weekend

imageAlthough we’re going to talk a bit about flying, the FAA’s WINGS program, and all that “stuff” that goes into being a pilot, this is really a story about how to get really good at something over time; and how good hobbies help us live – and think – better.

A lot of people have hobbies, but there are those who take hobbies seriously and there are people who I would call the dilettantes; people who pursue something in a half-hearted and half-assed way.

You see it in all sports and pursuits, the people who take things on a so-so basis. At the end of the day they just sort of play-at whatever they profess their hobby to be.

It’s like the gun owners who don’t own a gun for a purpose (personal protection, hunting, or marksmanship) and instead just use it as a brag tool.  “Yo, moe foe I gotta Glock!”  So?  Step out here to the 15-meter line and hit that playing card up there on the backstop…call next week when you hit it.

Now, you take your 50-caliber Barrett sniper rifle:  I know people who actually own them and live in Texas.  But to them, it’s a tool – and this one fellow in particular I know goes back to the East Coast now and then as an instructor because he’s that good. I won’t tell you the “alligator at a mile” stories… but there are other folks who can’t hit the side of a barn at a thousand yards with the same gun.  You see the difference, I hope.  In the hands of my friend, it’s an art form.  In the hands of someone without serious training?  It’s a large noise-maker.

Or, as another example, during the time I lived on my sailboat and actually did serious sailing, there were those of us who went out and ran the mid-winter “Iceberg Regatta.” Then there were the people who were hanging around the bar when we got back from serious sailing to have a warm-up toddy.  The bar was always full of wannabes who wouldn’t know how to tie a bowline, let around behind their back, let alone at night, let alone on a pitching foredeck.  So you see what I mean.  Furniture boat crowd versus sailors.

This weekend, I had two days being deadly serious about one of my hobbies, which is flying the old Beechcraft around.  

Although I took one of my neighbors up for a quick bit of sightseeing on Saturday, the real agenda of this weekend was to make sure I was still “sharp” on the stick and a safe pilot. Although not required for another nine months, my biennial flight review (BFR) and more, is done.

To do that, there are three things that helped to make that happen: Training, rest, and vitamins.

First, I am a huge believer in doing advanced coursework – way beyond whatever the minimums are for any hobby.  Yes,  You can fly an airplane with 40-50 hours of flight time, a check-ride every two years and a third class medical.  Three take-offs and landings every 90 days and you can be “legal” for visual rules.

We get readers, now and then, who tell us they worry about our flying all over the country, which we do.  They express various safety concerns.

What most people don’t know (because I haven’t discussed it much, but will this morning) is that I go so far past the minimum requirements that it’s ridiculous.

imageThat item above right, for example, is my FAA WINGS transcript.  It lists 30- courses and check-rides in the past four years.  None of this is required, but if you take the hobby seriously (and want to live a long time) you go the extra mile and continue education. 

As a result, I’ve been through such courses ad “Aging Gracefully, Flying Safely,” “Accidental Causal Factors:  Stabilized Approaches,” and certification to fly the “Washington DC Special Flight Rules Area.”  Plus tons of other topics covering positive aircraft control, loss of control accident analysis, gobs of weather, icing, and severe thunderstorm tactics and so on…(the best one is stay at the hotel, BTW.)

And I have what I consider the finest flight instructor in the world.  A ranked aerobatics competitor who’s a retired 767 driver.

To me, this is what a personal “high-performance weekend” is all about.  This isn’t something  work-related like what we HAVE to do Monday through Friday:  It’s You taking on the toughest customer out there: Yourself  – and seeing how good you really are. 

It was great.  I bagged two more “phases” of the FAA WINGS program and that puts me on the path to one of my personal goals in flying, which is wrapping up my Master WINGS certification.  I’m working my way through Basic and Advanced at the moment.

Most hobbies have such competitions.  Even something like model railroading comes down to competition in the sense that you should be able to take a picture of a part of your layout and compare it with a real-life photo.  When the lighting, trackage, dioramas and such as so good that they are virtually indistinguishable from a photo or a similar scene, then you approach that master modeler status that separates the boys from the men, or girls from the women.

So the first part of this weekend was goals and attitude.  I don’t ever want to die in a plane accident.  And the way to avoid premature death in any hobby is to get serious about it.  I’ve done owner-assisted annual inspections and know every nut (castellated and cotter pinned at that) personally.

This getting from beginner to expert is what matters to me…and it should to you.

Take driving for example.  I take driving very seriously.  As a (currently reformed) Porsche driver, it made a lot of sense to me to read half a dozen books on how to drive like a bat out of hell…safely.  A good starting book, by the way, is Carl Lopez’ book Going Faster! Mastering the Art of Race Driving,  And then, if you haven’t actually saved the money and done it, go to a real driving school (like Skip Barber) and take a one-day high performance driving school like this one.

And, if you’re going to drive a real muscle car (my old 930 wasn’t exactly a slouch), you’ll want to take at least a one day (but longer is better) course (like this one) and actually get acquainted with heel and toe technique in corners.  When you are comfortable well over 100 in corners and all, then you’re getting somewhere.  But not on city streets.

Once you have some really good introductory skills (I got mine in 2001 at Skip Barber Laguna Seca) then when you actually get behind the while of a 500-horsepower super-car, you won’t kill yourself.  FWIW our red whale tail was replaced with the airplane, when it became clear that a speeding ticket for 2.1 times the posted speed limit (70) might be a bit expensive.  There was a safety angle to it, as well.

In many hobbies, there is some risk of death and so a person who takes their hobbies seriously does what they can to reduce the risk. 

In the case of the car, it was looking at the odds of surviving hitting a second deer and living through it.  I’d previously hit a deer in my old 911-E about 25 miles north of Portland, Oregon in 1987, or so, and that was not a lot of fun for me or the insurance company which rolled out $6,500 in repairs  ($13,500 in today money_)  to fix the front end of the E.

Experiences, like that one, teach a valuable lesson and those who want to have any of the great hobbies we have today are, as I see it, well-advised to get serious and take things up to the next level.  Do that, and the odds of dead are much smaller.  I don’t care if it’s scuba diving or free-fall.

My son’s got a bit of this managing death gene, too.  He is a more or less constant fixture at the local skydiving joint up in Snohomish, Washington.  He’s got a C license and just a custom 170.  But, like dad, he has enough sense to “read the numbers” and “follow the data profiles’ so he doesn’t do swooping (high speed dive with a ‘chute, skimming your feet on water, and hoping to make the shoreline or shallows before the ‘chute runs out of lift) and he isn’t trying to downsize to a smaller/faster ‘chute (like a 130) because he does a lot of jumps at high density altitudes.

Altitudes figure in at least three hobbies in a major way.  For a pilot, coming off a hot, high runway can seriously degrade aircraft performance.  I mean like really serious degradation.  Rate of climb can drop from 500 feet per minute to zero under exactly the wrong conditions.  This is called density altitude. Hot, thin air doesn’t hold up as much airplane.

It figures into parachuting the same way.  On a cool morning up in the northwest,  a 170 gives an almost lazy rate of decent and it’s great for canopy relative work (two chutes in close proximity to one another doing coordinated turns and so on).  But when my son comes down here and jumps from Sky Dive Spaceland, on a hot afternoon, suddenly the chute is not slowing so much because the air down here is hot and humid by comparison.  You call faster through thinner air and the bigger chute slows you down better and you stay out of broken ankle territory.

The other place where  altitude matters is if you’re a scuba diver.  If you do a deep dive (coming up under “the tables”) then it is a really stupid idea to get in a commercial aircraft where the cabin pressure drops to about 6,000 feet, or so.  It’s not exactly a density altitude problem, but if you try and get the bends, remember who tried to tell you effective altitude is an issue any time you’re not on dry ground.

Didn’t mean to get off into the weeds with such a wide-ranging ramble, but the second part of the high performance weekend was vitamins.

I can’t say enough good things about vitamins that enhance mental performance.  I find the effects of Huperzine-A are incredibly useful when in a situation where max brainpower is needed for a short period of time.

(This is NOT MEDICAL ADVICE but…) You might try something like Source Naturals Huperzine A, 200mcg, 120 Tablets if you want to try brain enhancing. 

When flying an airplane under semi-adverse conditions (shooting an instrument approach down to minimum in light to moderate turbulence, wings tipping 10-5-degrees in lumps) I find it really helps because the brain seems to fire faster.  (Check with your doctor, this is not medical advice…). 

Then, once down on the ground and you’re continuing the required ground portion of training, you might have a better chance of remembering that when flying at night and you see an airport beacon flashing two white, followed by a single green, that it’s a military airport.  And you know how to tell which airports have fuel available by just looking at the symbol, right?

The other thing about hobbies is that if you have enough of them  (I figure that 10-15-years per hobby is about long enough to master it and move on to new challenges) you will find many things that can help your investing skills.

Take one of the courses I took Sunday for WINGS credit.  While this has everything to do with aeronautical decision-making, see if this doesn’t help with stock-picking and trading techniques:

Patterns and Expectations

The brain uses existing knowledge and experience as a shortcut to processing new information.  This tendency can be useful, but it can also be dangerous.  Examples:

When you are processing information from an unfamiliar GPS navigator, you might unconsciously make incorrect assumptions on the basis of how information is accessed or displayed on the one you normally use.

If previous experience at a familiar airport leads you to expect a clearance to land on runway 10, you may “hear” a clearance to land on “one-zero,” even if the controller in fact clears you to land on runway 01.

The “reality check” part of your PROCESSING  phase can help you avoid pattern and expectation errors.

Confirmation Bias

Human beings also have a tendency to look for information that confirms a decision we have already made.  For example, imagine that you have decided to continue a flight you have already started.  You call Flight Watch for updated weather information on several nearby airports, but you might unconsciously give more weight to the information that supports your decision to press ahead.

Again, the “reality check” part of the PROCESSING  phase is useful in countering these types of errors.

Framing

When you evaluate options for a decision, be sensitive to how you state, or “frame,” your alternatives.  Assume you are deciding whether to continue a flight in deteriorating weather.  If you frame the “continue” decision in positive terms (e.g., “I can save a lot of time and inconvenience if I go on”), you are probably more likely to decide on continuing.  If, on the other hand, you frame the decision in negative terms (e.g., “I could get myself in real trouble if I push on”), you are more likely to divert to a safer destination.

The point of importance this morning is what?  Learning to generalize knowledge!

If you have a weekend, and you have a good, mind-stretching hobby, you can constantly work on your skills at generalizing information.  I could take the same paragraphs above, change the terms around, and use them as a useful template for thinking about investments:

Patterns and Expectations

The brain uses existing knowledge and experience as a shortcut to processing new information.  This tendency can be useful, but it can also be dangerous.  Examples:

When you are processing information from an unfamiliar small stock, you might unconsciously make incorrect assumptions on the basis of how information is accessed or displayed compared to more detailed data on larger cap stocks.

If previous experience in short-term options leads you to expect a rally righe before expiration, you may “hear” a buy-signal in your mind even if the technical patters if followed would indicate you should pass..

The “reality check” part of your PROCESSING  phase can help you avoid pattern and expectation errors.

Confirmation Bias

Human beings also have a tendency to look for information that confirms a decision we have already made.  For example, imagine that you have decided to buy a small stock.  You call a few trading buddies and ask their input, but you might unconsciously give more weight to information that supports your decision to press ahead.

Again, the “reality check” part of the PROCESSING  phase is useful in countering these types of errors.

Framing

When you evaluate options for a decision, be sensitive to how you state, or “frame,” your alternatives.  Assume you are deciding whether to add to an existing position.  If you frame the “continue” decision in positive terms (e.g., “I can make a shitload of dough”), you are probably more likely to decide on continuing.  If, on the other hand, you frame the decision in negative terms (e.g., “I could get my ass handed to me in this trade”), you are more likely to divert to a safer destination.   “

And that, in a nutshell, is how Ure looks at grown-up, mind-challenging hobbies.  Not only do you master skills, but more importantly, you master new ways of thinking and looking at the piles of warm steamy data that pile up in life every day.

Anything that helps with the analysis, short-cuts getting to a conclusion, helps the brain work better and faster.  That’s also why our Peoplenomics note this weekend was on doing some simple programs so that once you make a good decision, you can build template tools so you don’t have to spend a lot of time with the mechanics of the arithmetic.  Just do things one time, get them right (or nearly so) to get you’re thinking into the right ballpark and there you go.

OK, on to the serious stuff on our way down to the 1,890 S&P area…at least that’s what a brain template and some experience says should happen next on our way to new highs.

Write when you break-even,

George  george@ure.net

Comments

Coping: A Personal “High Performance” Weekend — 6 Comments

  1. Hi George,

    I’m guessing that most of those who are worried about your safety are not pilots themselves. I’d worry a bit more about you getting stuck on the ground in adverse weather or density altitude conditions.

  2. George, as a retired airline pilot I appreciate your Wings article. I agree with everything you state and the one thing that some co-pilot once reminded me of was “Airlines don’t award air medals”

  3. Just a question: Who pays for all those flight safety courses? (Not just administration, but preparation, etc.) How much do you think each one really costs, based on your years in aviation and private college administration?

    • The majority is paid for by http://www.aopa.com – the aircraft owners and pilots association and the EAA – the experimental aircraft association. Then when comes to check rides, those are paid for by the pilot. And the FAA doesn’t do check rides – those are done by DPE’s – designated pilot examiners. I like the FAA and while they are something of a clearinghouse, there agency is still bureaucratic. Example: Reform of the third class medical, which should have taken place years ago is mired down in Congress (still) because the FAA could not regulate its way out of a paper bag. There is a reason why private owners had to lobby for the pilot’s bill of rights (I and II is still mired in Washington).
      I appreciate you’re trying to make a point but the private pilots and private money is what has paid for the majority of seminars and safety initiatives.

    • I would also point out the privately (AOPA) supported Air Safety Foundation as well, BTW