Friday Night Geek Fest

I’m going for the saddest way to spend an evening here. Friday evening to boot.

I know they’re not environmentally friendly beasts, but I am afraid in the last couple of years (when I managed to get over my extreme fear of them and go to the US) I have developed a fascination of sorts for planes.

I haven’t got a clue how they get off the ground, stay off the ground then return to the ground without turning upside down or breaking into little pieces. I fear that will always remain a marvel and mystery to me but, since I’ve been transported more or less half-way around the globe and back again safely three times now, it’s nutured a respectful fascination in me.

The first time I went I think it is fair to say I was kind of hyperventilating in the departure lounge. I was determined to go, but wasn’t really quite sure how I was going to persuade my legs to get me on the plane. It didn’t help that we were delayed for four hours because of a mechanical fault. Mechanical faults are not what you want to hear about when you’re busy breathing in and out of a brown paper bag*. Especially when it’s YOUR plane they’re talking about. Super-especially when you know you’re going to be above an ocean and therefore presumably not particularly close to any airports for several hours should an emergency landing be required.

I was still hyperventilating quietly as we finally started taxi-ing (or is it taxiing) towards the runway. The pilot came over the intercom and cheerfully announced that the delay had been due to some hydraulics not working. I didn’t like the sound of that. Hydraulics sounded fairly important (when compared to the recline feature on my airline seat for example) so I was hoping like billy-o they’d fixed them properly.

Anyway, we thundered down the runway and then with only a mild shudder we were in the air and magically I was more or less instantly transformed into a creature who said “Oh….” – thoughtful pause – “this is alright actually.” So I was fine. I even managed to get out of my seat and ‘use the facilities’. I had convinced myself that if I did this, the motion of me moving around the cabin would undoubtedly cause the plane to unbalance thus plunging us into a inescapable downward spiral towards our watery graves. (I’m a whisker over 5 foot, and I weigh about 7 stone, so you can see that would be likely.)

Thus began my fascination. I subequently noticed I seem to live under a fairly busy flightpath and I now often waste valuable gardening time standing looking skywards, squinting and counting the metal tubes making their way across the sky. (My “record” is 9 all at the same time. They’re all way up high still which is why I hadn’t really particularly noticed before.) The ones going south tend to fly over to the east of me and the ones going north are over to the west.  It’s frustrating when it’s cloudy (as it often is here) and I can vaguely hear them but not see.

Then I discovered www.airliners.net where you can view plane pictures galore. That marked the first stage of my descent into sadness. Most of them are fairly bog-standard boring ‘plane-on-the-ground’ snaps, but in my defence they do have some quite arty-farty shots of planes flying into beautiful sunsets, awe-inpsiring clouds and things, and pictures of the ground from the sky and such like.

Not long after that I stumbled upon http://www.flightview.com/ where you can find a plane and track its progress across the skies. At work I regularly started following ‘my flight’ from Birmingham (BHX) to Newark (EWR) on a daily basis. It worked out a quite nice indicator of the day’s progression because it departed at around 9am (when I’m just booting up the work computer) and arrived about 4.30pm (UK time) so, by the time you saw the plane had landed, you knew it was getting on for ‘home time’.

Then I discovered that Newark Airport’s website had a Flightview feed of all its current arriving and departing traffic.  http://tracker.flightview.com/htNYNJPA/CurrentTrafficMap.asp?ap=EWR This was super fascinating to me. Especially when I further discovered that so do JFK (http://tracker.flightview.com/htNYNJPA/CurrentTrafficMap.asp?ap=jfk) and LaGuardia (http://tracker.flightview.com/htNYNJPA/CurrentTrafficMap.asp?ap=lga).

Joy of joys!! I could have three Explorer windows open and watch all three together and marvel at just how crowded the skies over New York are and how come these things don’t bump into each other more often?

Well…not long after that I discovered the website to top them all. The “piece de la resistance”. The cherry on the icing. La creme de la creme. This place: http://www.liveatc.net/feedmap/feedmap.html. Oh rapturous bliss!! You can LISTEN IN to the ATC. (That’s Air Traffic Control to the non-geeks.) It’s like listening to a foreign language and I only understand brief snatches of it, (things gabbled at high speed that sound roughly like they might be “continental seven ninety-one heavy proceed right zero zero tango whiskey foxtrot poppa wind two four niner clear for take-off” etc) but it’s bloody hypnotic.

So…on those Friday evenings where all the dishes have been washed, the laundry is ironed and airing, I’ve solved at least 4 sudoku puzzles, and all other normal websites are too quiet (because it’s Friday and the other people who go there are out having a life) I can sometimes be found perched on the corner of the sofa surgically attached to the laptop and engrossed in watching the ‘traffic’ approaching Newark airport and listening to the tin pushers giving out instructions. 

Right then….anyone care to admit they spend their Friday evening in a sadder way than me?

* It’s okay – I’m exaggerating. It was only a rhetorical paper bag.

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2 Responses to “Friday Night Geek Fest”


  1. 1 jackiesgarden September 1, 2007 at 8:33 pm

    Nezza, you are just too funny! First of all, I would NEVER indulge in your little pass time…I am deathly afraid to fly. I’ve done it twice, praying all the way, and when I landed the last time, I had a panic attack. That pretty much cured me of ever thinking I’d try it again! Second of all, you should go take a look at Gawpo’s site (you’d have to use my blogroll, I can’t remember the URL). He flies his own plane and posts some really terrific pictures of it while he’s in the air. Flying over a place where I lived for over 11 years.
    P.S. He’d be safe for you to blog to – I know him in “real life”, his real name, where he lives, etc. – as he’s my daughter, Cindra’s, best friend!
    P.P.S. I’ve spent WAY sadder Friday nights, my friend. Other people would think so, anyway. But we do what makes us happy.

  2. 2 nezza September 2, 2007 at 12:33 pm

    Awww – you’re too kind Jackie! I will definitely go and have a gawp at Gawpo’s site. 🙂


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