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Scientific Mysteries - Why I Love to Fly
« Japan Day 1: FlyingMy Latest Project »

Scientific Mysteries - Why I Love to Fly

12/04/13 | by Comp615 [mail] | Categories: The Mind, Technology

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The idea of flying has always been one of those weird blendings of the real and unreal for me; as I write this, I sit comfortably in my chair on an A320, watching us seemingly levitate through the air, cutting through the clouds. The winglets appear to hold us fixed in a straight flight through some unseen current, almost like a car on a Hot Wheels track.

And yet I understand that the magical sensation we know as lift is caused by a pressure differential forming around the plane based on the carefully designed shape of the wing which allows the air passing over and under the wing to flow at different speeds.

A few weeks ago I passed a checkride and officially became a pilot. I've done the requisite number of hours in various flight conditions and understand most of the physical components of a plane and of the atmosphere which allow flight from the properties of a wing to the effects of humidity on aircraft performance. Even as I flew my first commercial flight since starting my training, I could see the perfectly executed entry into the pattern "on the 45."

Yet despite the addition of checklists, rules and all that practical knowledge, I realize that I've maintained that sense of wonder; maintained the passion for the mysterious experience that is flight. For me, being able to use physics, logic, and well-defined concepts to create something so totally inconceivable and magical is truly gratifying.

I realize, in hindsight, that this is the second such passion I've been able to explore. Photography bears a strange number of similarities to flight. As I explored photography, I was told to use the "Rule of Thirds" which says that if the subject is generally on the one-third portion of the frame, it's often more interesting. I even led workshops in college, teaching people how to use flash in their photographs to ensure that the subject is well lit and easily distinguished from the background. It's quite simple really, just a matter of tweaking settings and coloring the light to match the frequency of the surrounding light. Yet I looked back through some old pictures and I saw myself applying the simple lighting tricks, but somehow capturing the life's work of a retiring swim coach or a moment of warring ideologies and changing times in a street debate between protestors. Even things so banal as a ping pong ball falling in a cup of beer seem to somehow convey more than the splash that's depicted and frozen in time.

Many great photographers often tell stories with or speak about the inspiration for their photos, people often refer to them as artists. Yet no matter the subject matter, I'll always consider myself simply a photo journalist. I'm capturing a tangible, real moment with (hopefully) proper exposure, composition and light balance. When I see it on paper though, that photo is not a page from a history book, but rather seems to tell a story. What story I cannot begin to understand, but I know that there's something more there, even if only a memory in my own mind.

Even programming, one could say, exhibits these characteristics. I sit and type in a well-defined language that might as well be French to most people, yet is nevertheless very rigid. But when people open up a site I've made, or a well-coded game…the experience they have on there can be truly transformative in a way that can't possible adhere to the constraints of a strongly typed programming language.

Every time I snap a picture and see it presented back…the result seems so much different, so much more magical than what I was just seeing through the viewfinder. And every time I reach rotation speed and feel the wheels gently ease off the runway, I find myself confused for a moment. I understand why they are doing this, yet the fact that they are, that the plane is in flight, seems wonderfully impossible. The application of science, of the definite and tangible rules of physics, to create something wholly foreign is…well, indescribable. But needless to say, I'm pretty confident that I'll enjoy being a pilot, a programmer, and a photographer for years to come, even as I search for the next mystery of science to unravel.

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A collection of musings from my time at Yale along with some thoughts about my "Freshman year of life" in San Francisco.

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