Saturday, October 6, 2012

Of Aviation Geekery, Interface Engines, and Divine Wrath

Much to my surprise, my employer agreed to fund a trip to Corepoint Connect 2012, a conference for programmers of the Corepoint Integration Engine, a software platform that utilizes the Health Level 7 (HL7) protocol for the transmission of medical information. The conference was scheduled at the Dallas/Plano Marriott Hotel at Legacy Town Center in Plano, Texas. Corepoint headquarters are located nearby in Frisco, Texas. The venue was great in a fake way, typical of the suburban sprawl version of Texas that is the greater Dallas-Ft. Worth metroplex. The hotel is located in an artificial community called Legacy Town Center that is quite pedestrian friendly despite being isolated on the Texas prairie outskirts of the big city.

Due to some luck regarding the scheduling of the conference, I was able to get (rare) direct flights to and from Lovell Field, the Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport (CHA) to the Dallas-Ft. Worth airport (DFW). CHA is what I call a “baby airport.” It has all of the features of a larger airport yet it has only 5 normal gates. That makes it really easy to get in and out of, especially with regard to security. Unfortunately it also makes it difficult to get direct flights to cities outside of the Southeast region. Usually you end up connecting at one of the great hassle airports of North America, such as Charlotte.
A nice view of clouds somewhere over Arkansas (probably).

I’m kind of an aviation geek. I’m especially interested in military aircraft (like most geeks) but I take some interest in the various civilian aircraft I’ve ridden on as well. For this trip, I rode on an Embraer Regional Jet (ERJ) with 44 seats both to and from Dallas. Embraer is a Brazilian company that has designs that are very similar to Bombardier Canadair Regional Jets (CRJ) due to a past partnership between the two companies. There was a significant transfer of technology from Bombardier, a Canadian company, and Embraer, and it shows in the design and passenger experience on the jets of both companies.

The business relationship between Bombardier and Embraer was broken up by the World Trade Organization (WTO) due to violation of trade rules but the jets persist. These companies have continued to thrive by carefully avoiding direct competition with Boeing and Airbus, building only jets with a passenger capacity that is just slightly less than the smallest capacity of their larger counterparts. Regardless, the CRJs and ERJs are pretty reliable aircraft and I’ve ridden on them several times over the last 10 years. The ERJ I was riding was an American Eagle aircraft with three seats to a row, with one seat on the left separated by an aisle of normal width from two contiguous seats on the right. Overhead bins are not gigantic but adequate for the passenger capacity.

A view of the seating arrangement in an ERJ 140.

One thing that fascinates me about the ERJ aircraft is the wing, which could be described as a modified delta wing. It’s not a true delta but is sort of a cross between a delta and a swept wing (used by Airbus and Boeing). It looks fast and maneuverable even though it may have dozens of passengers on board, and in fact is slower than late model Boeing and Airbus aircraft, which cruise around .9 Mach. I like the sleek lines of the regional jets and have a reasonable degree of confidence in the designs, despite the lack of name recognition for the manufacturers and the relative youth of the pilots flying the regional routes. I usually have a good experience.
View of the wing of the ERJ-140.

Here is a pretty long video showing the early phases of the descent from cruising altitude into DFW. It's kind of boring so don't click on it unless you've never been on a jet before and wondered what it's like to pass through clouds.


The Corepoint Connect 2012 conference was great fun. The founder of Corepoint is Dave Shaver, sort of a minor rock star in the healthcare IT world, and he can walk the talk. I admire what he has created and having had a chance to get my hands on 4 different interface engines over the course of my career, I feel that Corepoint has the best development environment in the business. Anyway there were numerous sessions crammed into the three day conference with a lot of useful information and as always seems to be the case with Corepoint, there was a lot of good food and drink - and drink. I couldn’t entirely keep up with them and had to retire early on the last night of the conference.
Dallas/Plano Marriott Legacy Town Center
Standard business hotel room, only more expensive. They did have good pillows though.
The pedestrian-friendly artificial neighborhood of Legacy Town Center, in Plano, Texas. I had a good time but there is a slightly fake feel to it - plus it's quite obviously isolated on it's own in the middle of a bunch of prairie and office parks. Like many things in Texas, it just differs from the rest of the country in some way that is difficult to define.
Hewlett-Packard. This is the former headquarters of EDS, H. Ross Perot's former consulting business. As I recall, he eventually sold it to GM who eventually sold it to HP and later he started another consulting business called Perot Systems that continues to this day.

Cattle drive sculptures, similar to those in nearby Frisco, Texas, commemorating the history of the region. This was one of the few points of interest I had opportunity to see in the area.
Baccus Cemetery - a family cemetery that has been in continuous use since the Wild West era. It's now completely surrounded by Legacy Town Center.

I had great plans of impressing people and being showered with job offers when I went to the conference but quickly became demoralized by the abundance of very smart people and started feeling like I was just a big, stiff, walking gaffe. I tried to clamp my mouth shut for a while and eventually realized that most of the others attendees were merely much more experienced than me rather than actually being much smarter. Anyway a lot of the others eventually made fools of themselves and I started to feel better about things. It’s not always good to be a strutting peacock, even if you can back it up. At the very least, I gained some insight and made some new friends, and that summarizes the purpose of a conference.

Much to my alarm, as I was about to board my return flight from DFW to CHA, I got a call from the Catoosa County (Georgia) Sherriff’s Department asking if I could head for my house. Upset, I explained that I was in Dallas about to board a flight home. The dispatcher admitted that someone had gone off the road and struck my house. Although upsetting, this was actually somewhat of a relief since I expected her to tell me that the house was on fire (I’d had a premonition a couple days before). I do not care to lose my personal possession, especially some family heirlooms that I’ve inherited, but mostly I was worried about my cats. Life always counts more than stuff, even if it’s just pets. She put me on hold to confer with the Lieutenant and eventually determined that I did not need to be present and confirmed my information and gave me a case number. Needless to say, it was a long unpleasant flight back.

Well, the situation with the house is an unfortunately complex and sordid affair. It turns out that it was no accident. The owner of the pickup truck that hit my house claims the vehicle was stolen and suspects a neighborhood teenager. The truck was driven over my next-door-neighbor’s mailbox and then turned down the steep hill of my front yard to crash into the house. There was damage to the masonry and brick foundation of my front porch and a major load bearing pillar was knocked completely out of place. Fortunately the habitable parts of the house were unaffected and my cats were fine, if obviously a bit shaken up. I talked to some neighborhood boys, called my homeowners insurance company, and my parents for advice.

Where's the insurance company?

Since the pillar was intact, I went down to Lowe’s and bought a 10 pound sledge and knocked the sucker back in place to help hold up the roof, using a level to get it as square as possible under the circumstances (upon the advice of my Dad). What a fracking nightmare. It’s occurred to me that I may never know what exactly happened and why, however I have a history of having called the police on the older brother of one of the potential suspects (due to him having vandalized the entire neighborhood a few years ago), so it’s possible the choice to wreck the truck at my house was not random. Of course this is all speculative and at this point it’s in the hands of the Sherriff’s Department, insurance adjusters, and lawyers. All of this adds up to a normal day in 21st Century America.

On Divine Wrath (skip if you don't like reading religious stuff)

This brings me to my next point: Divine Wrath. I’ve been on a losing streak lately, and it’s really shaken me. I have an extensive scientific education and normally I’m not the least bit superstitious, but on the other hand I am religious, so sometimes it’s hard not to interpret events in supernatural terms. I am well aware of my own character flaws and failings and I am aware of not always living up to the standards expected of a Christian. It seems whenever I fall particularly far down bad things start happening to me. I do not accuse God of delivering punishment, but I do believe that bad forces are at work and a good Christian is protected from them under normal circumstances. If you fall, then you lose protection and bad things happen. This does not seem to apply to non-Christians. It seems to me that if a man who has been saved slips, then the consequences are worse than for someone who has never been saved in the first place. Or perhaps it is all chance and coincidence – mere statistics. Fortunately the New Testament offers a relevant passage that reconciles the two notions. I won’t bother to quote the exact translation but it is often summarized by saying that “It also rains on the faithful,” meaning that sometimes bad things happen to good people. What is required of me is perseverance, so I’m trying to show some right now. In the meantime, I got the name of a good lawyer.

AP