Thursday, July 5, 2012

Short Story: The Plane and the Calculator

This is a scheduled post. I've been traveling a bit these past few weeks and one of the things I know to do is to power down all electronic devices for takeoff and landing. Regardless, a Kindle, which barely uses any power at all, shouldn't interfere in any way or form with aircraft operations. The worry perhaps is about radio or wifi devices, but those settings can be disabled so why the constant fear? I've heard some people saying it's necessary and others saying the opposite. Still, it's annoying to be reading a book on your e-reader and have to turn it off. Score another one for "dead-tree" books.

While thinking about this, and unable to sleep, I wrote this very short story about what would happen if someone disregards those rules. Clearly, this is all tongue-in-cheek as I doubt the severity of the situation or that a calculator, of all electronic devices, could cause it. Note, though that calculators are among the devices that can't be used during takeoff and landing.

It should be noted that I am not an author, so I make no claims as to whether the story is good or not.


The Plane and the Calculator
by Vir Strakul

The plane shook and plummeted another 50 feet.

"The controls aren't responding!" cried James, the copilot.
"There's some kind of electrical disturbance," replied the pilot.

***

Simon was just your average high school teacher, flying out to meet with his sister in Hawaii.
It was a last minute trip, given the sudden accident, so he had brought along some of his work to do on the plane ride.
This time it was grading homework. Boring.
The problem was he didn't think things through when he gave out the assignment. He should have said "What are the absolute magnitudes of these 5 stars?", rather than having thie students pick their own stars. He guessed it was more engaging this way, but it meant he had to work through the numbers himself.
Just a little bit of logarithms and some arithmetic, but still, most people (himself included) cant do logarithms in their head. Hence the need for a calculator.

He was using an old calculator just barely useful for this work. It was solar powered, so as long as he had light he was good to go. His phone had a better calculator, but they were taxiing at the moment and he knew you had to...
"Sir! You need to turn that off."
"Turn what off?"
"Your phone. It needs to be off"
"This is a calculator, not a phone. It doesn't even have an off button"
"Oh, well you should stow it away and stop using it"
Simon sighed. 
He put it away, but immediately took it out once the stewardless left.
Seriously? They think a cheap calculator like this is going to be a problem?

***

The weather was clear, with low winds and visibility out to 20 miles. A perfect day for a routine flight from the Los Angeles International Airport.
Captain Rob had done this a million times. Well, maybe not a million times, but certainly often enough.
"Hey, there's this cool book I read the other day. You might like it, James."
"Yeah? What's it called?" replied James, as Rob led the plane on the runway.
"Redshirts. Remind me to lend it to you sometime"
A few minutes of communicating with the tower, extend flaps, increase throttle, rotate, and with that they were in the air. Another perfect liftoff.
"What was the name of the book again? Redskirts?" asked James as the plane gained altitude.
"Nah man, Redshirts, like the Star Trek guys."
"Oh, that sounds.... HOLY SHIT, what are you doing!!" cried James, as the plane suddenly tilted violently to the left.
"I'm not doing anything, something's wrong with the controls!"
The altimeter and velocity indicators were flying wild. Controls weren't responding, even the radio cut off. 
The plane dropped.

***

Babies started crying. I mean, they always cry on airplanes, but this time they started crying earlier. They weren't the only ones with their nerves on edge, though.
"Remain in your seats with your seatbelts fastened!" the stewardess screamed.
Simon seriously doubted anyone could walk with a plane tilting like this. He could barely work on the grading as it was.
His calculator slipped from his desk and fell to the aisle. Oh, I was supposed to put the tray table up, wasn't I, thought Simon.
He was about to pick up his calculator, but the stewardess noticed.
"Sir! I told you that had to be turned off! It interferes with the instruments!"
"It's only a calculator!"
The stewardess, in a fit of annoyance or perhaps fear, smashed the calculator with her heel.
The display died down and immediately the plane leveled off and startng gaining altitude again.
"Umm, oops," said Simon, as several of the other passengers turned to glare at him.
Who would have thought?


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