Self-Help: How to escape in a helicopter part III

You’ve stolen a helicopter, but don’t feel bad, the owner was a jerk and you didn’t feel like walking. The helicopter is flying toward a flat area at about 100 mph, the collective is halfway up, the joystick is 1/3 of the way forward, you’re level (not going up or down), and the front of the helicopter is kinda pointed in the same direction you’re flying. Make sure your seatbelt/straps are fastened if you haven’t already. It’s time for magic. It’s time to land.

Remember what I said about French* helicopters in post I.

Gently ease the joystick back an inch. Look out the side. The buildings/trees/mountains are getting smaller, so you need to push the collective down a tiny bit and push on your right* foot to keep pointed at the flat spot. The key is to do this in little increments. The good news is you have time because you picked a flat spot that’s far away. Keep doing this until the helicopter starts to vibrate.

When the helicopter starts to vibrate, push the joystick forward one inch and freeze. Buildings/trees/mountains are slowly getting bigger, you’re at the magic speed. It’s time to land.

As you get closer to the flat spot, push the pedals to line your nose up with the way you’re going. Again, do it in tiny steps. Keep the joystick and collective where they are. If it feels like you’re going to land short, pull the collective a tiny bit up. If it feels like you’re going to land more than halfway down your flat spot, push it down. Try to keep the joystick where it is, and only make small changes. Don’t pull it back farther than where you started vibrating, or you’ll die.

When the first half of your flat spot and your feet line up with your eyes, push the collective down and use the right* pedal to stay aligned with the way you’re going. Keep doing this. At some point, you’re going to notice that you’re going straight down toward that first half of the flat spot and it’s staying lined up with your feet. Take a moment to think about all the good things you’ve had in life: your first kiss, your favorite meal, and maybe an achievement you’re proud of. The helicopter will come down within a few feet of the ground and level out. This is a special form of magic called ground effect. You’re now flying at about 45 mph over your landing zone.

I have bad news. You’re not a pilot, and that flat spot isn’t flat unless you found a runway, so your ass is going to roll. You don’t have time to worry about that, though, because you’re running out of landing zone at 45 mph. Push the right* pedal until you’re pointing just slightly right* of center, and push the collective down. Do both of these at a steady rate until the collective is all the way down. Don’t worry about where the ground is; don’t worry if you bounce. Just keep pushing it down because it has to go all the way down for you to stop. If you don’t line the helicopter up with the way you’re going or you hit something, you’re going to start tilting.

This is your only job at this point. This is going to make sure you live. If you start tilting, push the joystick to the right*. Do it hard. The helicopter is going to flip several times, the blades are going to snap and zing through something or someone, but you’re belted in so you should be okay (maybe). Congratulations, you escaped in a helicopter.

If you tilt to the left* or you forgot you’re in a French* helicopter, the engine was just pulled forward through the cockpit, so you’ve got nothing to worry about anymore.

Want me to write about something else? Leave a comment or send me an email at dj [at]


Subscribe in a reader

Self-Help: How to escape in a helicopter part II

So, there you were, escaping from an evil mastermind in his sweet unattended helicopter. Your feet are on the pedals, your hand is on the collective, and they’re not moving. The joystick is pushed lightly forward, maybe 1/4 to 1/3 of the way, because that’s all you can handle, and the helicopter is moving at roughly the speed of a car on a highway. If any of this didn’t make sense, read the first post again.

Take a look outside. If the trees/mountains/houses are getting bigger, lift the collective a tiny bit. If they’re getting smaller, lower it a tiny bit. Don’t worry too much if the helicopter turns a little when you do this, just keep that joystick pointed (lightly) in the direction you want to go.

Eventually, you’re going to want to land. If there are nothing but small clearings and mountains around you, I’m sorry, I steered you wrong. You should never have gotten into the helicopter, and you’re going to die. But if there’s a flat field or a lake, you’re golden.

Here’s the thing. There’s a magic speed below which a helicopter—in the hands of someone who is not a pilot—goes from being something a particularly bright child could fly to being a spinning, tilting, death-inducing mechanical mule. You’re currently in bright child mode.

Between bright child mode and death mule mode is the speed at which it is safest to land.

Take a look around and find that flat area. The longer and further away it is, the better. Remember I told you not to mess with the pedals? We’re going to mess with the pedals. Moving your foot no more than an inch, push the pedal that’s closest to the flat area. Don’t try doing it with the joystick. The joystick is many things for pilots, only forward for you. Once the flat area is straight ahead, push the other foot in no more than an inch. Everything should be stable. Now it’s time for magic.

The gripping conclusion to your escape in the next post.


Subscribe in a reader

Self-Help: How to escape in a helicopter part I

Hey. you know that time you escaped from the evil mastermind's lair to the helipad, and there was a totally unguarded helicopter, blades spinning, but you realized you don't have a pilot's license so you had to walk home? I'm here to tell you that next time, you're riding in style. Also, stop talking to strangers.

The first important step is to determine if the helicopter is French*. Try sniffing. If you smell cheese, do the exact opposite of what I'm about to tell you with your feet, because the blades spin the wrong way.

Good. So you're sitting in the left or front seat of your American-made helicopter and its clockwise (looking up) spinning rotor. There's a stick on your left. That's the collective, it makes you go up and down.

There are one or two sticks between your legs, depending on physical gender. The bigger one is the joystick, and it makes you go forward because that's all you can handle right now.

There are pedals at your feet. They do a bunch of stuff you don't need to know about. Put your feet on the pedals, push until they're even, and keep your feet on them for the duration of the flight.

Now gently pull the collective up while pushing on your left* foot. Ignore the people shooting at you; if the mastermind had time to train them to shoot, they wouldn't have left the helicopter running and unguarded. Go slowly, because if you screw this up you're hamburger. If you've done it right, you've only spun a little to the right*, and you're a foot in the air.

Now gently push the joystick forward a little bit.

If you've got a bit of space, just keep it there until the helicopter rises off like a graceful bird. If you're in a mountain fortress, more collective and more left* pedal. Once you're above the trees, buildings, and terrain around you, pop open the champagne, champ, because you made it.

I'm just kidding about the champagne. Drinking and flying is a terrible idea. We'll deal with landing next time.

Subscribe in a reader

TIA: Getting a Work Permit

In Which I Do Not Get a Work Permit.

This is a guest post from my buddy Tom. As always, send any comments my way and I'll forward them on.

“Heaving bosom” did not do it justice. She kept giving me looks like I was a pervert. She was in an applicant’s chair in front of the desk of one of the cash-office workers, wearing a sort of prom dressvery tight, with sparkles and fake gemstones all over itwith elaborate jewelry.  I thought maybe she’d stopped by the immigration office on the way to a fancy-dress ball… at 11 a.m. on a Monday. In any case, her hair and face were made up, her dress tight and low-cut, or, since her breasts were so large, out-cut? The crumbs from the muffin she was mangling kept falling into the cleft between her breasts, and they were stuck there, being smashed together by the two volcanic breast plates moving against each other.

I’d started the day in the hopes I could get my work permit. I’d been assured the binder of material my company gave me was sufficient. “Oh, yes, very easy, no problem,” my boss said, “in/out, maybe 30-minutes, no problem.” Not a complete novice, I mentally doubled that to an hour and went on my idealistic way.

The woman at the window said, “Go to Room Two.” There were no signs, but trial and error got me to Room Two. The man in front of Room Two—not wearing a uniform, unlike most of the immigration officials—said I had to be verified first. Back to the room to the right of the woman at the window. I stood in that line for 30ish minutes, behind what must have been half the Chinese embassy. That line didn’t move at all, so I went back to Room Two. I waited there for 30-or-so minutes and made it in front of a case officer. “You’re no verified,” she told her coffee cup.

“The woman at the window told me to come here.” I didn’t want to go back to the unmoving verification line, behind all the Chinese applicants.

She unlocked my binder and dumped all the papers out onto her desk. I suppose that was easier than flipping through them.  She maintained a stream of talk to her desk and the papers. I couldn’t understand it, but thought it possibly didn’t apply to me, so I just sat and watched her. Unlike the other immigration officers, though she wore a uniform, she had no rank on her shoulders. I wondered if that meant she was brand new (at 45), had been reduced in rank (what would that take?), or just too lazy to affix them.

After investigating my papers from multiple anglesincluding upside downshe raised her face and said, in a continuation of her monotone stream of talking, that I needed a “security bond.”

“Is that the $5000 payment? Because we paid that, it’s the first paper in the binder.” That was now a fiction, but I thought that was more polite than, “It’s somewhere in that cavewoman-pile you made on your desk.”

“No, security bond.”

“…so that’s different than the payment?”

“Yes, go to the cash office and pay it.”

“And then come back here?” I’m not an idiot; I wanted permission to skip the Line of the Dragon over at the verification office.


She shoved the bunch of loose papers back at me and jerked her head toward the door.

After wandering around a bit more, I found the cash office. It was behind the “photocopy” office. I waited in the line in the hallway outside for about 20 minutes, while people streamed in and out of the office. I have no idea if they were employees, old friends, or just people skipping ahead of me in line. When I finally made it in, I saw a man at the desk on the left, a man at the desk on the right, and the street-walking debutante littering her breasts with muffin.

I couldn’t stop sneaking glances at the extravagance in the corner, eating her muffin in a mostly-reclined position, and loudly drinking her Fanta. She eyed me like a pervert. I caught her disapproving glare, but she was too interesting, like a bejeweled clown car in a too-small dress.

I finally made it to the left desk. He told me I needed a payment form.

“Where would I get that?” There’s no hope it’s in his desk drawer.

“From her,” he said, pointing through an open internal window at a woman standing in the photocopy office. She was close enough to touch through the window.

“Can I…” I pointed through the window.

“No, go there.”

So, I fought my way through the line back into the hallway and went to the photocopy office.

“Go to the window.” She pointed at the outside window, not the internal one facing Left Desk.

I went back outside. The windowsill started 6 inches above my head.

“Can I have a payment form please?” I asked an empty window from down on the ground.

She appeared in the window and looked at me like I had just materialized on Earth to cause her problems. She disappeared into the room.

No response. I couldn’t see anything due to the glare on the windows, and the fact that with this angle, I could only see a foot or two into the room before my view was only of the ceiling.

I waited a while.


I waited.

The brick wall in front of me, directly under the photocopy windows, started spouting water at me, from about waist-high, falling on my shoes. I backed up. Was it clean? Sewage?

A form was thrust through the windows at me. I took it.

“Now what?”

“Go to the cash office!”

So I went back inside and got back in line. A while later, I got to see Left Desk again, with World’s Slowest-Eating Trollop munching away at me from the corner. Left Desk explained what I needed to write on each line of the form, which was just my name, my company, and the $902 I was going to put into a security bond for the pleasure of being allowed back into Room Two. Then Left Desk told me what to do next.

“Give it to her.” He pointed at the Voluptuous Sloth-Woman in the corner.

Totally befuddled, I looked at her. She looked at me, not even sitting up from her reclining feast of muffin and Fanta.

I looked back at Left Desk. He motioned toward her again. I optimistically held my paper out towards her, and lo and behold if she doesn’t rise up in all her spangled glory and take a triplicate book out of her oversized, sequined purse!

She copied my documents into triplicate. Not by pressing hard, but by individually writing on each page of the carbon copies. She passes these over the monitor to Right Desk. He stamps each page. She takes them back, gives me one with my original, stows the triplicate form back into her masquerade briefcase, and slouches back to her ease in the corner, crumbs still safely scattered across her crashing bosom.

I went back to work. The company’s going to have to cough up the $902 before I go back to Room Two. 

Subscribe in a reader

Calliope Music

The temperature got up to the low 30s C (90F) Saturday, which was nice, although, I saw an older guy in blue camo UDT shorts diving into the river and my skin crawled. This is not about body image. It’s about Duck Fleas.

Duck fleas are wormlike creatures that infest the waters of the Lake, more prominently near patches of vegetation and… well… ducks. When the water is over 20C (68F), they mistake humans for ducks and burrow into their skin, then die because we are, in fact, not ducks. They die. In your skin.

After that, you’re in for 10 to 20 days of itchy dermatitis. One man’s refreshing dip is another man’s flesh boring monster.

Anyway, on to the news. The writing is going well, I’ve got about 30% of Red Spring done and 10% of Dead Summer written (I wrote the ending – don’t worry, I’ll revise it when I work my way to it).

I also made some structural changes. After getting feedback from a couple people, I added months to the books to split them up and give people a better view of the passage of time, and a glossary/list of characters to the beginning of White Winter, so that should help people who felt there was a lot going on.

I also released the print version of White Winter – a big thank you to my buddy Josh who took over the covers when the original artist flaked on me. You can get it here if you do the physical copy thing: and XAPUSP49 for $1.00 off. I think it’s turned out really well; the two books look like they belong together when you set them side by side.

And I did an interview! These guys asked me to talk about how I got into writing, the story behind Black Fall, and why a dude is writing about vampires. You can listen to the whole thing here if you’re interested:

Back to my walk. For those who have been following the blog for a little bit, they fixed the split window, but that door is still cracked.

As I reached Plainpalais, where the crepes live, faint strains of calliope music floated through the air. Then I saw the tent, massive, plasticized, and white. The circus was in town.

If you’re afraid of clowns, this might already be too much for you, but (as I read from posters and 10-foot tall letters on the tent itself) this is the KNIE Swiss Circus, and they’re a pretty big deal. I looked them up on YouTube, and they seem to be caught halfway between a Vegas show and the circuses I remember from when I was a kid. If you see the show, let me know how it was. I’m curious, just not curious enough to go.

Subscribe in a reader

Just a Thursday

Today was pretty uneventful, which doesn’t mean it wasn’t interesting.

One of our interns brought in green coffee from her grandmother’s farm in El Salvador. We roasted and cupped it. It was a little toward the end of the crop, and a little over-roasted (our fault on that one), but it was just neat dealing with a sample that had a story behind it. Apparently, Grandma’s gotten her farm Rain Forest Alliance certified and runs a tighter ship than her son, down the road, my intern’s dad.

I taught our other intern why I had him working on a spreadsheet, and a bit about markets, by building a roulette game in excel out of a RAND() and two IF() functions. We talked about how to bet based on statistics, when to double down, and why the house always wins. It was the nerdiest thing I’ve done in a while, but the look on his face was priceless.

We have this long counter with a bunch of different ethnic foods at the grocery store, from sushi to Mauritian food, passing through Portuguese dishes. It’s pretty good, and cheap for Geneva. Lunch was Indian, just white rice, brown lentils, and beef in a red pepper and onion sauce. I usually don’t see beef on the menu in Indian restaurants, but I guess it’s still popular over there among the non-Hindu population. Anyway, it tasted great, and the lady behind the counter is super nice every time she sees me (she’s a generally nice person, it’s not just because I’m easy on the eyes *cough* sushi counter *cough*).

Took a 20-minute nap after that. I live in the office building. Every once in a while, someone says they need to disconnect, tells me how much they enjoy having a commute, and I just smile and nod.

Had an author interview yesterday. It was fun. Looking forward to hearing how it turned out – the guy on the other end was in an airport, so we had to stop once or twice while a jet flew overhead.

Anyway, that’s it. I’m making myself a leftover burrito, with leftover ground beef and sour cream, some spices, and two very different hot sauces at each end. Thought about Terry Pratchett when I realized I was out of cheese – if you’re a fan, you’ll get the joke.  

Subscribe in a reader


I’m standing in my kitchen/office, cooking dinner. “To All of You” by Syd Matters is playing, bacon is sizzling, and once it’s done I’ll toss some butter in the pan and make toast.

I took a couple days off from work, caught up on sleep, did some writing. Someone read Black Fall, then read White Winter the next day, which is always gratifying because I put a lot of effort into making them a breathless, headlong rush.

There is a place in four-dimensional space where I am pointing at a bird. The bird is made of light, or at least it is passing in front of the sun on a perfect day.

When I pause like this, I usually spend a lot of time dreaming, day dreaming, and self-evaluating. I pull out my stuff box, the one with all the little mementos (see the external memory post) and refresh the pathways. I now know what becoming the wind means for me. I wonder what it means for other people.

I wrote a tweet about the nonlinearity of time. Unbeknownst to me, another conversation on sequentiality was happening on a parallel course that crashed into me when I checked my email. I wrote something appropriately witty but I hope not overthought, then deglazed the pan with soap and water. I wish I had a tomato.

There were moments, when I was a pilot, that I felt like I was sitting at the center of all the things I’d learned from aerodynamics to tapping malfunctioning gauges, surfing a fine line of viability in the thin overlap at the edge of my ability and the requirements of the task. Those moments didn’t last long – one maneuver, a particular set of weather conditions – a moment of perfect relevance.

This is not one of those moments, but I can go there whenever I want. I’m okay.

Subscribe in a reader

The Crows Have Their Beaks Open

It’s a perfectly hot day in Geneva.

I was on my way to have my ritual savory and sweet crepes and fresh pressed fruit juice when I saw a lady in full workout get-up stopped at a street corner, rising on her tiptoes. She was about a head-and-a-half shorter than me; she was trying to see over a parked car to tell if the light had turned green yet without stepping out of the shade. She had pale, lightly freckled skin with no signs of sunscreen, and I thought, “Why would you go work out and hide from the sun?” So I figured she’d gotten all sported up to hit her favorite indoor workout place. I checked a map; there was one a block away, right where she was facing.

I was made for days like these. When the weather is hot and dry, my muscles thrum, pores open, skin that’s usually a touch oily if I don’t drink 8 glasses a day starts functioning like a perfectly tuned cooling machine. I store the heat and, to my wife’s great displeasure, release it at night. The beach is nice, but the first time I went to the desert, I felt like I belonged there, from the particulate sunrise to the cold of night.

The ladies who run the creperie don’t show any signs of recognizing me, which is fine because I’m one of a thousand weekly customers. But I’m playing a game. I always order the same thing, give the same name with the order, flirt with the younger one just a little. I sit in the sun, and the older of the two – she dyed her hair a lovely shade of red this week - asks if I won’t get insolation (heat stroke), to which I politely smile and say, “I could sit here all day.” I always bring my dishes to the counter and thank them. One day, they’ll remember.

On my way back, I saw a tree that was burned or struck by lightning at some point. Same species as all the others that lined the street, but it was the only one for over a mile that had mushrooms growing on it. Character comes from damage. Life grows in the cracks.

Subscribe in a reader