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Black Lamb


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Anatomy of a box

June 1st, 2003


Dear Don’t Ask,

A question about tipping in the personal services area. It was my understanding that if the owner of the beauty salon provided the service, tipping was not necessary, but if an employee provided it, then tip. But these days the provider is often independent and just pays for space. If so, is a tip, in addition to a $30 haircut fee, standard operating procedure?

Let’s establish first that tipping has always been an elective practice.

It’s never “necessary.” But if you want to hew to etiquette edicts, you should tip no matter who does the snipping (and the standard is, yes, fifteen percent, but you might be forgiven for leaving ten). If you think a tip is warranted, and if you have the money, include one. However, you won’t be alone if you don’t; many many salon customers pay only the charge for the service, and none has yet to my knowledge landed in jail.

The problem for well-intentioned consumers is that this “something extra” stuff has burgeoned like spruce blight — it’s not just manicurists, masseuses, desk clerks, barbers, bellhops, valets, and the towel attendant at the tanning bed. One etiquette guide I consulted tells you to tip the usher who takes you to your seat in a sports arena! And should I give a buck to those greeters at Target and Home Base, who beam even when I do not want to have a frigging nice day? I think the gratuities racket is becoming gratuitous. I realize that low-paid workers need compensation; but it’s just too difficult to know when you’re violating some vital, unspoken code. I propose a public education program; businesses can post signs saying “Concierge expects a 15% tip” and “Leave an extra buck for the bagger.” That way no one will have to snarl, after we leave, about what ignorant skinflints we are.

Does one human year actually equal seven dog years? When we go for an hour-long walk is it really an all-day thing for my dog?

Hour-long walk? Kudos! Most doggie owners grouchily shove poor Spike out onto a smidge of barkdust twice a day, not realizing they are doody bound to invest a little more time in her mental health. As for that seven-to-one formula, it’s as antiquated as the Gravy Train stagecoach. A better equation says that the first year of a dog’s life equals twenty-one years in a human’s — both supposedly reach adulthood at that point. After that each bow-wow year equals four person-years. It works out pretty well; most canine breeds have a life expectancy of twelve to fifteen years. Irish wolfhounds, precious gargantuan dearies, generally live just seven years, which lines them up nicely with Welsh actors and poets

Just what are airplane “black boxes” made of that makes them so durable? And what do they record onto? Cassette tape? Computer disk? Digital memory? Does the law require airlines to have them? Do small planes need them as well? Do they record more than cockpit voices? Altitudes? Air pressure? Fuel remaining? Flight attendant gossip?

There are two recorders: the cockpit voice recorder and the flight data recorder. The former is the more famous one, the one that has allowed us to hear and see “What was that?” and “Pull up!” and “Oh, (inaudible), oh (unprintable)” after commercial crashes. That recorder, which has four inputs/channels, catches comments and shufflings in and near the cockpit; the sounds are captured on magnetic tape (old technology) or digital memory (newest technology). It’s non-volatile memory—won’t erase if power is cut.
The flight recorder tracks airspeed, altitude, directional data, engine thrust, pitch, roll, acceleration and other particulars (a couple of dozen of them) associated with the plane’s performance. It doesn’t hear passenger snores, the whispery run up a flight attendant’s pantyhose, or the crack of a pop top on a Sprite. Both recorders use loops so that the last thirty minutes (cockpit recorder) and twenty-five hours (data recorder) are retained automatically.

As for which planes are required to have the boxes (which are, we all know by now, not really black), I’ll quote the Federal Aviation Requirements: “Unless otherwise authorized by the Administrator…no person may operate a U.S. civil registered multiengine, turbine powered airplane or rotorcraft having a passenger seating configuration of six passengers or more and for which two pilots are required by type certification or operating rule unless it is equipped with an approved cockpit voice recorder.” Just one, then, for smaller planes. FDRs are required on any large airplane flying above 25,000 feet and on any 10-19-seat aircraft registered after 1991.

The anatomy of the boxes? The outer casing is a sandwich—two shells of stainless steel around an aluminum core of rosin-bonded glass fiber. The FAA often refers casually to this construction as “metal and plastic.” There may also be another outside enclosure filled with water. The boxes are equipped with locator devices that emit the telltale “ping” for searchers.

Black boxes are designed to withstand temperatures of 2000 degrees Fahrenheit for thirty minutes; they’re moisture-resistant, too, and always located in the rear section of the plane, the section most likely to survive impact. Tail sections rarely collide with mountains, and most planes go down nose first.

Send your queries, on whatever subject, to Don’t Ask, c/o Black Lamb. •

Posted by: The Editors
Category: Browning | Link to this Entry


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