Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Test your knowledge of me, Dave

This morning's distraction comes from Tanya, who posted this make-your-own-quiz link.

Not having anything to do other than work, I took Tanya's test and made my own. Take my quiz! And then check out the scoreboard!

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Trip to Corning

Originally uploaded by gailontheweb.
The group of pilots at my home airport, the Cherry Ridge Pilot's Association, planned a fly-out for yesterday. Fly-outs are trips where several members in the group will all fly to the same place together, timing their arrival to coincide, despite the different performance of their planes. It serves as a social function, and a way to enjoy the hobby (obsession) of flying light aircraft.

Yesterday was to have been to Alton Bay, New Hampshire to land on an ice runway on a frozen lake. But when word came that the runway was unsuitable for landing, it was changed to Corning, New York; another area club was flying there, too. There is a warplane museum on the airport at Elmira-Corning, and the group planned on lunch and a tour of the restoration hangar.

I pitched the idea to Gail, but with a different attraction in mind; the Corning Museum of Glass. I'd been there many years ago, and since then it has been totally remodeled and doubled in size. It's sort of a hidden treasure in upstate New York, filled with beautiful art, antiquities and science. Lured by my promise of wondrous things to photograph, she liked the idea.

We arrived at the hangar a bit late to catch the others for lunch; most of them fly later-model planes that can outpace the Tri-Pacer by a few knots, so we would have had to leave sooner to meet them at noon. But we were going our own way anyway. The weather was mostly clear, but cold, with temps aloft of -18C. We took off into partly-cloudy skies and turned into the stiff headwinds from the northwest.

Even with the heater going full blast, it was slightly cold in the cabin. The walls and doors of this old plane are just two layers of thin synthetic fabric; and far from being pressurized, it leaks air around the windows and doors. As I checked that the outside air temp was in fact below zero (-20C), I recalled the flight home from Nashville, Tennessee when it was almost 100F. Temps in the cabin on that day were over 120 degrees (48C)! I have truly been to the extremes of temperature now... I hope. The GPS estimated 1:03 as our travel time to Elmira/Corning, and Gail got cozy next to me and fell asleep for a bit, once the turbulence died down.

By the time we got to Elmira, the cloud cover was solid just above us at 4500 feet. It must be a quiet town, as the controller cleared us to land when we were eight miles out. At the small-aircraft base we found that two of the three courtesy cars were out (probably with my mates from home!) and the third had a sick transmission. So we had to bite the bullet and rent a Hertz to get to the museum, but at least we had a good car for the day.

The museum was great - full of amazing things, bigger, and beautifully redesigned. Gail took a volume of photos, her account of the day is here. (Her photos were up Saturday night, she stayed up late posting them.) We stayed all afternoon and only left when the museum closed; we will definitely be back to see the things we missed. We had a great full supper at an Italian place in old Corning.

On the way back to the airport, I was shifting back into pilot-mode, mentally checking off my concerns about the cold, the dark and the weather. I called the Flight Service Station and got a loquacious controller, who advised me to file a flight plan, and warned me of approaching snow on the radar. It seemed to be getting bad to the northwest, moving in quickly with the prevailing wind; but our destination was still clear below 6,000 feet with 10-mile visibility. I decided that the best course was to leave immediately - conditions were still good to depart Elmira, and the bad weather moving in would likely last two days.

We bundled up and took off, and I was able to get to 3,500 feet with no trouble. We were flying in light snow, which concerned me a bit; I occasionally flicked on the landing light to look for any buildup of snow or ice on the plane. But visibility improved, with occasional patches of bright moonlight; and we were being pushed by a powerful tailwind. The GPS unit showed us covering ground at almost 140 m.p.h., thirty more than 02P can fly in still air. Gail slept and I flew as the villages of rural New York and then Pennsylvania passed below us.

In only forty minutes we were descending into Cherry Ridge, happy to see that the runway lights are all working now. (Thanks, Rick!) It was warmer than in New York, but only in a relative sense! We have our routine down; to minimize our exposure to the cold, Gail jumped out and pulled the car out of the tin hangar while I postflighted the plane and pushed it inside.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Fielding Airlines, Flight 001

Freezing Windex
Originally uploaded by AviatorDave.
Since Gail has been flying with me for a while, and taking a lot on faith, I thought I would set out to answer some questions about myself and my plane; things that I may take for granted, and have been unintentionally keeping to myself.

The plane is a 1954 Piper Tri-Pacer. I bought it in September of 2003, and flew it home from Nashville, Tennessee, in a series of adventurous flights; I was learning the quirks of the old plane on the way home, and I only had a few hours in Tri-Pacers. Compared to a brand-new four-seat plane, it's cramped and noisy, and the view is obstructed by bracing struts and wires. But it's only about 15-20 miles per hour slower, uses two-thirds the fuel, and cost a tenth of the purchase price.

The Tri-Pacer is the last of a long line of Piper aircraft that began with the famous Cub. The Cub was a two-seat lightplane with 65 horsepower, and was built in the thousands from the late 1930s. It was rugged, easy to fly and performed well on its limited power. After World War II, there was a boom in general aviation, and the Cub family began to grow in power, comfort and capability. In succeeding models the engine power was increased and the fuselage widened to accommodate four seats; with the additional performance available, the long Cub wings were shortened by three feet on either side to a total of 29 feet span. This became the "short wing" Piper family, of which the Pacer was the most powerful.

The Pacer family already had an innovation for pilots of that era, landing flaps, which were never needed on the slower long-wing Pipers. In 1951, with the increased availability of paved runways, another feature was introduced; a nosewheel. Until then, only large transport aircraft had used "tricycle" gear - all light planes had tailwheels, suited to rough fields but more challenging to take off and land. Old pilots scoffed at the "training wheel", but the new "Tri-Pacer" was a sales success, and production of the Pacer ended the next year. Piper went on to sell over nine thousand trike-geared planes over the next ten years; almost three thousand are still flying.

Like the Cubs, the Tri-Pacer was made of a frame of welded steel tubing, with sealed fabric stretched and stitched over the body and wings. It was a rugged, labor-intensive style of construction that was used on nearly every plane since the Lindbergh era. In 1961, to compete with the increasing challenge from Cessna, Piper introduced the Cherokee series. Like its rival, the Cherokee was made in an entirely new way - all metal, folded and riveted aluminum. The sleek new Cherokee could be manufactured much easier - it had only half as many parts!

My "Tripe", N1502P, has very little in common with the plane that rolled out of Lock Haven, PA back in the Buddy Holly era - other than a tail number. The paperwork for every repair and service ever done to the plane is recorded in a little stack of logbooks, going back to 1954. In the late 1950's it flipped over on landing, with only slight damage - testament to the rugged steel-tube structure. One wing was replaced at that time. Over the years it has been repaired and slightly modernized, and it's been modified many times in response to AD's - Airworthiness Directives, which come from the FAA and carry the force of law. (Want to give an aircraft owner nightmares? Whisper "Ay Dee" in his ear. They can cost thousands of dollars, and the plane is grounded until they are complied with!) The 4-cylinder Lycoming engine is nearly identical to brand-new engines; it has been completely overhauled twice, and at the last rebuild in 1998 nearly every moving part of the engine was replaced.

In the 1980s, 02P was modified with stronger wings and a heavy-duty electrical system to carry a lighted advertising sign under its belly; today, the sign has been removed. And the tough fabric covering has been replaced twice, most recently in 1992, with a synthetic fabric and plasticized coating which is far more durable than the original cotton cloth.

Even though 50 years old, it still has to pass current Federal standards for airworthiness. I am required to have it inspected every year - and the process is nothing like an auto inspection. It spends at least a week being taken apart and scrutinized by aircraft mechanics, who must sign off on everything with their name and certificate number. Parts are X-rayed, oil is chemically analyzed, and many components are replaced based on their age, not condition.

It's a fun plane to fly. The instruments and radios have been modernized, although it lacks a few items to be capable of blind-flying. It is more challenging to fly than newer planes, which have a lot of built-in aerodynamic tricks to make them tame and stable. It needs to be flown; let go of the controls, and 02P will wander off in random directions of her own choosing. But the controls respond instantly; I can only compare it to the difference between a bread truck and a little MG sportscar.

As Gail will find out - it's my hope that she will start learning to fly on the old kite, and log the time officially once I'm an instructor. It will be good to have a second pilot aboard, and she might just enjoy it as much as I do. (And if she can fly 02P, she can fly anything!)

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Test (tube) pilots

Friday night, Gail and I went over to Montage Mountain to go snow tubing. (See Gail's account at Snowtubing Postmortem). It's just 4 miles from our house; kind of smallish for a ski slope, but very convenient to have nearby. We haven't skied in a while, and I had never snow tubed - so we figured our marked lack of experience would be entertaining.

If you've never been, the idea is to travel down a snowy incline after the manner of a sled, riding on an inflated truck tire tube.

Since the tube is round, it has no particular stem or stern, and will travel freely in any direction.

Since it is elastic and filled with air, it will transmit shocks from the irregular terrain to the rider, so as to eject said rider in a random direction.

Since it is smooth on the bottom, the coefficient of friction over the packed, icy snow on the ramp is quite low and provides a startling terminal velocity.

In short, great fun. Unlike skiing, where instruction is available and encouraged, anyone can go out and tube with no lessons or safety briefings of any kind. In this state we bought our lift passes and went up the hill.

There is a cable tow to pull you up the hill; a little awkward to mount and dismount the tube, and it made me feel a little lazy. Our first time up, confronted with the steep ramps before us, we cautiously seated ourselves on the tubes and let go. (You can ride upright, prone, or any weird position you like; again, no instructions!)

Off we went into the frigid night air - picking up speed fast. With my feet in front, I put my boots down to brake a little; instantly I was showered in the face with a spray of ice from my feet. OK, that's better; what I can't see can't hurt me, right? Spinning around, bouncing along faster...

Rather than teach the patrons to stop, the management found it expedient to simply stretch a broad net across the slope, to catch anyone who would otherwise shoot off the ramp and continue on down to the Interstate. It caught me; a moment later, it caught Gail, in grand fashion. She hit hard, so hard that the tube shot straight up and came down on her! But we were laughing, damp but undamaged, and we got in line for another try.

On my third run I switched to prone position, going down headfirst on my belly; the best way for speed and visibility. You have a modicum of control by dragging your toes on one side or the other, or both at once to slow down. Each time we went down, I got a little more confident, and a little faster, once I knew how much stopping power I had. Gail switched to headfirst, too.

It was getting colder, and we took a break to warm ourselves by the bonfire with some hot chocolate. When we resumed, the line was much shorter, so our runs came closer together. I noticed that the braking action was wearing the polish off the front of my leather boots! But by now I was hooked, and bent on raw speed. I could be almost airborne by the second steep section, really moving, and still stop in a shower of ice at the bottom.

We managed to squeeze in ten runs before the lift closed at 10:00, so we figured we got our money's worth from the lift pass. We were chilled to the bone, but it was a blast; we cranked up the car heater and headed down the mountain. Back home, we thawed ourselves with a hot shower, and settled in for a movie; but I was spent, and was asleep before the first hour.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Countdown from ten

From Katy, through Gail; a fun little listing game about yourself. If you play, post it or send it along.

TEN random things about me:

1. Both my thumbs are double-jointed
2. I can swim like a fish
3. My vision is slowly improving
4. I have a streak of white hair at my temple; it's a birthmark
5. I'm a fair cook
6. Ridden in police cruisers, twice
7. I have perfect pitch
8. Once hired a sumo wrestler
9. I'm absent-minded
10. If you have a game console, you've probably seen my artwork

NINE places I want to visit:

1. The North Pole (seriously!)
2. Rome
3. Moorish Spain
4. Easter Island
5. Nepal
6. Moscow (Russia - I've been to Moscow, PA)
7. Hawaii
8. Paris
9. Argentina

EIGHT things I want to do before I die:

1. Get my CFI rating
2. Build a wooden sailboat
3. Skydive
4. Find someone alive on a SAR mission
5. Hang glide (I've done it, but I want to do it more!)
6. Learn to make music, somehow
7. Fly a DC-3
8. Blow out 100 candles *hee*

SEVEN ways to win my heart:

1. Be different
2. Have integrity
3. Hold my hand
4. Find the joy in life
5. Care about others, and animals
6. Enjoy flying
7. Chili dogs

SIX things I believe in:

1. Myself
2. Bernoulli's principle
3. Science and the natural world
4. Simplicity
5. Patience
6. Love conquers all

FIVE things I'm afraid of:

1. Disease
2. Cockpit fires
3. Losing my keys
4. Low overcasts
5. Heartbreak

FOUR of my favorite items in my bedroom:

1. Gail
2. Book "Song of the Sky" by Guy Murchie
3. Hugh - although he's banished from the new bed!
4. The new bed

THREE things I do almost every day:

1. Read
2. Spoil my cat
3. Daydream

TWO things I'm trying not to do right now:

1. Worry
2. Crash

ONE person I want to see right now:

1. Dan

Monday, February 07, 2005

Gail and Dave Take Manhattan (Again) (From the Air)

We slept in after our late arrival from Philadelphia, but the warm clear weather was persisting, so we couldn't pass up another great flying day. I had told Gail about flying around Manhattan, and we figured that today would be the perfect day. Breakfast (brunch!) consumed and cameras freshly recharged, we lit out for the airport.

First order of business; chip away at the snow and ice that had the hangar door stuck fast. We both had half-destroyed our feet and shoes kicking at the ice when I saw Rick, the airport owner nearby; he quickly came by with his tractor and auger and helped clear the snow. Soon the Tri-Pacer stood brightly in the sun, and we folded ourselves in and took off. The trip across Pennsylvania and New Jersey took about 50 minutes; as the landscape below us changed from frozen lakes and trees to dense suburbs, I was carefully preparing myself for the navigational challenge.

The airspace we were flying into is the busiest in the world, bar none. To fly over New York City takes you into the triangle between Newark, LaGuardia and Kennedy airports - plus the helicopter traffic over Manhattan and the exec jet traffic into Teterboro. But there is a mousehole in all of this; the "VFR corridor", a narrow strip of airspace from the water up to 1100 feet over the Hudson River, which is reserved for small aircraft to safely transit this congested area. If it were not for this imaginary tunnel, small planes would have to fly miles out of their way to travel up and down the coast; and too, it affords one of the most spectacular views possible of Manhattan.

I planned on flying to a point south of Newark airspace and requesting a transit from south to north; this way, the city would be on our right, and Gail would get the best photos and views on her side, with the afternoon sun behind us. I boggled at the air traffic; jumbo jets lumbered back and forth above us, helicopters swarmed below. I was "handed" quickly and efficiently from one air traffic controller to the next, and I have to say that I got sterling service from all of them. We were given vectors to steer us safely through Newark's airspace, and our little 50-year-old plane carried us along through the 21st century traffic, at a stately 100 m.p.h.

We joined the banks of the Hudson River just north of the Verrazano bridge, and passed Liberty Island on the right; oops, Gail was on the wrong side for that one, but she reached over my shoulder and managed to snap a few frames of the Statue of Liberty. Crossing the harbor to the southern tip of Manhattan, I lined up on the east bank of the river. We were cruising only a few hundred feet above the highest towers, right over the docks; and we immediately noticed the gaping hole in the forest of skyscrapers that is Ground Zero. Gail was shooting every moment, and got a lot of amazing pictures. We passed a quarter-mile from the spire of the Empire State Building, where we had stood and photographed the city just nine days ago. (We were flying at 1500 feet; the spire of the ESB is at 1515'!)

We passed over the USS Intrepid, the aircraft carrier that is now moored on the Hudson as a floating museum; I resisted the urge to cut the power and circle in for a deck landing. As we continued north, we looked over Central Park and midtown as we headed towards the George Washington Bridge. Gail and I have crossed the GW many times on our trips to and from JFK; now we crossed it perpendicularly, a thousand feet up. Time for a few more photos, Columbia University and Harlem, and finally we were north of Teterboro, with open airspace to our west. I climbed and banked left, and poked at the GPS (ah, thank you GPS!) to set a course for Greenwood Lake airport in New Jersey.

Gail's morning coffee was making itself felt - too urgently for the long trip home, so I picked that airport as the first easy washroom-stop stop west of Teterboro. It turned out to be a neat place to visit, though - as I turned final, and Gail was recording my landing on video, I saw an unusual sight; a 1950s-vintage Lockheed Constellation parked on the ramp, towering over the gaggle of small planes parked around it. We parked and Gail dashed off as I took some snaps of the old airliner; its flying days over, it is permanently grounded now, but being restored as a static display and as office space for the airport and the flight school. We stepped inside to see the big cabin of the Connie, now with the seats removed and newly carpeted and furnished. What a neat place to have your ground lessons, in a classic old prop-liner! Not to mention the hundred or so bird families that were happily nesting in the undersides and engines of the plane.

Nature's call answered, we took off again and flew back the 45 miles to Cherry Ridge. We refueled and stowed 02P in her hangar and went back to town, famished, for a ten-thousand-calorie seafood dinner at Cooper's with my mother. Gail and I are looking at Cooper's as possible caterers for the wedding; but it was also her first look at the restaurant, which is huge and rambling and stuffed to the gunwales (literally - it's shaped like a ship!) with nautical tchotzkes and historic artifacts.

Gail and Dave Take Philadelphia

Since Gail and I spent the week cooped up at home and work, respectively, we traveled down to Philadelphia on Saturday to enjoy the nearest big city and the beautiful weather. Gail, who has been Many Places, had never been to Philly; and I hadn't been downtown in a long time. We considered flying down, but it's a leisurely two-hour drive from Scranton, and it's tricky to park the plane downtown.

We parked the car next to the Bourse Building, the first mercantile exchange in the U.S., opened in 1895 and now a food court. (!) That's not unusual in Philly; so many of the buildings are historic. Philadelphia has been a major city for over 300 years, and if you paid attention during your grade school history, you will know that it was the first capital of the United States, and the city in which the Declaration of Independence was signed.

We were a block from Independence Hall, home of the First Continental Congress, and near the plaza which is home to the Liberty Bell. But the weather was too nice to stand in queues, besides which I didn't want to lose another pocketknife going through security. (Even to walk by the Liberty Bell, you have to go through a metal detector and be searched. I imagined the ghosts of Franklin and Jefferson, shaking their heads at the current paranoiac state of life in the birthplace of American freedom.)

But we were both armed with our digicams and up for a good walk, so we headed uptown towards City Hall, grey and historic, built in 1874. Today the larger skyscrapers tower over it, but it has a commanding place in the center of the city; it can be seen for dozens of blocks in every direction. All along the way we photographed other bits of historic Philly, then decided to head to the waterfront for sunset.

We dropped down to the subway level to take a train downtown. The SEPTA stations are gray and utilitarian; very grim and dirty. I misread the directions on a token vending machine, and mistakenly purchased $20 worth! Oh well, I thought, we'll save them for another visit. But a few stops later we were down to Second Street, near Christ Church and the pedestrian bridge to Penn's Landing on the Delaware River. We noted that there were quite a few inviting restaurants in Old Town, and walked out over the bridge.

The biggest landmark in view was the Ben Franklin bridge, stretching over the broad Delaware to Camden, New Jersey. Huge container ships and barges ply the Delaware down here, and farther south are the immense dockyards and the Naval shipyard. Penn's Landing is a public park along the west side of the river, with several historic ships on display and a maritime museum. We took in the setting sun and photographed everything and each other, before our growling stomachs led us back towards the city.

Back in Old Town, we stopped and read menus in the windows of a lot of inviting restaurants, with many world cuisines; Afghan, Cuban, Indian, and others. But since it was Gail's first visit, we decided to find some "real" Philadelphia cheese steak sandwiches. We did, at a nice little grill (Steve's?) where we stuffed ourselves on some very authentic cheesesteaks, plus jalapeno poppers and crab fries.

On the way back to the Bourse, we passed a street guitar player; he caught my attention and began a fun little game. He played the opening chords of songs, first Hendrix tunes and then other hits from the sixties and seventies. Most were just a little early for me - very early for Gail - but I pulled out a few of them, and recognized all of the songs. Grand Funk Railroad, Bob Dylan, Iron Butterfly - groovy, man! Solid! I wanted to tip something into his bag, but I had very little change - but I did have all those damn subway tokens! He said that he rides the tubes, so they would be of use to him; I gave him most of my pocketful, saving only a few for our next trip.

On the way home, the hum of the car and the complex carbs of the giant cheesesteak put Gail to sleep quickly, and she dozed as I drove back to Scranton. A disappointing weekend for Eagles fans, but a good one for us.

Friday, February 04, 2005

A new approach

My small home airstrip, Cherry Ridge Airport (N30) near Honesdale, PA, has a new published instrument approach procedure! The new plate came out in the most recent update, and shows the GPS approach to runway 36, landing to the north.

This means that instrument-rated pilots with appropriate GPS units can make a blind approach to landing, in conditions down to a 700-foot overcast. This is a useful thing for our little hole in the trees. The approach guides you from the initial approach fix, an imaginary point in the air called "TALLI", to the final fix, "AYUKU" over Lake Wallenpaupack.

So, as Ron quipped in his email, "TALLI-ho!" 13 miles to home...

Historic photos

I have scanned and posted a few pictures from an envelope full of photos I found in the estate of a friend-of-a-friend, a WWII veteran who passed away several years ago. They show his experiences in the Pacific theatre: his trip across, including an attack on his ship by Japanese aircraft; his base, a B-24 bomber group, from the air and from the ground; and a few faded Kodachrome shots of the jungle and a boat trip around the atoll.

Also of interest to an aviation buff are some pictures of a few downed Japanese aircraft on the base. The U.S. never had very good intelligence on the Japanese aircraft industry until late in the war, so any intact specimens were studied carefully and a matter of security; a blackboard in one of the shots is marked "confidential". Since the actual model designations were not known, each Japanese type was given a codename - the best known being "Zeke" for the Nakajima Zero fighter. Some of these photos show the cockpit of a G4M "Betty" bomber, and a crashlanded D4Y "Judy" naval torpedo bomber.

I've been trying to date the photos, and locate the base. The fact that the bombers are B-24s suggests that it was before the introduction of the larger B-29s in the latter part of 1944; and the nose turret and unpainted finish marks them as late-production models. The tails have horizontal stripes, which may be a clue as to the unit. Also in the aerial photo is a P-47 "Thunderbolt" fighter; these were replaced by Mustangs later in the war, although this lone example may be a holdout.

The D4Y "Judy" type was introduced in 1943, and was rare for a Japanese aircraft in having a liquid-cooled engine; later versions were equipped with the rounder, blunter air-cooled radial engines that were more easily produced and maintained. This example had the liquid-cooled engine, very similar in design to the German inverted-vee Daimler-Benz. So my best guess for this little date-puzzle is sometime between 1943 and 1944.

There are two other items in the packet that are more personal, and serious, than mere historic interest and planespotting. One is a black-and-white negative of a woman and a small child on a tricycle; possibly his family back home. I will try to make a positive print of this one. The other is a murky picture of a cave entrance, strewn with damaged gear, and showing the bodies of several Japanese soldiers who were presumably killed when the island base was captured. I won't post that one, out of respect for those soldiers and their families.

Spiders: A rebuttal

Upon reading Socar's journal entry of today, A Spiderless Tomorrow, I felt compelled to offer a few words (Ha! Right, Dave.) on behalf of the spiders.

Many among us are guilty of spider persecution, or at least are horrified and frightened by them. Not me. For I know many wondrous things about the eight-legged, and the myriad little ways they are gainfully employed. Not like the insects, who are in the main a bunch of overbreeding freeloaders and ne'er-do-wells.

As Socar pointed out, they may well see us as the invaders. Spider history goes back 400 million years, to the Devonian period; we are a bunch of altered apes who came on the scene in the last 70,000 years. All spiders are predators, and the main item in most spider diets is insects. Their scientific class, Arachnida, is named for the Greek tapestry weaver Arachne, who was turned into a spider by the goddess Athena. So right off the bat they have a literary air. Unlike insects, they have lungs, and their blood - haemolymph - is slightly bluish in colour. True nobility.

They are clever little creatures. They live underwater, at the top of Mt. Everest, on six continents - and it's likely that a few have packed off to Antarctica with the human crazies that work down there. Scientists have been trying to synthesize a material like spider silk for years; it's at least five times as strong as steel, twice as elastic as nylon, waterproof and stretchable. And yet for spiders, it's child's play - baby spiders can make perfect webs shortly after hatching.

Fear of them, by humans, is largely unjustified. Any spider smaller than about 1/4" (8 mm) in body length cannot break human skin with their tiny fangs, and most spider species are smaller than this. Even the larger species will only bite humans if they are pressed into close contact. That said, there are a few species in Australia (legendary for its huge, poisonous versions of everything) that have very toxic venom.

Before you take after one with your shoe, consider their usefulness. They are sentinels against the insect population; our world would be awash in insects without a dominant predator. A few spiders in your house can and will consume hundreds of mosquitos, cockroaches, ants and other pests. By curtailing mosquito populations, they form an important link in world disease control; in the same way they save hundreds of tons of crops each year from harmful insects.

So, while I do not advocate living in a roomful of them - nor do I myself - at least consider a more peaceful coexistence. When you see a web in some remote corner of your home, remember that the occupant may well be doing you a service, and give her* a break.

*Male spiders do not build webs.