## NASA, Flying and Slope Formula

NASA recently released a new “Fly By Math” simulator as part of their Smart Skies program. They are calling it “a fresh look at traditional distance-rate-time problems.” This is a great way for students to see a practical application of linear equations.

The other day I was flying my favorite plane 8,000 feet above the ground, slicing across the sky at about 200 miles an hour, when I realized that I needed to whip out the old slope formula from algebra:  Y = MX + B.

Flying a plane isn’t like driving a car.   When you’re up high, going fast, your plane is loaded with “potential energy” that needs to be dissipated during the approach to landing.    Part of being a good pilot is about managing that energy wisely by descending at a rate that is efficient in terms of lift/drag ratio, fuel usage, passenger comfort, and of course safety.   (Flying along at 8,000 feet until you get to your airport and then spiraling down to a landing would be inefficient, wasteful, and weird for the passengers, who prefer smooth descents.)

As I did my math I realized that I wanted to stay up relatively high that day because the winds were in my favor and also because the temperature at 8,000 feet was about 20 degrees cooler than on the ground on a hot day. I settled on a 500 foot-per-minute descent rate (slope) and then got out my pencil to do the math to figure out how far away I should begin my decent.

I calculated that flying at a speed of three miles per minute, while descending 500 feet per minute would mean that I would get six miles closer to the airport for every 1,000 feet of altitude that I descended.    Being 8,000 feet above the ground therefore meant that I would need to start my descent forty two miles before my destination for a nice glide right to my home runway.

Lucky for me, the air traffic controller that day was able to give me the exact descent rate (slope) that I wanted.   But it doesn’t always work out that way, usually because there are lots of other planes up there, and the air traffic controllers must make sure we all land safely.   It’s times like these that I am glad I paid attention in algebra class.

Bart Epstein is the Senior VP, Corporate Development and General Counsel at Tutor.com. He has previously written about his love of flying and volunteer Angel Flights.

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## Want to go to law school someday? Study math now.

Want to maybe be a lawyer someday? You’re not alone. But you may be surprised to hear that studying math may be the best thing you can do to increase your chances of getting in to a top law school.

Professor Michael Nieswiadomy recently analyzed law school admissions test (LSAT) scores for students from 29 college majors and found that students majoring in math, physics, and economics scored the highest on the LSAT.

As a lawyer (and former LSAT tutor), these results make intuitive sense to me. Being “good at arguing” is rarely what makes a great lawyer. The majority of lawyers never argue a case in court. Rather, we spend most of our time thinking, researching, analyzing, and writing.

Which majors scored the lowest, on average? Criminal justice and pre-law. (Ouch.)

Bart Epstein is the General Counsel and Senior Vice President for Corporate Development at Tutor.com.

Posted in Students, We Help0 Comments

## Tutor.com Participates in the 2009 Minority Broadband Summit

Chances are that you are reading this blog entry on a computer that uses a high speed “broadband” connection to the Internet.   Broadband connections make it so easy for us to stay connected with friends and family, read the latest news, follow our favorite sports teams, track our finances, build our skills, take classes, organize communities, and do much of our work right here online that it is pretty easy to take it for granted.   Many of us assume that most everyone in our country now has access to high speed Internet service the way that most of us have access to roads, water, and electricity.

Unfortunately, millions of Americans either have no broadband service where they live, or they cannot afford the access.   As a result, they (and their children) are at grave risk at being left behind in an increasingly digital world.  This problem is known as the digital divide.

What we collectively can and should do about the digital divide was the subject of an important event I attended this week, called the 2009 Minority Broadband Summit.

The best news about this event is that I was the least important person in the room.   When I arrived for the opening breakfast I sat down next to a very nice woman.  After a few minutes I realized that I was dining and chatting with the first female physician elected to the U.S. Congress – Assistant Majority Whip Donna Christensen.   I quickly sat up straight and reached for the proper fork.

Also at my table were John Marks (the mayor of Nashville), Dr. Lee Brown (the first black mayor of Houston), and Texas State Senator Rodney Ellis.   Other notable attendees included the Chairman of the Alliance for Digital Equality, Julius Hollis, Intel’s head of Public Strategic Initiatives, Rick Herrmann, Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson, and the U.S. Department of Education’s Assistant Deputy Secretary for Innovation and Improvement, Jim Shelton.    There were many more luminaries and big brains that I don’t have space to list.  (The full list is here for those who may be curious.)   The event was moderated wonderfully by CNN Contributor Roland Martin, who clearly cares deeply about kids reaching their potential.

For the next four hours we collectively discussed what we can and should do about the digital divide.  What should the government do to facilitate broadband connections for those who want them but can’t get them (due to lack of availability) or can’t afford them?   What should schools and libraries do to help?   How can private companies play a role?   Should we focus on wiring up every home across the country or are broadband wireless services such as Wi-Max ready for prime time?

Another interesting question we explored was what to do about the segment of the population that barely knows what the Internet is and doesn’t realize how it can help them?   Professor Soto from Northwestern University told a story about how she was talking with a taco vendor in Chicago about the Internet and the vendor said why should she bother with the Internet since it wasn’t needed to make tacos?   How can we collectively demonstrate to her what the Internet can do for her and her family?

Rick Hermann from Intel asked us to imagine a world in which every kid has the ability to connect instantly to a math tutor for help with homework, through the Internet.   Rick mentioned that Intel is doing this right now for its entire employee base – as a free employee benefit — and suggested that the federal government give all private companies a tax incentive to follow Intel’s lead.   Similarly, Jim Shelton from the U.S. Department of Education talked about the power of using the Internet to connect students to experts around the country.   Why should a student in rural Georgia be limited to the one physics teacher within 50 miles of her school when the Internet can allow her to connect to the very best and brightest physics teachers across the country?

We also heard from NPR analyst and former Baltimore Chief Technology Officer Mario Armstrong about how kids are using video games to learn science and math and how crucially important it is for our country’s future that we retake our previous lead in science, math, engineering and technology (STEM) education.   (You don’t want to know where the U.S. is currently ranked in the top twenty countries worldwide.)

All in all, it was an excellent event, and I am looking forward to working with several of the folks who attended.   Tutor.com is already powering the wonderful Intel program and is excited to be working with the Alliance for Digital Equality to help the kids of Clayton County, Georgia.

Tutor.com, the world’s largest online tutoring and homework help service, works with numerous school districts and non-profit organizations to bring online homework help and tutoring to underserved communities across the country.  For further information, feel free to contact Bart Epstein, Senior Vice President of Tutor.com, at bepstein@tutor.com.

Posted in Libraries, Schools1 Comment

## Book Club – Where the discussion can be even better than the book

This month’s Tutor.com Book Club pick was “Flatland, a Romance of Many Dimensions,” by Edwin Abbott.

It is hard to believe that a book written 125 years ago would lead to our book club discussing quantum entanglement, string theory, multiple universes, and the purpose of life, but I suspect that Mr. Abbott would be very pleased to see it so, were he still alive.

He wrote this book with two obvious goals in mind.  One was to satirize the social culture of Victorian culture.  The other was to nudge people towards thinking about what a fourth dimension might look like.   (Yes, an actual fourth geometrical dimension.)   We discussed the folly of Victorian narrowness but spent most of our time discussing the geometry, physics, and metaphysics of the book.

The story of this book takes place nearly entirely in a two-dimensional world called Flatland.   The narrator of the book is a square, who describes life in Flatland, where circles are revered, women are line segments, and a man’s standing in society is directly correlated with how many sides his polygon has.  (More sides means more prestige:  Squares are superior to triangles.)

In a dream, the square character visits a one-dimensional world called “Lineland,” which is inhabited by beings that can not grasp the possibility of a second dimension.  The square, standing to the “side” of Lineland, tries to explain to the King of Lineland how to turn his head to the side and see the second dimension.   The King can not, to the square’s obvious frustration.

Upon waking, the tables are turned on the square when a three-dimensional sphere visits Flatland in the same way that the square visited Lineland.  Now it is the square’s turn to be frustrated as the sphere says “I’m right here, above you.”  The square of course knows nothing of “up,”  anddoes not have the physical ability to look up, and so is angry and confused.

As the dialogue between the square and the sphere continues, however, the sphere explains how the square can use the math of two dimensions to deduce the existence of a third dimensions.

And of course that leads to our realization that it is quite possible, if not probable, that there is a fourth dimension that we humans can’t see or touch because of our physical limitations, but is nevertheless immensely real.

Just as a square only needs to look “up” to see the third dimension, so it may be that we only need to look in a direction that we have no word for . . . yet . . . to sense the fourth dimension.

As our discussion kicked off, Abel suggested that anyone who reads Flatland or is curious about the idea of additional dimensions should view this excellent video on YouTube of Carl Sagan.   In it, Mr. Sagan does a masterful job of introducing the concept of multiple dimensions and the ideas of Flatland.

The conversation then shifted to an interesting “what-if” scenario:  What if humans never developed eyes of any kind?  If we evolved with only touch, smell, taste, and hearing.   Would we be able to deduce “sight” as a sense?   Could we prove light existed?

This led to a discussion of whether it could be possible that some animals can somehow sense things through a fourth dimension and then to a discussion of one of the biggest mysteries in science today:  What is the force behind quantum entanglement — the phenomenon of subatomic particles somehow being connected to each other in a way that scientists can not yet explain.

Quantum entanglement seems to violate the known laws of physics by allowing particles to communicate with each other far faster than the speed of light.  For a quick summary and some good links, here’s a blog post I wrote about “The Age of Entanglement: When Quantum Physics was Reborn.”  (For a more detailed explanation of quantum entanglement, consider this wonderful lecture DVD series.)

I suspect that Mr. Abbott would think that there is indeed a fourth dimension, and that it is the medium through which the quantum particles are connected.

Our discussion of quantum entanglement led to a discussion of several theories that could explain it, including multiple universes.   That led to a discussion of the laws of physics in our universe and some of us wondering whether these laws have always been the same, have they evolved over time, and what might a universe look like with slightly different physical laws?   (For example with stronger gravity but weaker nuclear forces.)

From here we launched into speculation about whether four-dimensional beings may be looking at us the same way that we would look at simple two-dimensional beings.   We then wondered whether it might be that, as most intelligent life evolves, it gets to a point where it can “sense” the fourth dimension and then eventually learns to go there?   Maybe that is why we have not detected any other life in the universe yet?

That discussion branched to another interesting topic — whether we are about to reach the fascinating (and possibly scary) point in our own evolution when we no longer need to wait hundreds of thousands of years for natural selection to do its thing:  Are we about to be able to genetically engineer ourselves into a series of different species?  For example, one that is adapted to deep-space exploration?  Another with gills, to live underwater?  Would this be good or bad?   Would it increase our chances of surviving possible apocalypses?

This led to an interesting discussion about ardipithecus and happiness.  How do we define happiness? Are we happier now than ardipithecus was more than 4 million years ago?    Leisure time?  Meaningful interactions with friends and family?   (Abel recommended that we check out a book called Cosmicomics, which is a book of metaphysics short stories written in 1974 by Italo Calvino.)

At the end of the discussion, everyone other than Carolann and Lynne said they really liked the book, and everyone felt that the discussion of the book was one of our best  ever.  Carolann said it felt like a textbook, without any real plot. Jill noted that she was a big naysayer at first but when she got into the book she loved it.

Jen, however, had the comment of the day.   Expressing frustration at our collective inability to explain the bizarre paradox of quantum entanglement (which takes place at the at the sub-atomic level), Jen expressed her preference for the macro world as follows: “I can tear a beating heart out of someone’s chest and SEE IT in my hand.”

In addition to serving as a stern warning to anyone who might attempt to steal the stapler from her desk, Jen can take solace in the fact that her words are right in line with many famous physicists, such as:

• Neils Bohr, who said, “Those who are not shocked when they first come across quantum theory cannot possibly have understood it.”
• Albert Einstein, who said, “This quantum question is so uncommonly important and difficult that it should concern everyone.”
• John Wheeler, who said, “If you are not completely confused by quantum mechanics, you do not understand it.”
• Erwin Schrödinger, who said, “I do not like quantum mechanics, and I am sorry I ever had anything to do with it. “

Next up for our book club is The Sex Lives of Cannibals by J. Maarten Troost.

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## Want to go to law school someday? Study math now.

Want to maybe be a lawyer someday?  You’re not alone.   But you may be surprised to hear that studying math may be the best thing you can do to increase your chances of getting in to a top law school.

Professor Michael Nieswiadomy recently analyzed law school admissions test (LSAT) scores for students from 29 college majors and found that students majoring in math, physics, and economics scored the highest on the LSAT.

As a lawyer (and former LSAT tutor), these results make intuitive sense to me.    Being “good at arguing” is rarely what makes a great lawyer.   The majority of lawyers never argue a case in court.  Rather, we spend most of our time thinking, researching, analyzing, and writing.

Which majors scored the lowest, on average?   Criminal justice and pre-law.   (Ouch.)

## Bone Marrow Transplant Patient Delivered Safely

Last week we shared what our Senior VP of Corporate Development/General Counsel does in his spare time, and how he prepared for his latest Angel Flight. This week, Bart tells us how it went.

This week’s Angel Flight was a wonderful experience.

After much pre-flight planning and preparation I departed early in the morning for the airport with the stuffed monkey I picked up for my 14-month-old VIP.   My hope was that it would help comfort him during the flight and that he might even nap.

After a final pre-flight check and confirmation of the weather, 711DA jumped into the air with excitement.   By the time I reached the NYC area, the undercast cloud deck had dissipated and made the ILS approach to Teterboro a formality.

ILS Chart for TEB

After landing at Teterboro and taxiing to the general aviation terminal I went inside to buy fuel and meet my littlest passenger and his parents. We talked at length about the flight and then I went out to do the final preparations in the near 90-degree heat.
Once I refueled and I had our IFR clearance to Latrobe (LBE) I called for the courtesy shuttle to bring the little guy and his mom to the plane.

Angel Flights are like flying the President of the United States (“POTUS”) in one way:  As you probably know, any airplane that carries POTUS gets the callsign “Air Force One.”  Similarly, airplanes that carry Angel Flight patients get the special callsign “Angel Flight” added to their tail numbers. That day I was flying N711DA, which became”Angel Flight One Delta Alpha” due to my VIPs.

Years ago, when I upgraded my pilot credentials from “private pilot” to “commercial pilot with instrument rating,” I spent countless hours learning how to fly more smoothly and precisely, to maximize passenger comfort.   I can still hear my instructor’s voice, saying “that’s too steep of a bank — your (imaginary) passengers are all throwing up,” and “you have to level off more smoothly — your flight attendants want to walk on the floor, not stick to the ceiling.”

All that work paid off nicely as we accelerated smoothly and climbed slowly, to minimize any possible ear discomfort.  If you weren’t looking out the window at the NYC skyline, you might not have even known we left the ground!  Within ten minutes the little guy was fast asleep and he stayed that way for two hours as we flew smoothly through New Jersey and out to Western Pennsylvania towards Ohio.

One nice thing about flying on hot days is that the outside air temperature generally drops by five degrees or so for every thousand feet you climb. If you climb high enough you get free air conditioning. At 8,000 feet the outside air was in the 40′s and felt wonderfully refreshing as it wooshed through the air vents.  Unlike jets, my plane does not fly high enough to need pressurization. In fact, if we fly slow enough, you can legally open the window–although I don’t allow it when I fly with passengers.

It was 90 degrees on the ground but in the low 40's at our cruising altitude. The cool air felt great coming through the vents.

When we landed at Latrobe, I welcomed my passengers on behalf of their Washington-based flight crew and taxied us to the general aviation terminal.   I was pleased to see that the next Angel Flight pilot was waiting to take our VIPs on to Cincinnati.

Welcome to Latrobe, PA!

After buying more fuel and downing an ice cold water and some cookies , I taxied back to the active runway and watched “Angel Flight Eight Nine Sierra Papa” climb slowly into the sky to complete the second half of the mission.

After a quick flight home with a strong tailwind, I soon found myself back in rush hour traffic on the ground. I was thankful to have had the opportunity to be part of what will hopefully be a story with a happy ending, and wishing that I had a runway in my back yard.

Posted in News and Other Stuff4 Comments

## It’s a bird … it’s a plane …it’s … Bart, from Tutor.com!

One of the things I do when I’m not working at Tutor.com relates to my being an instrument-rated commercial pilot with more than 750 hours of pilot-in-command time:  I serve as a volunteer pilot for Angel Flight, providing needy kids with air transport to specialized medical facilities for evaluation, diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation.

I check the Angel Flight website frequently and noticed last week that the stars were aligning for me to pick up an important mission.   On a day that I have off from work next week, a one year old in New Jersey needs transport to the Cincinnati area for a bone marrow transplant.

Remembering well how stressful it was when my own baby boys spent more than two weeks in the neonatal intensive care unit when they were born, I wanted very much to help if I could.

Given that I don’t own my own airplane, however, before I could volunteer to do the flight, I had to first procure an airplane to use that day.  Luckily, this was not hard.  For more than 15 years I have been a member of the TSS Flying Club, a nonprofit corporation that operates a small fleet of small planes, and our online schedule showed that a plane I like to fly, N711DA, a 4-seat single-engine Cessna 172 with GPS was available.

The TSS Flying Club has been around for more than 50 years and is a wonderful way to keep flying costs way down while keeping proficiency and safety way up.   We meet regularly, fly together often to practice procedures, share rides to destinations, and have endless discussions (and debates) on our online bulletin board about the best safety protocols, procedures, fun places to fly, and much more.   Back in the day, when I had more free time, I had the privilege of serving on our Board of Directors (including a term as President).

After reserving the plane online I inform Angel Flight HQ that I will take the mission.   They confirm back and we both begin planning the logistics.

On their end, the folks at Angel Flight notify the airports that we will be using Teterboro (TEB) and Latrobe (LBE) and Cincinnati (LUK) about the flight.   Those airports and their facilities generously agree to waive all landing and handling charges and fees for Angel Flights.  They also connect me to the second pilot who will handle the LBE to LUK leg of the flight.   We email to coordinate the patient transfer in Latrobe.

If you are wondering why I don’t fly the patient all the way to Cincinnati, there are two reasons.  First is that Angel Flight does not pay for or provide any financial support for these missions.  It only helps with the logistics.  All costs for Angel Flights are borne by the volunteer pilots.  We cover 100% of the costs of each flight, including airplane rental, fuel, equipment, charts, etc.   I estimate that it will take me about 2 hours to fly GAI to TEB, 2.5 hours TEB to LBE, and 1.5 hours LBE back to GAI.   My total out of pocket costs for the mission will be approximately \$600.   If I had to fly another 500 miles round trip from LBE to LUK that would take the cost over \$1,000 out of pocket, which is beyond my current means.   In addition, flying GAI to TEB to LBE to LUK to GAI would be about ten hours of flight time in a single day.   That’s an exhausting day for any pilot and exhaustion compromises safety, which I don’t do.

Back to work on the logistics, my next issue is researching noise protection.  When I fly I always wear a headset, as do all of my passengers.  The planes I fly are pretty loud inside the cabin.  But how would a one year old baby wear a headset?   I post that question to my flying club discussion board and a spirited discussion ensues.   I soon learn that many of my friends flew frequently with their own infants and used a variety of setups such as tiny little foam earplugs, small headsets, and foam headbands, while others decided that none of these things was necessary.   I decide to bring foam earplugs and also some small noise-cancelling headphones that a club member friend offers to lend.  In addition, I plan to fly at a lower power (RPM) setting, to reduce engine noise.   And, with any luck, my littlest passenger will mostly sleep through the 2.5 hour flight.

Next up is coordinating with the mom, who will be accompanying her son on the trip.   I call her and introduce myself and we agree to meet at Teterboro Airport (TEB) just outside of NYC at 10:30 am next Tuesday.  I follow up with an email that includes a copy of the liability release that is required for the flight, so that she can review it in advance.   I print out a hard copy and prepare an envelope.  When she signs it at the airport I will drop it in the mail to Angel Flight HQ.  We will then fly to Latrobe where they will transfer to the second pilot’s plane.

The next step is planning my route and fuel stops and sketching out what my flight plans will look like.  Even if the weather is crystal clear I will file an IFR flight plan, which gives me extra margins of safety, including guaranteed full-time attention from air traffic control (ATC).    I’ve flown these routes before and there is nothing unexpected but I will still double-check the morning of the flight to make sure there are no last-minute notices to airment (NOTAMs) announcing temporary flight restrictions or reporting problems with any navigation systems.

As I research each of the airports I’m going to I am reminded of other nice things about Angel Flights.  One is that all of the airports on my route of flight will waive their landing fees and handling charges.  (At big airports these fees can really add up, so this is very much appreciated.)  The other is that when I am flying an Angel Flight mission, I get to use a special call-sign that gets my flight priority handling from ATC.  Instead of identifying myself as “711 Delta Alpha” as I usually do, I will be “Angel Flight 1 Delta Alpha,” and ATC will know from my flight plan that I’m carrying a one year old en route to a bone marrow transplant.

Given that I will be flying IFR, anyone who wants to can track my flight progress in real time at http://flightaware.com/.   I’m planning to depart GAI around Tuesday, July 28th at 8:30 am ET and will be using tail number NGF1DA.

Bart Epstein is the Senior VP, Corporate Development and General Counsel at Tutor.com. He is based in Arlington, VA and is the dad of 2 year old twin boys. He promises to write an update after the flight!

Posted in News and Other Stuff7 Comments