About the Golf Ball Drops

Your questions, answered.

Yesterday, I did a golf ball drop. I have another one scheduled for today. And I’ve done at least three of them in the past. (You can read a blog post that details one of them and see a video of another drop embedded in this post.) Here’s a shot from my helicopter’s skidcam to give you a better idea of what it looks like:

Golf Ball Drop

The Tweets

Last night, when I tweeted:

Today’s golf ball drop had 2100 balls. Just learned that tomorrow’s will have 4900. Can you even IMAGINE that many golf balls? Not me.

I got two replies:

I don’t understand (but I’m intrigued). You’re dropping them from altitude? Where? Individually?

Wait, what? Why would someone drop golf balls (or any solid object) out of a helicopter? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ST01bZJPuE0

(The link is to a pertinent WKRP in Cincinnati video clip; watch it if you haven’t seen it before.)

So I figured I’d explain what this is about.

Golf Ball Drop Explained

A golf ball drop is usually a charity or fund-raising event. The fundraisers “sell” numbered golf balls for a set price. The balls are taken up in a helicopter and dropped from 200-300 feet onto a target which is normally a standard sized golf hole or cup. Often, a ring of lines is drawn around the target on the grass to mark different levels of prizes. The ball(s) that go in the cup or are within the rings or are even just closest to the center of the target win the prize(s). The money left over after paying for the helicopter, the balls, and the prizes makes up the proceeds from the fund-raising event.

Normally, this is a big spectator event. After all, who doesn’t like helicopters? Who wouldn’t want to watch something being dropped out of one? It’s a fun way to raise money.

Safety Issues

As a safety-conscious pilot, I do everything in my power to make the flight as safe as possible. The dropper sits behind me, strapped in with his door off. All the other helicopter doors are on to limit the possibility of loose items flying out another door.

The balls are usually stored in bags or boxes on the seat beside the dropper. He drops them out the open door — which is on the side opposite of the helicopter’s tail rotor. The balls generally go straight down, but some do bounce off the skid. I’ve never had one bounce dangerously, but I do leave my door on in to prevent one from bouncing back into the cockpit and getting under my pedals.

Below us, the target area is clear of all people and non-essential equipment. I allow only one passenger — the dropper — on board and run with minimum fuel to keep the aircraft light. I point into the wind during the hover.

The only real danger to the flight is the out of ground effect hover right smack dab in the middle of the deadman’s curve. In the unlikely event of an engine failure, things would get ugly fast.

Yesterday’s Drop

Yesterday’s drop was done at the CrackerJax Family Fun Park less than 1/2 mile from Scottsdale Airport. This required additional coordination with the Scottsdale Tower, since CrackerJax is right under the helicopter approach path to the airport.

It was done to raise money for the notMYkid charity. There were a total of 2,100 balls preloaded into 11 very nice drawstring canvas bags. Due to the size and weight of that many balls — an estimated 400 pounds that would not fit in the left rear passenger seat — we did it in two drops, with a hot loading of the balls between the drops.

The photo above is from my helicopter’s skidcam, which I’d rigged up specifically for the flight. On hindsight, I wish I’d pointed it down more; maybe I’ll try a different angle for today’s drop of 4,900 balls — it’ll likely take 3 or 4 drops to do them all.

It’s All in a Day’s Work

Do I like doing golf ball drops? I like doing anything different and interesting, especially if it’s something that can entertain spectators, too. There were very few spectators for yesterday’s drop, but I expect at least 100 for today’s.

And I really can’t knock getting paid to fly.

Golf Ball Drop Video

Video of my hole in one.

One of my clients just sent me a link to this. It’s a video of a golf ball drop I did back in December.

Three Charities You Can Help by Helping Yourself

It’s the time of year for giving, so give!

At the end of the year, many non-profit organizations make their year-end plea for funds. They know the same thing deduction-savvy taxpayers know: a donation before year-end can get you a write-off on April 15th.

In general, I prefer educational charities over other types. (For obvious reasons, I don’t give to religious charities, although I did donate to Non-Believers Giving Aid right after the disaster in Haiti.) I think it’s important to keep quality information flowing from the folks who can create it to the folks who can benefit from it. That’s why I suggest the following three charitable organizations if you’re interested in making year-end contributions to charities that directly benefit you and your family:

  • NPR LogoNPR (National Public Radio) had its semiannual pledge drive last week. I caught the tail end of it while driving to do errands, but never got around to picking up the phone. That’s a shame because they often have matching funds during fund drives, so my $50 donation can get my local NPR affiliate $100. Still, I’ll send my contribution by visiting the Support Public Radio page on its Web site. NPR, if you’re not aware, airs a wide variety of radio programming, from talk shows about current events and science to comedy and music. Even if you don’t listen in on the radio, you can subscribe to podcasts for most shows. And if you listen in more than one listening area — for example, I listen in Washington State during the summer months and Phoenix in the winter months — consider splitting your contribution between both of the radio stations you listen to.
  • PBS LogoPBS (Public Broadcasting Service) is similar to NPR in that it airs a lot of educational and thought-provoking content. From Sesame Street to NOVA, from FRONTLINE to Masterpiece, these are the folks who teach and entertain us with something more substantial than the latest incarnation of CSI and Dancing with the Stars. Although you can donate during a pledge drive and receive a “gift,” you don’t need to wait for a pledge drive to donate. (Seriously: do you really need another tote bag?)
  • Wikipedia LogoWikipedia is the online encyclopedia. Say what you will about its accuracy, but you can’t deny that it’s one of the best free sources around for general information about any subject at all. These days, you can’t visit a Wikipedia page without seeing “an urgent appeal” from Jimmy Wales. That’s because it costs a ton of money to run those Web servers. If you use Wikipedia — and who doesn’t? — why not send a little cash their way? Yes, it is tax-deductible in the U.S.

These are the ones on my list. If you think about it, you’ll probably come up with others that might be more meaningful to you and your family. These are organizations that enhance your life and help round out your knowledge. Don’t they deserve your support?

Take a moment and send a little cash their way. It doesn’t matter how much or how little — even $20 can help, especially when hundreds of people just like you send the same.

And remember the added bonus of a tax deduction in April.

The Atheist’s Guide to Christmas

Remarkable reading for the holidays!

The Atheist's Guide to ChristmasA month or more ago, someone on Twitter tweeted a link to the Kindle version of The Atheist’s Guide to Christmas for just $1. Like a lot of people, I consider a buck “why not?” money for anything that interests me. I followed the link and downloaded the book. It sat on my iPad for a while, half forgotten.

Sometime later, while I was eating alone in a restaurant in Phoenix, I cracked the cover (so to speak) and began reading it. It wasn’t at all as I expected. It was so much better.

You see, I expected some sort of anti-religious rant against Christmas and everything concerned with it. Not sure why I expected this — perhaps it’s got something to do with the conservative media’s perceived “war against Christmas” that crops up every year here in the U.S. If you believe the conservatives on FoxNews, etc., anyone who is not Christian hates Christmas and wants to destroy it. Following that line of reason, the folks who should hate it most are atheists, since they don’t believe in any religious doctrines at all.

But that’s not what this book was all about.

The Atheist’s Guide to Christmas is a collection of 42 stories and essays from a variety of atheist scientists, comedians, philosophers, and writers. They include reminiscences (eg., Phil Plait’s “Starry, Starry Night”), celebration suggestions (eg., Josie Long’s “Things to Make and Do at Christmas”), scientific information (eg., Brian Cox’s The Large Hadron Collider: A scientific Creation Story”), historical information (eg., Claire Rayner’s “How to Have a Peaceful Pagan Christmas”), and tall tales (eg., Nick Doody’s “How to Understand Christmas: A Scientific Overview”).

Sure, there was the takeoff on Jeeves and Wooster by Richard Dawkins in which Woofter and Jarvis engage in a conversation about the existence of God, Jesus’s part in the Holy Trinity, and bible inconsistencies. But that was just one small chapter in a very large book. Most of the book is very positive and uplifting, encouraging non-believers to enjoy the Christmas season the way most believers do: with decorations, big meals, gift giving, and gatherings of friends and family members.

The book makes it clear that you don’t need to believe in God or religious doctrines to enjoy a holiday that just happens to coincide with the winter solstice. (Not exactly a coincidence, but try to explain that to a believer.) It also offers plenty of helpful tips and advice for getting along with believers during a holiday that may have some serious religious significance to them.

I’m about halfway through the book — although I do admit that I began reading by using the interactive table of contents to pick and choose among the essays I wanted to read first. While some chapters are better than others as far as their relevance to my personal thoughts about Christmas, I’m certain that any atheist would find something of value in its pages. Likewise, I don’t think any believers would be offended by its contents. As the book’s introduction states, The Atheist’s Guide to Christmas is an “atheist book it’s safe to leave around your granny.” Indeed, I’m certain that even believers would find a lot of content in this book to help make their Christmas celebrations more enjoyable — without threatening their beliefs.

The Atheist’s Guide to Christmas was edited by Ariane Sherine and published by Friday Books. All book royalties are donated to charity — how’s that for the spirit of Christmas giving?

Non-Believers Giving Aid

A religion-free way to help disaster victims.

Like thousands (I assume) of Americans, when I first heard of the tragedy in Haiti, I felt a need to help. The obvious solution was to give money to a charity that would be providing aid directly to the Haitian people. But the question was, which charity?

In the first day of the situation, choices weren’t readily apparent. I went with the good old standby: the American Red Cross. Because I wanted my aid to go directly to Haiti and not be used for anyother purpose, I wrote a check, marked it “Haiti Aid”, and mailed it to American Red Cross, P.O. Box 37243, Washington, D.C. 20013. According to the Web site’s Donate Now! page, this was the best way to ensure donations went to the cause I wanted to help.

A few days passed. Pat Robertson made his asinine comments about the Haitian people having a pact with the devil and then had the nerve to start collecting money to help them. It made me sick. I wish there was a hell just so these self-serving, religious fanatics could rot there.

I wanted to give more to help the Haitian victims, but I certainly wasn’t about to donate to any charity that was in any way related to any religious organization. The Clinton Foundation was one very good option. So was the International Red Cross. And Doctors without Borders.

But another one came to light this morning: Non-Believers Giving Aid. This organization is sponsored by Richard Dawkins and serves two distinct purposes:

  • To send 100% of donated funds directly to two non-religious charities giving aid in Haiti: Doctors without Borders and International Red Cross.
  • To provide an easy conduit for the non-religious to help those in desperate need, while simultaneously disproving that you need God to be good.

As the Non-Believers Giving Aid home page declares:

Preachers and televangelists, mullahs and imams, often seem almost to gloat over natural disasters – presenting them as payback for human transgressions, or for ‘making a pact with the devil’. Earthquakes and tsunamis are caused not by ‘sin’ but by tectonic plate movements, and tectonic plates, like everything else in the physical world, are supremely indifferent to human affairs and sadly indifferent to human suffering. Those of us who understand this reality are sometimes accused of being indifferent to that suffering ourselves. Of course the very opposite is the truth: we do not hide behind the notion that earthly suffering will be rewarded in a heavenly paradise, nor do we expect a heavenly reward for our generosity: the understanding that this is the only life any of us have makes the need to alleviate suffering even more urgent.

Thus, I sent my second contribution for Haiti Earthquake Victims to Non-Believers Giving Aid, with an equal split between the two non-religious charities they support.

I’m pleased to hear that so far over $180,000 has been raised by this organization — an average of over $35 per donor.

Have you given a charitable contribution to help the people of Haiti? Tell us about it in a comment on this post. If you haven’t done so yet, please do consider it. An amount as small as $5 can really help make a difference.

Just please — don’t send it to Pat Robertson.

I Don’t Care How Many Return Address Labels You Send Me

I still won’t donate to your religion-based charity.

Christmas LabelsThis year, I received a bumper crop of pre-printed return address labels. I got some with autumn colors and decorations (leaves and pumpkins), some with Thanksgiving themes (turkeys and cornucopias), and plenty with Christmas themes (Christmas trees, snowmen, candy canes, and wreaths). I kept them all. After all, I still do send out the occasional piece of mail, and it’s nice to have a colorful return address label to put on it.

I also got a bunch of religious-themed ones (crosses, Mary, baby Jesus). I threw those away. I’m not a religious person and certainly don’t want anyone to think I am.

Of course, all of these return address labels came with a pre-addressed return envelope and donation form. I threw those away, too.

Religious-themed or not, every single return address label I received as a “gift” was from a religious charity. If I’m not a religious person, why would I donate money to a religious charity? There are so many other non-religious charities that are just as noble — if not more so — than ones waving a religious banner.

I have Covenant House to thank for all of these labels. Last year, at the request of an author who had given me an autographed copy of his book, I made a $20 donation to his pet charity. It wasn’t until after I made the donation that I realized what the charity was all about. Yes, they do help battered women and children, etc. But they do so in their special Christian way. That way obviously includes using a direct mailing campaign to nag the hell out of anyone who has ever donated a dime so they keep sending money. I get at least one mailer a month from them, despite multiple requests to get off their list. That way also includes selling my name and address to all the other religious charities they know so they can pester me as well.

Of course, they do send those useful labels, so it isn’t all bad.

I believe that many people donate when they receive these “gifts” because they feel guilty if they don’t. Like God is going to strike them dead or sick or something. Or they’ll just get bad karma.

But the way I see it, a “gift” is a gift. It doesn’t require anything in return. I didn’t ask them to send me these labels. I don’t really need them. Why should I pay for them?

Think of it this way: If someone were to park a new car on your driveway and then ring your doorbell, hand you the keys and a clean title, and ask you for $25,000, would you pay him? Other than the perceived value, how are the labels any different?

And wouldn’t it be wasteful to throw all those pretty labels away?

Donating Ideas

A few thoughts about yet another new “charity” effort.

A fellow twitterer — and I won’t mention names because my purpose is not to embarrass him — has created a Web site designed to gather “idea donations.” That’s right: the goal is to gather business ideas for people who are evidently incapable of coming up with their own ideas. These mentally challenged people can then use the donated ideas to start businesses and improve their villages, towns, or personal lives.

I have a serious problem with this.

It isn’t enough for successful business people to donate money and equipment and finance small business owners who need help. Now we have to think for them, too?

The way I see it, if an “entrepreneur” isn’t bright enough to come up with his own business idea, he’s probably not going to be bright enough to make someone else’s idea work, either. It takes a lot more than a packaged idea to start and build a business. It takes brains, know-how, experience, hard work, funding, imagination, moral support….get the idea?

Am I missing something here? What’s the point of this? To make people who can think feel all warm and cuddly for handing out ideas to people who can’t think?

If someone doesn’t have enough imagination and know-how to come up with his own business idea, he should probably stick to work that doesn’t require so much brain power — and leave the business of starting and running new businesses to those better able to get the job done.