Saturday, January 01, 2005

A Merry Cthulhu Christmas

Okay, so it's six days past Christmas already. Let's just say that I failed my Spot Hidden roll.

More JTF 536 News

According to this item on Yahoo! News:

From dawn until sunset on New Year's Day, 12 Seahawk helicopters shuttled supplies and advance teams from offshore naval vessels while reconnaissance aircraft brought back stark images of wave-wrecked coastal landscapes and their hungry, traumatized inhabitants.

"They came from all directions, crawling under the craft, knocking on the pilot's door, pushing to get into the cabin," said Petty Officer First Class Brennan Zwack. "But when they saw we had no more food inside, they backed away, saying `Thank you, thank you.'"

"The mob decided how we distributed the food. There were so many hands outstretched I don't think any package touched the ground," added Zwack, of Sioux Falls, S.D.

The helicopters took off from the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, staged in calm waters about three miles off the Indonesian province of Aceh along with four other vessels to launch the sprawling U.S. military operation.

More than a dozen other ships were en route to southern Asian waters, with the USS Bonhomme Richard, an amphibious assault vessel carrying Marines, headed for Sri Lanka, which along with Indonesia was the worst-hit area. The mission involves thousands of sailors and Marines, along with some 1,000 land-based troops.

Friday, December 31, 2004

Anguish, and Hope, in the New Year

indonesians hold memorial service for tsunami victims

A Chilling View

From the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, whose Web page has a timeline of the NOAA's own actions in response to the warning signals it received from ocean monitoring equipment comes a chilling animation of the tsunami wave. Click on the pic below to see the full-sized QuickTime animation.

tsunami wave animated .gif from NOAA
Make sure you look through the rest of the site, it's fascinating and also features a database of historical tsunami events.

p-t-r wn

Peter Rabbit page in Middle Kingdom hieroglyphicsI found a story at BBC News that should be interesting to anyone who likes Ancient Egypt or rabbits -- the British Museum is publishing a version of Peter Rabbit in Middle Kingdom hieroglypics:
Peter Rabbit becomes a square, a semi-circle, an ellipse and a rabbit image.

The "time seemed appropriate" for the hieroglyph version, due in April, translators said, as the story had already been published in 35 languages.

The text pictured reads "Once upon a time, there were four little rabbits and their names were Flopsy, Mopsy, Cotton-tail and Peter..." The article mentions some difficulty in trying for a literal translation from English to Middle Kingdom:
Potter's landscape and wildlife would also have been unfamiliar to ancient Egyptians - who had no words for things like blackberry, gooseberry, blackcurrant and potato.

"Beatrix Potter's words sometimes do not readily fall into ancient Egyptian," [translators Richard Parkinson and John Nunn] wrote in the foreword.

"The surviving texts provide no easy model for such colloquial phrases as 'Now run along, and don't get into mischief.'"

Don't know how to read hieroglyphs? Omniglot is a good place to start for info.


US ups its pledge.

You listening, Mr. Egeland?

Thursday, December 30, 2004

Holy Cow!

I continue to be amazed by the things I'm seeing in stories about the tsunami disaster. For example, an article on the BBC news site about the unclear fate of isolated, aboriginal peoples on a group of islands west of Thailand:
Great Nicobar suffered badly in the disaster. One island in the chain, Trinket, split in two under the impact. Most of the rest are under water.
An island. Split in two.

BBC is also talking about the not inconsiderable effect that bloggers are having towards providing news about the disaster and generating aid for its victims

Good News from the Seychelles

While we were on deployment, the ship visited the Seychelles, a set of islands northwest of Madagascar. The country is a sovereign nation, having become independent in 1976. One of the activities arranged by the ship for the crew were diving trips; I attended a PADI introductory dive and liked it so much that I visited the the Underwater Centre just about every day and obtained my basic SCUBA diver certification. The proprieters, David & Glynis Mowat, were wonderfully friendly and happy to accomodate getting extra lessons in for me; I'm especially grateful to Jean Paul, who was a terrific teacher. So when the tsunamis hit, I was worried about them, especially when I learned that the waves had reached East African shores.

So I tried sending an email and got good news in return: everyone at the Centre is just fine (and damage was obviously not so bad as to lose Internet connectivity). David writes:

One of our boats moored in Victoria decided to park itself in the Marine Charter car park and totalled both engines and the blue bus has now decided it has caught a cold after being up to its windows in sea-water... but compared to the other areas we are still in good shape!
Seychelles Whale SharkAccording to David, the Seychelles faired pretty well -- some people were drowned, but overall the damage was not as extensive as it has been in other areas. So this is really great news. If you're ever going to go to the Seychelles, make sure you stop by the Underwater Centre on Mahe and say hi to them. David, by the way, is one of the directors of the Marine Conservation Society Seychelles, and one of the really interesting thing that group does is track whale sharks around the islands. They conduct daily ultralight flights to count whale sharks and also have a program wherein they attach transmitters to the sharks in order to track their migratory routes.

The Hidden Cost of Aid

James posted a couple of posts about the US' contribution towards relief for the tsunami disaster, and mentioned in particular a post at Is This Blog On? that references a Reuters article detailing pledges, by country. Is This Blog On? also mentions an article which talks about U.N. Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Jan Egeland's criticism of the US "and other western nations" being stingy.

One of my pet peeves about this sort of reporting is that usually, it's the cash donations that are mentioned. Then people get all up in arms because country A (okay, I'll be less circumspect: I mean, the US) doesn't pledge as much as other countries, or as much as other countries feel it should pledge. What usually isn't mentioned is the logistical cost of providing support from, say, the military. When something like this happens, the US always -- always -- has US Navy ships on hand, and the Air Force usually jumps in with both feet to help too. Navy Seabees go out to rebuild bridges, and it's not uncommon for the other branches to send servicemen and -women to help recover and rebuild. I mentioned in an earlier post that the Navy sent the USS Bonhomme Richard, a large-deck amphib ship, and the USS Abraham Lincoln, an aircraft carrier, to render assistance. So how much does this cost?

I went over to the General Accounting Office, and I'm still looking, but I did find this cost analysis information in a paper comparing and contrasting nuclear carriers vice conventional carriers:

Table 3.1: Life-Cycle Costs for Conventional and Nuclear Aircraft Carriers (based on a 50-year service life)
Cost catagoryCVCVN
Fiscal year 1997 dollars in millions
Operating and Support Cost
  Direct operating and support cost$10,436$11,677
  Indirect operating and support cost$688$3,205
Total operating and support cost$11,125$14,882
Annual operating and support cost$222$298
(GAO Report "NAVY AIRCRAFT CARRIERS: Cost-Effectiveness of Conventionally and Nuclear-Powered Carriers", p.76)
Okay. The Abraham Lincoln is a nuclear aircraft carrier. According to The Inflation Calculator, $298 million dollars in 1997 dollars is $334,263,334.38 in 2003 dollars (the latest year available). Divide by 365 and you get a cost of $915,789.96 per day. About a million bucks per day. That's just the one carrier. And the price seems a bit low to me, but even if you go with that, and know what else we're doing to help, then you get an idea of how much of the taxpayers' money the government is really spending on top of that $25 million cash.

And all of that pales in comparision to what US taxpayers and corporations are giving straight out of their own pockets.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

What Happens When Gaming Geeks Have a Lot of Time on Their Hands?

Well, if they like MMORPGs, this is what happens.

Steam Tech

I've always been fond of steam tech, especially as a mix of futuristic S-F and Victorian design. The idea of jet packs and robots powered by steam is charming, but seemed hopelessly impossible, too.

Glynne Bowsher worked on the first car to break the sound barrier -- the ThrustSSC. Now, he and a group of fellow engineers are working on a steam-powered racecar.

That's right: race car. This thing is supposed to be able to go faster than 200 mph.

Instead of using a more conventional piston-operated engine, they'll be using a steam turbine that's driven by steam generated by four boilers which use propane gas to heat up water and make it into steam. Ah, turbines. The McFaul is driven by four Lockheed-Martin LM2500s, which are normally used to power airplanes. So they're putting one into a car? Cool!

The 13 inch diameter turbine is non-condensing and is fed at four nozzles, one from each boiler. The system is total loss, which means that each run will expend the total amount of water carried each trip. The exhaust steam will be vented to the wake of the car.
The link above leads to the Steam Car website. Check it out -- it's got some interesting stuff. Make sure you look at the section on Safety Systems.

What's That He's Drawing?

More cool stuff from London: while wandering around London, my parents took a wrong turn and crossed the Thames using the wrong bridge. When they were trying to reorient themselves, they walked past the OXO building, and in one of the windows saw an exhibit of wonderful mechanical creations being shown by the Mechanical Cabaret Theatre.
Fantastic mechanical art by the Mechanical Cabaret Theatre
Probably not surprising, but the image on the left is my favorite. My parents tell me that the inscription below Anubis says something along the lines of, "Embalmer of the gods, Anubis looks for ways to increase his efficiency and utilize leftovers". When you turn the crank, he draws a sausage.

Some of the Theatre's works are being shown at the American Visionary Art Museum, to which I'll be going whenever I can get a chance to get out of Norfolk and up to Baltimore, because the website is pretty neat.

AVAM Kinetic Sculpture RaceI'm particular intrigued & amused by the Museum's upcoming Kinetic Sculpture Race:

From the American Visionary Art Museum - A race of wacky, imaginative, TOTALLY HUMAN POWERED WORKS OF ART DESIGNED TO TRAVEL ON LAND, THROUGH MUD, AND OVER DEEP HARBOR WATERS constructed out of used bicycles, gears, and parts, created by a lunatic genius who tinkers around in the garage or backyard (Do you know this person?) The machines can be simple, small crafts, piloted by only one brave soul, or they can be over 50 feet long, extremely well-engineered, sophisticated vehicles powered by a team of pilots.
Now that is cool -- half art, half Junkyard Wars!

It's an Even Swap

My parents just got back from a trip to London. The McFaul might be going there, or to that area, soon, so I can't wait to go check some of the things out they've told me about (or, failing that, to simply get lost in the British Museum). They visited the Bodleian Library and brought me back a really neat little book: "Instructions for American Servicemen in Britain 1942", which you can buy from the University of Chicago Press online. The book is full of cool advice such as:
The British don't know how to make a good cup of coffee. You don't know how to make a good cup of tea. It's an even swap.
I've never had British coffee before, so I don't know whether this is actually true. Hopefully I find out soon (and I like tea, so my bases are covered). My favorite quote from the book, though, is:
BRITISH WOMEN AT WAR. A British woman officer or non-commissioned officer can--and often does--give orders to a man private. The men obey smartly and know it is no shame. For British women have proven themselves in this way. They have stuck to their posts near burning ammunition dumps, delivered messages afoot after their motorcycles have been blasted from under them. They have pulled aviators from burning planes. They have died at the gun posts and as they fell another girl has stepped directly into the position and "carried on." There is not a single record in this war of any British woman in uniformed service quitting her post or failing in her duty under fire.
   Now you understand why British soldiers respect the women in uniform. They have won the right to the utmost respect. When you see a girl in khaki or air-force blue with a bit of ribbon on her tunic, remember she didn't get it for knitting more socks than anyone else in Ipswich.

Strong Arms

Usually, officers eat in the wardroom. But since we are in Christmas/New Years Standdown, much of the ship (including the cooks and cranks -- that is, "food service attendants") is on leave. So today the officers ate down on the mess decks with the rest of us enlisted folks. We were talking about the Asian tsunami disaster and one of them mentioned that a Sports Illustrated model survived after being hit by monster waves. I found an article about it:
[Petra] Nemcova told the New York Daily News that she survived the tsunami, which has killed at least 33,000 people, by clinging to a palm tree for eight hours, despite a broken pelvis and internal injuries.
Wow! Strong arms. That's just amazing.

The Navy Helps

According to the Navy News Web Site, Patrol Quadron Eight (VP-8) have deployed surveillance planes to Thailand to help with disaster relief. There's also a short article on the US Pacific Command website about a new Joint Task Force (JTF-536) that has just been formed to help provide relief.

The USS Abraham Lincoln, an aircraft carrier, is over there. From a press release on her site:

The Lincoln CSG ["Carrier Strike Group"] brings personnel and equipment to lend help and support in needed areas such as search and rescue operations, delivery of food, water and medicine to stabilize life-threatening situations, provide limited transportation of displaced persons to designated areas from areas inaccessible to host nation transportation assets, and engineer support for sanitation and mobility to affected areas.
The USS Bonhomme Richard is also over there now -- I checked out her web site and it doesn't mention anything about disaster relief yet, but it'd be a good bet to keep one's eye on that site for more first-person Navy relief news.