Wednesday, June 28, 2006


Very old destroyers, and the gantry crane of the Aker Philadelphia Yard (nee Kvaerner Philadelphia, nee Philadelphia Naval Shipyard)

The relatively new CG 47 Ticonderoga, alongside the Spruance-class Conolly. I toured Conolly once as a kid, in Norfolk

Old and rusted

Moored up ships, with the Naval Business center beyond


Cool lift bridge at the entrance to the mothball mooring Posted by Picasa

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Sunday, June 25, 2006

Big Damn Weekend

A very busy few days. On Thursday, there was the SNAME Navy Museum tour. Friday night, Steph & Aaron hosted a kick-ass barbeque. Lots of good food and folks. Though, to hear Steph & Aaron tell it, we just missed out on having a "14 foot pork core." Too bad.

Saturday was mostly spent on a wine tasting tour planned out by Dave and Sadie. This was preceded by a very tasty brunch, including some kind of heatbar crunch candy coffee cake that Jill & Will brought. I'm still not much of a wine guy, but it was very fun to spend a day out in the country with my friends.

On the way home, there was a lot of traffic on I-66. And above, you'll see why. A truck freaking exploded on the westbound lanes. Well, it was on fire. The fuel had clearly lit off, because it was engulfed in flames. The gas was burning up through the exhaust stack, shooting fire like a flamethrower. I hope no one was hurt, but it was something else.

Well, after I made it through the ensuing mess, and went to visit Steve at his new place in Springfield. Very nice. I missed Jeanne, but I did get to hang out with Tyler. Friendly little bugger. And Steve grilled me up an outstanding steak. Kudos to the grillmaster.

And today, it was up to Philly for work. I hate driving on I-95. Anybody got a better way to get back to DC? 'Cause it took me 4 hours to go 140 miles.

Lastly, big congratulations to Steph for her performance at the Mountaineer Triathlon in Morgantown. She was 49th Overall, the 8th woman, and the 2nd woman in her age group, at 2:58:46.89. And this is only a tune-up for her Iron Man in Wisconsin.

Thursday, June 22, 2006


I had a real treat this evening. The locale SNAME section had it's last technical session of the year, a visit to the US Navy Museum at the Washington Navy Yard, followed by light dinner and a recap of the season's technical presentations.

The museum is not open to the general public, since it is on a secure military base. But it's not like it's Area 51 - we have meetings there regularly, and so we had no trouble setting up a visit to the museum. We only had an hour to wander around, but it was great for a naval buff like myself.

Titanium pressure sphere, identical to the one installed on DSV-2 Alvin


A step back from the sphere, better showing the three small portholes and the hatch

Out in front of the museum, they have a pressure sphere identical to the one used to make the first dives to the wreck of the Titanic. It is so perfectly smooth, and almost featureless; from certain angles, it looks like a piece of abstract art. Knowing the technical specs makes it even more impressive: 1.93 inches of titanium, weighing 7500 pounds and capable of diving to 12000 feet. It replaced a steel sphere of the same size that was 1.33 inches thick, but weighed 1000 pounds more, and could only go to 6000 feet.

A model of the USS Olympia, Admiral Dewey's flagship at the Battle of Manilla. The real ship is currently displayed in Philadelphia

Interior of the US Navy Museum in the Washington Navy Yard

Model of the battleship USS Vermont

Information plate for the Vermont model

Conning tower, entry passage, and pressure sphere of the bathyscaphe Trieste

Note the propulsion pod near the bow, and the forward iron shot container

Trieste's stern, including the after shot hopper, the rudder with sacrificial manganese strips, and the after propulsion pod

Another view of her underside

Detail on the bow

Detail of the single porthole. Five inches of german steel, and a reinforced plexiglass cone, and you can go to the very bottom of the sea

Trieste's original pressure sphere

The real highlight of the evening was getting to see the bathyscaphe Trieste. I geeked out a little, and started to lecture at some length to the other engineers about the vessel. Two of the museum curators came by to shoo us out since they were closing up, and they said they would hire me as a guide for the tourists, I knew so much about her. She was built in the 1950's by Swiss physicist Auguste Piccard and his son, Jacques. She's like a balloon that goes underwater; Piccard had actually become famous studying cosmic rays by ascending in high-altitude balloons, which inspired the bathyscaphe design.

Eventually, with upgrades and support from the US Navy, the Trieste descended to the absolute bottom of the ocean, the Challenger Deep of the Marianas Trench. Seven miles down. When I was in fourth grade, my friend Peter bought a copy of a book with that title, Seven Miles Down, from the middle school library book sale, and gave it to me. It cost a nickel. That book changed my life. That awakened love of exploration, and science, and the sea, that has shaped my life ever since. Because of that book I became a sailor, joined the Coast Guard, and became a naval architect. I still have it - I keep it on my bedside table.

So, getting the chance to see the boat I dreamed of as a kid was a great thrill.

Recreation of the gun deck on Constitution Posted by Picasa

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I made a mistake this weekend, but I didn't find out until Tuesday night. On Sunday, I was reading the internets, and saw that John McPhee has a new book, Uncommon Carriers. I own a copy of every one of McPhee's books, so I immediately called the Alexandria Olsson's (support independent booksellers!) and reserved a copy. I had it in my hands 30 minutes later, and started reading as soon as I got home.

A quick side note: I think everyone should read John McPhee. At least one of his many books should be interesting to you; he's covered so many subjects. Geology, the U.S. Merchant Marine, Bill Bradley, russian art, Ecology and conservation, shad fishing, man's attempts to reshape nature, oranges, and many more. And he is an extraordinary writer. Have a look the next time you're at your local public library.

So, I have the book and am very happy. Then, on Tuesday night, Mom calls and asks:

Mom: Have you bought any books lately?
Dan: Yeeeeeees.
Mom: What books did you buy?
Dan: (excitedly) There's a new John McPhee book, so I got that.
Mom: (expletive deleted)

Turns out Mom had heard about the book, and ordered it from Amazon. Unfortunately, it didn't get there in time to beat me to the punch. It would have been a fantastic surprise, if I hadn't ruined it by being such a book junkie. I was jonezing, and needed my fix.

In brighter news, I heard from my old friend Steve, who is now living just south of the Beltway in Springfield. Hopefully I'll get to see him this weekend, and we can grill on his new back patio and catch up.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Good Drink, Good Meat, Good God, Let's Eat

Steph, Jane & Ian came over for burgers and beer this evening, my first chance this summer to use my refueled grill. Thanks to Jane there were veggie burgers for Steph, and rest of us enjoyed the ground chuck from the meat tent at the Del Ray Farmer's Market. Since I made corn on the cob, Steph gave me a "housewarming" gift of corn holders - perfect timing, and very thoughtful. It was really nice - I pulled one of my old Academy trunks onto the porch for a table and we ate outside. Perfect weather for it, too: good temperature, not too sunny, a pleasant breeze. Good times.

After dinner, Aaron was able to join us and I brought out the cake I made yesterday. It's a recipe I got from Sarah, who in turn got it from a cookbook called How to Be a Domestic Goddess. I chose not to share that particular fact at dinner, though.

It turned out really well, using the last of last year's strawberry jam for the filling. And it was all from scratch - the cake, the whipped cream, the jam. I'm feeling awfully pleased with myself. I think everyone liked it, and enjoyed coming over. I gave them jars of this year's jam, and that was the conclusion of a really nice, laid-back evening. I don't like a lot of things about summer, what with the heat and sunshine and tourists. But nights like tonight are golden.


Disassembly Posted by Picasa

From How To Be a Domestic Goddess by Nigella Lawson via Sarah Juckett:

Victoria Sponge (Sugar Cookie) Cake

For the Cake:

1 cup unsalted butter, very soft
¾ cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 large eggs
1 1/3 cups self rising cake flour
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon baking powder (only if using processor method)
3 – 4 tablespoons milk
2 8x2 inch cake pans, buttered and lined with parchment or wax paper

For the Filling

2-4 tablespoons raspberry or other jam, depending on berries.
½ pint raspberries or berries of choice
½ cup heavy cream or whipping cream

For the Topping

1 – 2 tablespoons sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

2 Methods to make:

Food Processor method:

Put all ingredients except the milk and process until you’ve got a smooth batter. Then pulse, pouring the milk gradually through the funnel until the cake mixture’s a soft, dropping consistency. If the mix is too runny, no problem, and if your ingredients are too cold, you may end up with a batter that looks curdled, but it doesn’t really matter, it just may not rise as much.

Traditional method:

Cream the butter and sugar, add the vanilla and then the eggs, one at a time, adding a spoonful of flour between each. Fold in the rest of the flour and cornstarch, adding NO baking powder, and when all’s incorporated, add a little milk as you need.

Pour and scrape the batter into the pans and bake for about 25 minutes, until the cakes are beginning to come away at the edges, are springy to the touch on top and a cake tester comes out clean. Leave the cakes in their pans on a wire rack for 10 minutes before turning out and leaving to cool completely.

When you are ready to eat the cake, put one layer on a plate, right way up, spread with jam and scatter the fruit on top. Whip the cream till it’s thickened but still soft and spread over the jammy fruit. Sit the other cake on top, and sprinkle over a tablespoon or so of sugar.

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Saturday, June 10, 2006

Canned Fruits of Our Labors

Four batches of fresh strawberry jam Posted by Picasa

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I drove out to Larriland Farm in rural Maryland to pick strawberries for jam this morning. Nessa found this place 3 years ago, and we went again last year. Today I got a tray full of good fruit - it is the peak of the season right now. I could have also picked my own spinach, but... forgot.

Live the Migrant Field Worker Experience!

It was a very nice day to be out of the city. Cool breezes, not too much sun, pleasant weather all around. Any farm country reminds me of home, but this part of Maryland disorients me a little. If I see fields, and barns, and herds of cattle, I expect to see mountains close by as well. At home in the Champlain Valley, you're either heading straight for the Green Mountains, the Adirondacks, or they're on either side. But there are always mountains visible from the farms. Not so in rural Montgomery County, and I find it weird.

Lovely farm country

It was lunch time after I picked the berries, so I stopped in a very small town called Etchison. It was little more than an intersection, and consisted of a few houses, a motorcycle shop, and a country store that sold cheap fountain drinks and a pretty good pulled pork sandwich. I ate out on the porch, and watched tractors drive by.

Downtown Etchison, Maryland Posted by Picasa

Once I got home, I found out I don't have any mason jars left for canning jam. So began my big adventure for the day.

I left my place in Del Ray, and drove to the same Giant supermarket (1) where I bought jars the last two years. No dice. So I went to another Giant (2), thinking maybe the first was just out of stock. Strike. Maybe a more upscale joint will have something - I'll try Balducci's (3). Plenty of wine, fish, and cheese, but no mason jars. Ah, maybe a store for chefs will have the supplies I need - on to Williams Sonoma (4)! Apparently, canning is for the hoi polloi. Luckily, one of the other customers there overheard my questions and said "Safeway and Food Shopper's Warehouse has them." Okay, let's go to the Food Jobber or whatever (5). Huge place, row after row, piled high to the warehouse ceilings with not-mason jar products. Okay, let's try Safeway (6). Another Giant (7)? Another Safeway (8)? Damn damn damn you all to hell. You have pushed me to a state of desperation that drives me to a place I would normally never go - The Mart. Luckily, among their flame-retardant pajamas and half-price lawn mowers, Wal-Mart does have mason jars, and pectin to boot. That's just over 26 miles of driving, plus the return. Observant readers will note that the path above crosses and runs over the same roads and routes multiple times in a few places. There is an excellent reason for this: I'm not terribly bright.

Now I'm going to go mash the hell out of those berries.

Schooner or Later

I had a full, productive day yesterday. I spent most of 1/2 day Friday at the DC office, getting some information for a project. After stopping by King Street, I went to the DMV to get tags for Pegasus's trailer. Unfortunately, I can't re-title and re-register her under my name unless I can track down more documentation. Tyson's folks gave me everything they could find, so I'm not sure what my next move will be. I may have to go to the original seller of the trailer, and get new copies of the Certificate of Sale, or something.

After that, I got my phone upgraded - I needed more memory, since some of my new duties at work mean having many more phone numbers on hand. The new phone also has a camera, which is a lucky thing. I don't normally take my digital camera along on my bike rides, but I do take my phone. And it paid off yesterday, since moored at the dock just north of the Torpedo Factory was a tall ship. And I always stop to look at tall ships.

The schooner Sultana

She's a school ship, mostly sailing the Chesapeake with students to do history and science education. Since she's only rated for coastal cruising, there are no internal bulkheads as there would be on most modern ships. And they've clearly made a lot of effort to conceal the modern equipment they are required to carry, so she's one of the most accurate reproductions I've ever seen.

A good shot of the square topsails she carries on her fore and mainmast

Her rig is a little unusual, of a type I've never seen before. Like a normal schooner, she carries fore-and-aft sails on both masts. Like a topsail schooner, she has a square topsail on her foremast. But she also has a square topsail on her mainmast. So she's almost a schooner, a brig, or a brigantine. A very odd sail plan - I wish I had a chance to talk to her skipper about it, but he and the crew were just heading out for dinner.

Here you can see her fore and mainsails, both gaff-rigged

Her figurehead, named "Eileen"

The mix of square and gaff-rigged sails results in a lot of lines and spars

Shot along the bowsprit of a plane landing at National, and the oncoming storm Posted by Picasa

I would have tarried longer and taken more pictures with my handy new toy. But as you can see in the last shot, there were some very dark clouds approaching from the north. It had rained just before I left on my ride down to Mount Vernon, but had been sunny and pleasant for about 2 hours. Just a few minutes after I got home, though, the sky opened up. And not only rain. I noticed it seemed noisier than most rain showers, and investigated. The noise was from the metal shades over most of my windows, ringing from the fairly sizable hail coming down. So my timing was exceptionally good yesterday.

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Sunday, June 04, 2006 sail beyond the baths of all the western stars

This afternoon I rigged Pegasus up for the first time. Tyson's folks were able to provide the plans, which unfortunately were missing one page - the rigging plan. No trouble to figure out, though - halyard, halyard, outhaul, sheet. Done. All the parts are in place, and I plan on taking her out on the water very soon.

I also had a very enjoyable brunch at Fireflies with Steph and Aaron this morning. I am very full of biscuits and gravy. I did geek out a little over comic books with Aaron, but I managed to rein myself in before I got into an argument over who would win in a fight, Spider-man or Boba Fett.

(Spider-man. Duh.)

Rigged, for the first time in 3 years

She catches a little bit of breeze

The cockpit needs a little work here and there, but it's cosmetic

She's a good looking boat; next weekend on the water, if the weather cooperates Posted by Picasa

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Thursday, June 01, 2006

Aloha, Welcome to Del Ray

Tonight was the 2nd of the monthly "First Thursday" events in Del Ray. Each month on the first thursday, businesses along Mount Vernon Avenue stay open late, musicians and other performers appear, and various booths and stands are set up for food, charities, etc. It's very much like band concert nights on the green back in Bristol. Each month has a different theme; tonight it was "Luau on the Avenue." I threw on my one hawaiian shirt and headed over.

Nothing says "Luau" like a 3 piece jazz combo

Dancers from an "Hawaiian cultural school" in Arlington

The picture of the hawaiian dancers does not do them justice. The music is quite lively, and the motion is incredibly fluid. Plus, the three dancers here wore huge grins the entire time (except when I took photos, apparently). They were quite gifted, and I'm sorry but I didn't catch the name of the institution they hail from.

Rockin' the $10 "Kids Kuts"

Many businesses offer various free or discounted goods and services on First Thursdays. They include haircuts, balloons, bubbles, massages, chiropractic adjustments, and cheese.

A trolley is borrowed from Old Town to run up and down the Avenue for First Thursdays

The crew from the Potomac Fire Station shows off their hardware

The original lineup of Carbon Copy, shredding a cover of "All Along the Watchtower"

The main entertainment was a local band called Carbon Copy. Apparently they were founded as a Dave Matthews Band cover group, and they certainly had that sound. However, the original lead singer left for college, and it sounds like the band has become more funk-influenced. The new lead singer has a voice reminiscent of Stevie Wonder or Jamiroquai's Jay Kay. They were actually pretty good, though it seems like their set list is a little short, now that they are performing their own material. They did do one cover while I was there, but I think that was because the original lead singer was sitting in.


Even the sheriff's deputies got into the island spirit of the evening

The addition that I've previously featured "in progress" Posted by Picasa