Monday, December 31, 2007


Last year, I worked on a detail design project, leading a team that put together a package for the Marine Sealift Command. They had just started testing the first ship of the T-AKE 1 Class, the USS LEWIS AND CLARK. Based on their shakedown experience, they asked for some modifications to the cargo spaces, the galley and messrooms, and the forward mast.

I did not do most of the work; it was done by our experts in arrangements, electrical engineering, structures, etc. However, I managed the overall project, and created the concept designs for the modifications. I may not have created the detail drawings, but I decided what would go where, with some guidance from my boss, and input from the customer.

The shipyard implemented the changes at the ship's Post Shakedown Availability (PSA). I haven't seen the ship since we did a ship check at the beginning of the project. On the left is an image of the forward mast as it was when the ship was built.

Today, I received an invitation to attend the commissioning ceremonies for the 5th vessel of the class. I've been getting invites for each ship, since I was involved with the detail design reviews about 4 years ago. The invite prompted me to see if they had implemented the modifications we designed.

On the right is the mast of the first ship as it is today. Note the addition of the radar up high, and a new middle platform where the existing horn has been shifted, and joined with a second horn. It may not look like much, but it is exciting for me. I designed that! It's the first time in the 5+ years I've been working that I've seen something I designed actually take shape in steel. I've spent most of my time doing analyses and design reviews, rather than actual design work. So this is quite a thrill.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Bloody Business

I went to see Sweeney Todd the other night with Chris, Ryan and Bethany. Bluntly, I would not give a unreserved recommendation.

I thought it was great, and is exceptional technically. Many of the performances are excellent, and the story is gripping and well told. Easily one of, if not the best movie Tim Burton has ever made.

But I hesitate to recommend it to everyone, because it is so dark, so gory, so cynical about human nature. I know not everyone cares for the kind of black humor that this movie is full of. It is a tragedy in the classic sense.

However, if you aren't put off by a little (or a lot) of blood, and enjoy cinematic tension, dramatic irony, and morality delivered via catharsis, then I do urge you to go see Sweeney Todd.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Dan vs. United Airlines

I had a plan.

I would leave work a little early, and head straight to Dulles. I'd be there with plenty of margin for the holiday rush, so I'd be at my gate in time. I even printed my ticket out ahead of time, which I usually don't. And it all worked. I was sitting at my gate an hour before takeoff, more than a half hour before boarding.

I watched many, many people come up to the counter, upset that they were on standby since they did not confirm their ticket and seat ahead of time. I was very glad I had altered my routine and done so.

Boarding time approaches. And passes. Takeoff time comes and goes. The monitor at the gate switches to "Departing: 5:30," and an announcement is made, telling us our flight is delayed due to mechanical problems. So 5:30 arrives, without any change. At 6:00, we are told our flight is canceled, and we can go to the United help desk at the other end of the terminal.

Rumors start as we stand in the 2 hour line. There are no open seats for Burlington or Manchester until Sunday. The hotel vouchers are worthless, since all the rooms are booked. We'll be here until Christmas.

At 8:00, I finally get to talk the the most competent of the four agents.

"Can you get me to Burlington tonight?"
"No, but we can put you on stand..."
"No. Can you get me to Portland tonight."

So they put me on a flight to Maine that leaves in about 2 hours. I call Vermont, and tell my friends I won't be able to see them like we planned. After a fashion, I make it over to my new departure terminal, and finally get some dinner, and then camp out at the gate.

Boarding at 9:35. Nope. Departing at 9:55. Nope.

Announcement: "The plane is ready, we're just waiting on the crew. They are scheduled to arrive from Chicago at 10:24. Your flight should depart at about 10:40."


The crew arrives, eventually, and does their pre-flight check, which takes longer than expected. Finally, a clearly exasperated gate agent pipes "Flight to Portland, now boarding all passengers." We rush out and across the tarmac to our cozy little jet. We slip into the night sky at about 11:15. I suppose I was lucky - I only had to wait around the terminal for 6 1/2 extra hours. I am very disappointed I didn't make it home to Vermont, though. This will be the first time I've ever gone a whole year without at least setting foot in Vermont. I especially miss seeing my friends who live there, or were home for the holidays.

I did learn a valuable lesson - go ahead and to the online check-in for flights, you can avoid getting screwed, especially on heavy-travel days. It won't do any good if the flight is canceled, though. Also, don't give the gate agents grief - they can't do much of anything, so you might as well be yelling at a stone. It runs off them like water off a duck's back.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

How I Learned to Enjoy the Writer's Strike

I enjoy TV. I use my TiFaux liberally, and then watch (and rewatch) on my unnecessarily large high definition big screen. I am not above channel surfing, just coasting up and down the digital dial even when I am near certain there is nothing worth watching all the way through.

I recognize this as a failing of mine. I could spend the time better reading, taking up a useful hobby, something. But recognizing a problem does not correct it. I'm not looking to give up the tube; but merely focusing. With the DVR, I can watch only quality programming, and even skip commercials. All Killer, No Filler.

And now, unexpected help in continuing Dan's Personal Improvement Program. The Writer's Strike! Now, there's even less worthwhile shows on. Combined with the all-out assault on good taste that is Holiday Programming (seriously, Christmas Shoes?), and there is no time like the present to learn how to scale back and realign your time.

So, I've found a great book (Legacy of Ashes - it won the Pulitzer for a reason), and I'm excited to come home from work each night and dive right back into it. And while I look forward to the return of the well-crafted TV programs I enjoy (shouts-out to Battlestar Galactica, 30 Rock, and Pushing Daisies, yo), I look forward even more to a continued sense of application and time well spent.


I'm a big fan of many of the free services Google offers online. The two I use the most are probably GMail and Google Reader. I route all of my mail, except for my work account, through GMail. It is just so convenient and functional; it even has one of the best spam filters I've ever used.

But while GMail (and the time burglar that is GChat) are extremely helpful, I love Reader. My chief pleasure is learning new things, and Reader is a great way to tap into and aggregate information from as many sources as you like. I use it to keep up with baseball news, astronomy articles, world events, movie and television reviews; I even get updates from a biophysics site (Biocurious - check it out).

I often use the email function in Reader to let my friends know about articles or entries they might find interesting. However, it now has a nifty function that allows you to tag those entries you want to share, and collect them on a unique shared items site. I've had trouble using the embedding function, but I've placed a link over on the right as well, if you want to have a look.

This is all fine and good, but I hope anyone else out there who uses Reader will start sharing as well, so I can latch on and learn about the interesting things my friends and family are reading.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

A Touch of Class

Last night was the company's Washington Area Holiday Party. In the 5+ years I've been working, I had never been any of the various extracurricular events. But this year my friends talked me into going. And I'm glad they did.

It was held out in Tyson's Corner, at one of the hotels that has a nice ballroom. There was nothing particularly unusual: open bar and hors d'oeuvres before dinner, plenty of mingling and the like. A pretty decent dinner (steak, sweet potatoes, etc), door prizes, a band all the way from Syracuse (ooooh, love that Syracuse Sound!). But the most enjoyable aspect was enjoying myself with my friends. And I actually got to wear my tuxedo - hard to find opportunities to wear that without looking crazy. One does not bother with a self-tied bow tie when going for groceries.

I spent most of the evening with Sarah & Paul and Jason & Dawn. I had only met Dawn a few times before. But she is a blast. Not to be too pointed, but she is especially fun once she's been drinking. After they shut down the bars, she and Sarah made it their personal crusade to somehow finagle more drinks from the bartenders. Needless to say, they were both very successful.

Thinking back, though, I wish I had taken advantage of the cheap room rate to stay there for the night. It was freezing rain all the way home, and I was dead-dog tired. I had myself a little navigational adventure coming through Seven Corners. I'll have to remember that next year.

It is worth mentioning that I never need to see any of the company middle-management types on stage, drunkenly dancing with the band, wearing what can only be described as a disco-ball helmet. Never again.

Thursday, December 06, 2007


I've explained my love of libraries before, but truth be told I may like bookstores even more. I can't explain it any more than to say that while a library is fairly static, a bookstore is dynamic. Books flow through a bookstore, while they are archived in a library. I'm fond of both, but since I want to possess the books for myself, a bookshop might have a slight edge for me.

Having said that, there are good bookstores and bad. Having worked at a Barnes & Noble, I can tell you that many of them are not what I would call good bookstores. Books-a-Million is an awful, awful place. But some Borders are pretty good.

Independents are a gamble. It's where you will find the best bookstores, and the worst. The bad would be places like the used bookstore off of the main drag in Blacksburg, which had little beyond water-stained pulp novels. The good are places like Northshire Books, the local Olsson's chain around DC, and once upon a time, the bookstore my mom helped found, Deerleap Books.

The heart of a good bookstore is the selection. It doesn't have to be broad - you don't always want a warehouse. Just books chosen carefully, recommendations from an intelligent and well-read staff. Of course, it doesn't hurt if you have a nice place to put it all.

Few bookstores approach the aesthetic beauty of the great libraries like the British or the Library of Congress. But to finally come to a point, I just read about one that does. It is in Maastricht, the Netherlands, and is housed in converted church.

(It won an interior design award. To see more photos and information, read here and here)

It doesn't look cozy, but I think it would be a marvelous place to spend a few hours and pick up a few volumes. But only real classics of capital "L" Literature or great works of non-fiction. Buying the latest Oprah book here would seem wrong, somehow.