Monday, April 28, 2008

Trust in the Swedes

Once again, Ryan and Bethany have made an outstanding video. This one has some technical and editing flourishes which I haven't seen them do before - they are getting better and better. Go check it out, vote for it or something, maybe they'll win some furniture for their new home.

Down with the Sickness

The timing was nothing short of impeccable. It seems like the very moment I got home on Friday, I got sick. My throat swelled, became scratchy and raw. My joints ached, my muscles became sore. I was exhausted, and it happened so suddenly, like someone flipped a switch. And, lucky me, it lasted all weekend so I wasn't able to do anything worthwhile. I suspect I will still be subpar Monday morning, but not enough so taking time off makes sense. Such a ripoff.

So I spent the weekend watching movies and playing video games. Sunday was fairly cruddy out, so I don't particularly mind. But Saturday was beautiful - maybe enough wind for sailing, certainly nice enough for a long ride out the W&OD trail. Maybe next weekend.

In a small bit of interesting news, in Alabama one of the ships we've been doing work for, the USS Independence, was unveiled at Austal Shipyard. There are some quick shots of it in the video below.

(via WKRG)

Friday, April 25, 2008

Faster. Better. Cheaper. Choose Two.

There is an excellent article this morning in the NY Times about the troubles on the LCS program. I've been working on and off with the LCS program since I was an intern at NAVSEA in 2001. Back then it was still called Streetfighter. Then it was the Small Fast Surface Combatant, followed by the Focused Mission Ship, until it finally became the Littoral Combat Ship.

Most of the industry has been involved with the program at one point or another. There were many teams competing with original design proposals a few years back. Now, the two winning teams are extremely busy, and many others (such as my company) are working on the government side consulting and reviewing. It is a huge effort, and is almost universally decried as a mess.

The two designs are fairly solid; the trouble has been the execution. This article does a good job of explaining how it has happened, and why. It's not $500 wrenches that make the defense budget so high - it's half a billion dollar frigates that are the problem.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Toe-to-Toe with the Russkies

Pretty amazing footage of a Georgian UAV being shot down by a Mig-29, taken from the UAV.

Very sinister, the way the Fulcrum just smoothly slides into the frame before firing.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Bruised, Sprained, and Happy

Yesterday started out so hot and still - even a little muggy. I hate that kind of weather, and it is all too common here. However, I knew a front was headed our way - big storms predicted for today. Fronts mean changing conditions. And changing conditions mean wind.

I had all my sailing gear gathered up and ready, and right after lunch I saw the tops of the taller trees across the street begin to sway. I loaded Betty onto the roof rack and drove over to Gravelly Point. As usual on nice days, the park was packed. I was lucky to get a space right next to the grass - it makes it easier to offload the boat and set her up. I was on the water in no time flat.

For the upper Potomac, it was about as perfect as it ever gets. Warm, in the low 80s. Partly cloudy or hazy, so it is sunny but without too much glare. And good, steady breeze out of the south - 10-15 knots, and none of the usual flukiness. It made for fantastic sailing. You could make good progress to windward since the current was with you. If you wanted to just bury a rail (or your leeward ama in my case), you could set up speed runs on the broad reach, criss-crossing the river.

Starting at the point, I worked my way downriver about as far as the end of the Naval Research Labs, near the plants at Blue Haven. As the crow flies that only works out to about two and a half miles, but it is the farthest south I've gotten sailing out of Gravelly Point. If I hadn't gotten hungry, I could have made it to Old Town, easily.

Betty performed beautifully downwind. I set the sheet in the cam lock, and didn't even have to touch the rudder. We eased straight back towards Fort McNair until we hit the lay line for a screaming broad reach back to the dock. It was a great day of sailing - perfect conditions, not too crowded in the river, and it stayed that way for as long as you cared to enjoy it.

Back on land, things got a bit trickier. Loading up the vaka (center hull), I set the stern up on the roof rack, and began to lift the bow. But something slipped, and the whole thing started to fall. I caught it, awkwardly, by twisting my left hand around some, and pinning most of the weight against my hip, braced against one of the akas (cross bars). I had to hold it like that while I figured out a way to reset myself to lift the bow without any more slippage. I managed it, but it feels like I sprained my left wrist, and there is a nasty-looking bruise on my hip. Pretty minor though, and a small price to pay for such a great day.

Friday, April 18, 2008

The Wages of Sin

Yesterday was absolutely gorgeous outside - put forth as a potential Nicest Day of the Year by the folks at CapitalWeather. The day before was nice as well, and I had ridden the Arlington Triangle after work. I decided to do a longer ride, since I had nothing else set up that night and the weather was perfect for it.

It was great, but I am working with the burden of a slothful winter. In past seasons, the Mount Vernon trail was my standard after work ride. Yesterday it was... a bit more challenging than before. Not huffing and puffing, or stopping to rest, but certainly I was more keenly aware of the effort. I wish I had followed the example of my friend Matt and Kate, and kept up a better regimen in the colder months.

Even so, I've missed my long rides. More than just exercise and fresh air, the steady rhythm of pedaling for an hour or two away from home or work helps me clear my mind. And days like yesterday, where I can do that without blistering heat, smothering humidity, stinging cold, or biting wind, are the best.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

D is for DONE

Many months of study and preparation came to a head yesterday, as I took the Principles and Practices of Professional Engineering (PE) Exam. We were so anxious, Jane and I drove out to the site the night before, to make sure we knew how to get there, and how long it would take. We had maps, we had a GPS unit. There was a plan for messages and phone calls to guarantee we were both up and ready on-time. Each of us brought a ridiculous number of references. I had an entire rolling suitcase full of textbooks. We had this thing wired.

The test itself was challenging in a number of ways. Even though I reviewed all the study modules, there were some questions I was completely clueless about. Time was a factor - in order to complete the 80 questions in time, you have to average 6 minutes per question. It sounds like plenty of time, until you are staring at the test booklet, dumbfounded. Plenty of pressure to rush, and so many different topics - electrical motors, harmonic vibrations, ship resistance and propulsion, beam strength and deflection, and on and on. Lastly, the scale of the thing is daunting. While we got an hour off for lunch, we sat down for the exam a little after 7 AM, and we were dismissed a few minutes before 6 PM. It is a long, long day.

The length of the day was compounded by the site they held the exam. It was in a Shriner hall, which holds plenty of people, but has horrible exit design from the parking lot. The lot fed out onto a short frontage road, which had only one outlet onto a side street which in turn fed into Route 50 about 20 feet away. That intersection was governed by a streetlight with a very short green and a long red. We spent more time bumper-to-bumper on the frontage road with the other 200-odd examiness than we on the whole rest of the drive home. That didn't help anyone's mood. Luckily, we went directly to the Dogfish Head Brewery to meet Zina, Sarah & Paul, and some of their friends for dinner. That made up for a lot the trials of the day.

While I admit the test was difficult, I feel confident about my work. Perhaps it is overconfidence, but I think I passed. Historically, the Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering test has one of the highest pass rates. Unfortunately, results are going to be sent "within twelve weeks." So it could be until July before I find out one way or the other. At least I don't have to study every night anymore.

Home Loans

Help Ryan and Bethany pay the mortgage on their new house: go here and vote for their entry in the latest of many video contests. If they win, money and fame await. Or at least some free dental care products.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Chop Chop Chop

I caught a quick case of the stupids yesterday.

We went out to lunch, and ended up driving past my house. I was embarrassed by how bad it looked - I hadn't mowed the lawn or trimmed along the fences since last year. So I resolved to take care of it as soon as I got home.

Things were going swimmingly - the electric mower was making short work of the long grass. Then, as I came to the last corner of the yard, I had to back up - not enough room to turn. As I pulled back, I can clearly remember: "I should be careful not to back over the cord, 'cause that would be stu... "

I was shocked how easily the blade sliced through the cord. I am not surprised that the blade was able to cut it, but the mower didn't even stutter. Like a hot knife through butter. So I have two very nice plugs, and about 48' worth of perfectly good extension cord. Just that last two feet...

Luckily, one of my favorite shops in Del Ray was open, the Hardware Store at Mt. Vernon and Custis. While I was there, I picked up the new weed whacker I've needed since last year. So now the lawn is no longer embarrassingly overgrown. And I must have picked the right day to be out doing yard work, because after two years of living there, I had my first conversations ever with not one but two of my neighbors. I guess I finally stopped putting out creepy vibes.

Friday, April 04, 2008

There Will Be Blood

Yesterday was an excellent day for sports. Well, for my teams, anyway.

For the Reds, rookie pitcher Johnny Cueto had an outstanding first start, hurling seven innings of one-hit ball. I didn't get to watch the game, since it was a Thursday businessman's special, but I did catch it over the fantastic Gameday service. I'm amazed how much that tool has improved over the past few years. It now includes data on every pitch's release speed, speed at the plate, break, drop, and position over the plate. The next frontier is data on the trajectory of batted balls, I'd wager.

After work, I joined Sarah & Paul and Zina & John at the Capitals-Lightning game. Washington pretty much had to win in order to stay in playoff contention. And despite the disparity in the two teams' records, it was a close thing for the first two periods. But things got awesome in the third. The Caps scored three goals, some brutal hits(Blood on the ice? Check), and a decent fight with about 20 seconds to go (if you are in to that).

We went to the game because of Zina, who got us a nice deal that also helped out Margie Shapiro's Team Spirit. She is trying to make the Olympic triathlon team, and Zina vouched for her. She sounds like a class act. And those tickets were 1) cheaper and 2) included a visit to the Dewars Lounge for free drinks and food. Paul estimated that at Verizon Center prices, the food we ate was worth more than the price we paid for the seats. If we didn't come out ahead, we may have broken even.

So it was a really fun outing, and capped a really nice day. In all, though, my favorite moment may have been during the first intermission peewee hockey scrimmage, when one kid (probably about 8 years old) got out on a breakaway and scored.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Treasure Island

Some shots of the San Francisco skyline from Treasure Island.

The island is a former Navy base, and is almost entirely empty. It seems like the land, with it's views of the Bay and the city, only a few minutes drive across the bridge to downtown, would be worth millions if not billions of dollars. Some people do apparently live there, in the Navy housing converted into apartments, and there is some Coast Guard housing on Yerba Buena Island just south of it, connected by a causeway. There are also some larger buildings, but I'm not sure what they are used for - they look like they may have once been hangars.

Most of the buildings, though, appear abandoned. Some roofs have collapsed, the Nimitz Conference Center has numerous smashed windows. For all that, it still seems to have tremendous potential. Perhaps along the line of other base redevelopments. The one that immediately springs to mind is Governor's Island off of Manhattan.

Supposedly it will soon be turned into a "self-sufficient city," but what I've read it sounds like many other ambitious developments that never see fruition. I think I might prefer it as it is, or nearly so. Low-density, solid but not upscale, with the only major changes being the addition of basic services (a gas station and a grocery store, for instance) and the repair of the damages. Maybe find more exciting uses for some of the more interesting structures. But it is an interesting oasis next to the very dense, very expensive downtown that sits across the water from it.

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