Thursday, December 25, 2008

JingEling V

Go to the JingEling blog or Ryan's Youtube channel for this year's JingEling videos and outtakes.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Thou shalt take this day and keep it funky

I am getting some mileage out of my tuxedo this month.  First the Coast Guard Ball, and on Saturday the company holiday party.  It is pretty good, as such things go - big hotel ballroom, decent dinner, open bar, ok band, door prizes and such.

But it's the company that makes it or breaks it, and I was particularly lucky in that regard.  And by company, I don't mean my employer; it's the friends who are able to attend and enjoy themselves too.  This year I was able to spend the party with Z & her date, Tracy and some of her friends who I was meeting for the first time, and Jane & Ian.  Jane actually works for one of our sometimes-competitors.  But at the last moment a scheduling SNAFU called away Sarah & Paul.  They were generous enough to give their tickets to Jane.  While their absence was lamented, having Jane & Ian there was a pleasure.

I forgot to take any pictures, and for better or worse there were no particularly memorable moments - just a nice relaxed evening, good conversation, dinner, drinks and dancing.  Not a bad way to wrap up before heading home for the holidays.

Limp and Lifeless

Steph was in town briefly this past week, for some meetings.  We were able to catch up one night, go out for drinks and dinner at Poblano.  It was perfectly lovely, and in the course of the evening I realized I could easily pick her up after he final interview the next day and give her a ride to BWI.

So Friday afternoon, she calls from Tenleytown in DC and says she is ready to go.  I have no trouble at all getting over there, and the pickup goes smoothly.  We drive north, headed for the Beltway.  I knew the Beltway would not be easy at that point, but there's no better way to get from Tenleytown to BWI that I know of.  Google Maps agrees.

Everything is going fine, until we head up the ramp onto I-495.  Then things start happening.  The CHECK GEARBOX and CHECK ENGINE lights come on.  The engine suddenly races, but the transmission stays in first.  Then the car begins to shake and shimmy - it seems like it is trying to shift, but can't.  Seeing as there were not other warnings, so indication of sudden mechanical failure, I'm suspicious.  I think it is some sort of problem with the computer.  And what fixes a computer?  Reboot.

I pull into the breakdown lane and shut the car down.  I wait a few moments, and restart.  No warning lights.  Shifts into first, and then 2nd as I pull back into traffic.  Problem solved, I am brilliant.  For about 20 seconds.  The entire scenario repeats itself.  And again, when I stop and restart a second time.

Now my mind is racing - how do I get Steph to the airport on time?  This is where fortune handed me a mixed bag.  The exit we come to next, where I pull off to get towed is at Silver Spring.  For those not familiar with DC, Silver Spring is one of our edge cities, basically an extra downtown out on the Beltway.  It has a Metro and commuter train station - Steph can get on the train to the BWI station and still make her flight.  However, it is also a busy, built-up area.  Not a lot of good places to pull over and wait for a tow.  Not know what was wrong, I was concerned that driving much farther was going to damage the car - the tachometer was flirting with redline most of the time at this point.

So I pull over as best I can - basically in a bus stop, as luck would have it.  NO PARKING, NO STANDING, NO STOPPING signs abound.  I quickly say goodbye to Steph as she hauls her baggage to the nearby station.  I manage to shoo away the parking enforcement office who appears within seconds of stopping.  And I call AAA to get towed.  As I wait, I reflect on the fact that only worse time and place for a breakdown would be in the middle of nowhere while racing to get someone to the hospital.

The tow was a challenge.  Towing from Silver Spring to Alexandria in rush hour is no mean feat.  But we got to a shop near my house eventually.  The next day they called with their diagnosis.  Apparently my battery dead dead dead.  This was surprising, because I had seen no low voltage or other electrical warnings.  It was bad enough that they could not restart the car, and the battery would not recharge in the slightest.  But apparently the car's computer sensed it early.  And when it did, it implemented a safety feature I was not aware of: Limp Home Mode.  Essentially stay in first, implement a throttle lock, and start shutting down peripheral systems.  It cannot be overridden unless you fix the problem and clear the computer memory.

While I'm glad the car is not "really" broken, it is somehow unsatisfying.  After creating so much trouble, and inconveniencing my friend to such a degree, I want a better reason than "the battery was messed up."  I wouldn't mind any of this, if it had only happened some other time, when I wasn't in the middle of doing something important.  At least it got fixed, and fairly cheaply at that.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Haze Gray

USS Freedom
The first Littoral Combat Ship, the USS Freedom, has been making port calls as she transits from her construction yard in Wisconsin to Norfolk, where she will be doing testing for a few months.  Jane's firm was the lead naval architect for this class, and Jane did quite a lot of work on the design.  Time was set aside during the port call in Annapolis for employees and their guests, and Jane was kind enough to offer me a chance to take a tour.

It is an interesting ship.  Actually, the things I find most interesting about her, the propulsion system, was not on the tour.  But she has enormous gas turbines, along with diesels, all geared into waterjets.  Our guide, one of the lieutenants, quoted a speed of 47 knots.  That's amazing for a ship this size - really any size combatant.  And I'm not aware of any US Navy ships anywhere near this size with waterjet propulsors.

We may not have seen the engine room, but we did see the multi-mission reconfigurable or "recon" spaces.  This is where special modules, basically shipping containers filled with special combat systems, will be loaded so they can quickly equip the vessel to perform different missions.  It is weird to see such large, empty spaces on a combatant ship.  And the spaces have very large hatches, to move the equipment in and out quickly.  The recon spaces have 4 huge hatches - one in the stern, one in the side, one up to the hangar, and one up to the flight deck.  And the three spaces are connected by two more huge watertight hatches between them.  I've never seen so many openings, in such large spaces, on a fighting vessel.

Their were plenty of other whiz-bang details: the bridge is normally manned by 2 or 3 people (vice the 8 you might normally see on a Navy ship), the crew is only 75 people (for a 377 foot ship), she made a turn at 46 knots without spilling the coffee someone set on deck, and so on.  There are still some questions about this ship, how to use it and how effective it will be, but it is very impressive.

Saturday, December 06, 2008


Last year Sarah & Paul went to the Washington Coast Guard Ball and spoke at length about how much they enjoyed themselves.  This year, Paul's brother Phillip who is an officer at headquarters was generous enough to offer me tickets to join their group at the Ball.

And the legwork didn't end there.  Phillip's wife, also Sarah (AKA "Sarah the Great"), tendered the invitation while giving me the number of their son's first grade teacher, and encouraging me to bring her as a date.  And what better first date could there be than a formal military ball, black tie and all?

I don't want to give the wrong impression, though.  It was a great deal of fun, and I enjoyed myself from start to finish.  Pretty good meal, excellent company, and even a few enjoyable speeches and toasts.  My friend Abby gave the official toast to the US Army, which was kind of neat.

Also, as my time in the service recedes further and further into the past, it gets harder to keep up any sense of connection to the Coast Guard.  Going to the Ball, especially with someone who wasn't a Coastie and needed a guide of sorts, was a nice way to feel like it was still something I am a part of (a very small part).  I may not have been the best representative, but we spent the evening with particularly excellent current and former Coasties like Abby, Phillip, and Sarah.

A good evening, and it's nice to pull out my tux every now and again.  Though I should probably work on my knots more - I spent about 20 minutes trying to get my bowtie right, without success.  I'll have to practice more before the company holiday party in a few weeks.