About Me

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I've had a varied career, mostly as a technical writer for various high-tech firms in eastern Massachusetts, which is my home of origin. I enjoy speculating about many kinds of technical and philosophical concepts far beyond my level of education. I hope this blog will be an opportunity for me to express some of the ideas that have been percolating for years in my mind. I would consider a respectful exchange of ideas to be the ideal result of this effort.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Medal of Honor Recipients: 1 - 5

I am creating a series of posts devoted to individuals whose bravery was at such a level that their government has awarded them its highest honor. Each post will contain the actual text of their citations.
Sp6c, U.S. Army

Here in Winston-Salem NC our memorial stadium has been named for Lawrence Joel a winner of the Medal of Honor. Sadly, I have heard individuals state that he should not have received this honor because, as a combat medic, he was only doing his job, what he was paid for I guess. I researched the award and found the following entry in Wickipedia. I present it here for viewing
by any who may wish to make up their own mind as to whether Lawrence deserved this honor.

On March 9, 1967 on the White House lawn, President Lyndon Johnson presented Joel with the Medal of Honor for his service in the Vietnam War. His citation reads as follows:

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of life above and beyond the call of duty. Sp6c. Joel demonstrated indomitable courage, determination, and professional skill when a numerically superior and well-concealed Viet Cong element launched a vicious attack which wounded or killed nearly every man in the lead squad of the company. After treating the men wounded by the initial burst of gunfire, he bravely moved forward to assist others who were wounded while proceeding to their objective. While moving from man to man, he was struck in the right leg by machine gun fire. Although painfully wounded his desire to aid his fellow soldiers transcended all personal feeling. He bandaged his own wound and self-administered morphine to deaden the pain enabling him to continue his dangerous undertaking. Through this period of time, he constantly shouted words of encouragement to all around him. Then, completely ignoring the warnings of others, and his pain, he continued his search for wounded, exposing himself to hostile fire; and, as bullets dug up the dirt around him, he held plasma bottles high while kneeling completely engrossed in his life-saving mission. Then, after being struck a second time and with a bullet lodged in his thigh, he dragged himself over the battlefield and succeeded in treating 13 more men before his medical supplies ran out. Displaying resourcefulness, he saved the life of one man by placing a plastic bag over a severe chest wound to congeal the blood. As one of the platoons pursued the Viet Cong, an insurgent force in concealed positions opened fire on the platoon and wounded many more soldiers. With a new stock of medical supplies, Sp6c. Joel again shouted words of encouragement as he crawled through an intense hail of gunfire to the wounded men. After the 24-hour battle subsided and the Viet Cong dead numbered 410, snipers continued to harass the company. Throughout the long battle, Sp6c. Joel never lost sight of his mission as a medical aidman and continued to comfort and treat the wounded until his own evacuation was ordered. His meticulous attention to duty saved a large number of lives and his unselfish, daring example under most adverse conditions was an inspiration to all. Sp6c. Joel's profound concern for his fellow soldiers, at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty are in the highest traditions of the U.S. Army and reflect great credit upon himself and the Armed Forces of his country.

Lawrence Joel retired from military service in 1973. On February 4, 1984, he died of complications from diabetes. He is buried in Section 46 of Arlington National Cemetery adjacent to the Memorial Amphitheater.



Rank and organization: Staff Sergeant, U.S. Army, 30th Infantry, 3d Infantry Division. Place and date: Near St. Die, France, 28 October 1944. Entered service at: Port Arthur, Tex. Birth: Port Arthur, Tex. G.O. No.: 20, 29 March 1945.


For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at risk of life above and beyond the call of duty on 28 October 1944, near St. Die, France. When his company was stopped in its effort to drive through the Mortagne Forest to reopen the supply line to the isolated third battalion, S/Sgt. Adams braved the concentrated fire of machineguns in a lone assault on a force of German troops. Although his company had progressed less than 10 yards and had lost 3 killed and 6 wounded, S/Sgt. Adams charged forward dodging from tree to tree firing a borrowed BAR from the hip. Despite intense machinegun fire which the enemy directed at him and rifle grenades which struck the trees over his head showering him with broken twigs and branches, S/Sgt. Adams made his way to within 10 yards of the closest machinegun and killed the gunner with a hand grenade. An enemy soldier threw hand grenades at him from a position only 10 yards distant; however, S/Sgt. Adams dispatched him with a single burst of BAR fire. Charging into the vortex of the enemy fire, he killed another machinegunner at 15 yards range with a hand grenade and forced the surrender of 2 supporting infantrymen. Although the remainder of the German group concentrated the full force of its automatic weapons fire in a desperate effort to knock him out, he proceeded through the woods to find and exterminate 5 more of the enemy. Finally, when the third German machinegun opened up on him at a range of 20 yards, S/Sgt. Adams killed the gunner with BAR fire. In the course of the action, he personally killed 9 Germans, eliminated 3 enemy machineguns, vanquished a specialized force which was armed with automatic weapons and grenade launchers, cleared the woods of hostile elements, and reopened the severed supply lines to the assault companies of his battalion.



Rank and Organization: Sergeant First Class, United States Army


For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty,:Sergeant First Class Paul R. Smith distinguished himself by acts of gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty in action with an armed enemy near Baghdad International Airport, Baghdad, Iraq on 4 April 2003. On that day, Sergeant First Class Smith was engaged in the construction of a prisoner of war holding area when his Task Force was violently attacked by a company-sized enemy force. Realizing the vulnerability of over 100 fellow soldiers, Sergeant First Class Smith quickly organized a hasty defense consisting of two platoons of soldiers, one Bradley Fighting Vehicle and three armored personnel carriers. As the fight developed, Sergeant First Class Smith braved hostile enemy fire to personally engage the enemy with hand grenades and anti-tank weapons, and organized the evacuation of three wounded soldiers from an armored personnel carrier struck by a rocket propelled grenade and a 60mm mortar round. Fearing the enemy would overrun their defenses, Sergeant First Class Smith moved under withering enemy fire to man a .50 caliber machine gun mounted on a damaged armored personnel carrier. In total disregard for his own life, he maintained his exposed position in order to engage the attacking enemy force. During this action, he was mortally wounded. His courageous actions helped defeat the enemy attack, and resulted in as many as 50 enemy soldiers killed, while allowing the safe withdrawal of numerous wounded soldiers. Sergeant First Class Smith’s extraordinary heroism and uncommon valor are in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself, the Third Infantry Division “Rock of the Marne,” and the United States Army.



Rank and Organization: Lieutenant, United States Navy


For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as the leader of a special reconnaissance element with Naval Special Warfare Task Unit Afghanistan on 27 and 28 June 2005. While leading a mission to locate a high-level anti-coalition militia leader, Lieutenant Murphy demonstrated extraordinary heroism in the face of grave danger in the vicinity of Asadabad, Konar Province, Afghanistan. On 28 June 2005, operating in an extremely rugged enemy-controlled area, Lieutenant Murphy's team was discovered by anti-coalition militia sympathizers, who revealed their position to Taliban fighters. As a result, between 30 and 40 enemy fighters besieged his four-member team. Demonstrating exceptional resolve, Lieutenant Murphy valiantly led his men in engaging the large enemy force. The ensuing fierce firefight resulted in numerous enemy casualties, as well as the wounding of all four members of the team. Ignoring his own wounds and demonstrating exceptional composure, Lieutenant Murphy continued to lead and encourage his men. When the primary communicator fell mortally wounded, Lieutenant Murphy repeatedly attempted to call for assistance for his beleaguered teammates. Realizing the impossibility of communicating in the extreme terrain, and in the face of almost certain death, he fought his way into open terrain to gain a better position to transmit a call. This deliberate, heroic act deprived him of cover, exposing him to direct enemy fire. Finally achieving contact with his Headquarters, Lieutenant Murphy maintained his exposed position while he provided his location and requested immediate support for his team. In his final act of bravery, he continued to engage the enemy until he was mortally wounded, gallantly giving his life for his country and for the cause of freedom. By his selfless leadership, courageous actions, and extraordinary devotion to duty, Lieutenant Murphy reflected great credit upon himself and upheld the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.



Rank and organization: Master Sergeant (then Sfc.), U.S. Army, Company A, 19th Infantry Regiment. Place and date: Near Sesim-ni, Korea, 4 February 1951. Entered service at: Olathe, Kans. Born: 9 May 1922, DeSoto, Kans. G.O. No.: 66, 2 August 1951.


M/Sgt. Adams, Company A, distinguished himself by conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty in action against an enemy. At approximately 0100 hours, M/Sgt. Adams' platoon, holding an outpost some 200 yards ahead of his company, came under a determined attack by an estimated 250 enemy troops. Intense small-arms, machine gun, and mortar fire from 3 sides pressed the platoon back against the main line of resistance. Observing approximately 150 hostile troops silhouetted against the skyline advancing against his platoon, M/Sgt. Adams leaped to his feet, urged his men to fix bayonets, and he, with 13 members of his platoon, charged this hostile force with indomitable courage. Within 50 yards of the enemy M/Sgt. Adams was knocked to the ground when pierced in the leg by an enemy bullet. He jumped to his feet and, ignoring his wound, continued on to close with the enemy when he was knocked down 4 times from the concussion of grenades which had bounced off his body. Shouting orders he charged the enemy positions and engaged them in hand-to-hand combat where man after man fell before his terrific onslaught with bayonet and rifle butt. After nearly an hour of vicious action M/Sgt. Adams and his comrades routed the fanatical foe, killing over 50 and forcing the remainder to withdraw. Upon receiving orders that his battalion was moving back he provided cover fire while his men withdrew. M/Sgt. Adams' superb leadership, incredible courage, and consummate devotion to duty so inspired his comrades that the enemy attack was completely thwarted, saving his battalion from possible disaster. His sustained personal bravery and indomitable fighting spirit against overwhelming odds reflect the utmost glory upon himself and uphold the finest traditions of the infantry and the military service.

Saturday, June 26, 2010


I’m going to expose today a bit of my life and childhood in the hopes that some dear reader may have been suffered under similar conditions and may, even today, be struggling against their influence. For reasons based in their own lives and childhoods, too long and complex to be discussed here, both of my parents became uncomfortable with the thought of my being successful at anything, no matter how small or inconsequential. In trying to prevent such success, perhaps completely unconsciously, they set about to sabotage my self esteem and, sadly, were fairly successful.

Without my going into a bunch of Freudian or Adlerian convolutions, suffice it to say that they simply refused to ever give me credit for having done anything in a competent manner. This ranged from washing dishes and kitchen floors, to handing the correct tools or size bolts, to school work, to meeting or talking to people, to eating, to dressing, to playing a musical instrument, not sitting right, not standing right and on and on and on. This continued throughout their lives to the very end.

The problem with dealing with this kind of conditioning, and that of course is exactly what it is, is that the person being conditioned would need to understand what was going on to have a chance of escaping its effect. Since it started, as least as far as I can remember, at the age of six, there was no chance that I could believe that they were wrong and I was right. By the time this began to occur to me my life had been pretty much pulverized.

Without going into what comprised that ‘pulverized’ life, let it suffice to say that I made many decisions based on, shall we say, contaminated input? These decisions included entering into a toxic relationship because I was certain that no one else would have me, as well as believing that there was no way that I could ever succeed in college. In boot camp in the Navy, I qualified, due to my initial test scores, for admittance into the Naval Academy, Officer Candidate School, the Naval Aviation Cadet Program and a free college education through NROTC. I was certain, of course, that if I attempted to take advantage of any of these offers I would fail disastrously and shame myself forever. And so I refused them all.

I had passed, with flying colors, a seven-month course in aviation electronics but when an opportunity arose to attend guided-missile technician school, which I felt could possibly open the possibility of a dream career with NASA, I was dissuaded from that by my better half just as she did when an offer arose for me to join the Naval Research Laboratory after my enlistment expired.

Now I have managed to do reasonably well over the years, even with this conditioning in operation. The reason I bring this up here is not so people will say “Oh poor him. What a shame”. My only reason is the very slight possibility that someone who reads this may have been dealt a similar hand of cards to play and is even now struggling to somehow get a better deal. I just want to say to you that if you have been living with this type of conditioning, and I believe many of us have, there is something I feel you must try to do.

Even though the fear of failure is frightening, and even though you may be afraid that you’ll be unfaithful your parents, you must take your courage in hand and move on into areas that are filled with fear for you. I’ve thought about what could have been for me. Even if I had failed as a pilot I would have still been a naval aviation officer and probably a navigator or a Radar Intercept Officer in a multimillion dollar navy jet like the Grumman F-14 Tomcat. I love flying. My entire navy career was involved with aviation. After my enlistment I joined the Naval Reserves and became a very competent equipment operator in a Grumman S2F Submarine Hunter/Killer aircraft. How much better would it be to have been the pilot of that aircraft? In the reserves I was offered a commission to be the training officer for our squadron. I refused again because I felt unqualified to be a naval officer.

There’s no way you or I or anyone else can change that hand you were dealt. What you can do, however, is simply refuse to play it. When one of these decisions arises you must ignore those voices whispering in the back of your head that say “Who the hell do you think you are?” Or “You never do anything right. You’ll just screw it up again.” Or “You were clumsy and incompetent as a kid and you haven’t changed.”

I know it’s not easy but I’d like to think that if someone in years past had told me about this I might have been able to make the kind of changes and decisions I needed for the benefit of myself and others who have depended upon me. You can start out small. If there’s just a hobby you’ve wanted to try but are convinced you don’t have the skill or the patience to do it you should just go ahead and try. So what if you fail? Most of the things we try in our lives will fail, but that doesn’t mean that’s because we’re incompetent. Give yourself the opportunity to succeed by not being afraid to fail. Mentioning hobbies reminded me that several years ago I found and bought model kits for the S2F Tracker from my reserve years and for the Grumman F6F Hellcat, an aircraft that figured largely in my regular navy career. These kits are still sitting here because, in the back of my mind, I have felt that if I build them I will mess them up. I need to take my own advice and build them I guess.

As a young teenager I read the play and saw the 1938 version of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet. I was struck by one phrase and it has been the touchstone of my existence ever since. It was a famous speech by Polonious, Laertes’ father cautioning him as he and Hamlet were leaving for school in England. Somewhat truncated and probably incorrectly remembered it was: “And this above all. To thine own self be true and it follows then as the night follows the day that thou canst not be false to any man.”

This quote has been the most powerful single influence in my entire life including that of parents, teachers and even religion. It has helped me make good decisions by considering just what the results of those choices will be for me. Unfortunately, I never quite made the connection between that sentiment and the conditioning I was dealing with but it did, at least, help keep me from jumping off a cliff.

I suppose that many readers will not understand my message. That’s OK. But if just one reader identifies with this and tries to make changes in his or her life I will be one happy camper.

Live long and prosper.

Friday, June 25, 2010

The Threat From Space

Asteroid/Comet Impacts

This post examines the consequences of the impact of a large stony or nickel-iron asteroid or a large ice and rubble comet upon the earth. For precedents see ‘Dinosaur Demise 65 million years ago’. That should pretty well cover the consequences. Now I’d like to move on to scientifically proposed preventive methods.

Media Solutions

There have been several entertaining motion pictures and “scientific” television programs recently describing supposedly realistic methods of protecting the earth from planet-killing asteroids or comets. I have watched in disbelief as prominent scientists expounded on methods to save the earth from these wanderers in space. Their supposedly educated and well-thought-out concepts range from blowing them up with nuclear weapons, to blasting them with space borne lasers or focused light beams or attaching rockets to change their path away from an impact with earth. At the risk of being accused of the scientific version of heresy, I'd like to state my objections to these methods and propose one of my own that I think could be effective.

The Nuclear Option

First I’d like to discuss the ‘blasting them with nuclear weapons’ option. As I understand the physics, the blast effect of nuclear weapons is created by the 7000-plus-degree fireball superheating the air in which the explosion occurs. This causes the air to expand at an incredible rate. This expanding bolus of air actually constitutes the blast wave. Since there is no air in space a blast wave cannot be created. The explosion of the bomb would probably just look like a super-sized flashbulb. No noise, of course for the same reason. (No air – no sound.) The asteroid would be pelted with x-rays, gamma rays, infrared radiation and the remains of the bomb casing and vehicle, which would have been pretty much vaporized. Since Force = Mass times Velocity, the miniscule amount of mass left after the explosion would probably not be able to move much more than a basketball-sized piece of asteroid if even that. Now a nuclear bomb could probably have a significant effect on a rubble-filled snowball-type comet. The infrared radiation could cause the ice to flash into steam and, for an instant, expand it against the rubble and push the rocks away in a somewhat different direction.

Bits and Pieces or All in One?

One of the caveats expressed by some scientists is that if we do blow up an asteroid in some manner, we would be in greater danger than if we left it alone and let it strike the earth. I would like to explore this concept thusly: assume you and I are standing 50 yards apart in a field. I have a 12-gauge shotgun with which I inform you I am about to shoot you. I give you the choice as to the ammunition I will use. Your choices are: bird shot or a rifled deer slug. I don't know about you but I would jump on the bird shot like a pit bull on a T-bone. Why you say? Of course you already know. Bird shot fired even at that short distance would be greatly affected by the air through which it passes. Also, F = M x V comes into play because each very low mass piece of shot will strike you with very little impact. You would probably be completely safe with a hunting jacket and protective goggles. A prime example of this is the hunting accident involving Dick Cheney, our former vice president. The cumulative impact of the many pellets would be spread over a large area. A rifled deer slug, at that range, will still carry (F = M x V) considerable power to penetrate clothing, skin and organs. You will be dead meat.

One For All and All For One

Unless I am mistaken, the same would be true in comparing the impact of one large asteroid as opposed to many small asteroids entering the atmosphere and eventually striking the earth. The broken pieces would expose a very much larger surface to the atmosphere for ablation and, because of their greatly reduced mass, would be significantly slowed. Note that in free-fall parachuting, terminal velocity is determined by both the weight (mass) and total area of the falling individual. Each piece of the asteroid being smaller would carry much less force than the complete asteroid. Furthermore, since our planet is covered primarily by water, this group of smaller asteroid remains would mostly impact in the oceans. The sum total affect of their individual impacts would be orders of magnitude smaller than that of the original intact asteroid.

Trajectory Changes

Finally, there are the methods proposed for changing the trajectory of an asteroid. Some of these methods include firing a powerful laser at the asteroid so that surface matter would ablate and fly off into space and move the asteroid slightly. (Newton's third law.) A second and similar proposal is to launch a huge space mirror and focus the rays of the sun on the surface for the same ablative effect. A third is to attach rockets to the surface of the asteroid and nudge it into a slightly differently path so that it misses the earth entirely. I do not believe that any of these methods would work. This is simply because they all assume that the asteroid is moving along in space without any rotating motion at all. This assumption is necessary so that this long-term firing onto the surface (months or even years) would be impacting the same spot for all this time. This is the only way an ablative effect could change the velocity or direction of the asteroid. From the information and photos I've seen, these travelers are usually tumbling erratically. The reason that they come our way is most likely because they have collided with another object in the asteroid belt or the Oort cloud. Such an impact would impart changes in both velocity and rotation. Because of this rotation neither a laser nor a light beam would be able to blast an area long enough to have any significant directional effect. Since rocket motors take a significant time to develop thrust they would probably just cause the asteroid to spin even more erratically.

The Hope For A Solution?

One method that I believe could have a reasonable chance of success is as follows. A series of deep holes would be drilled perpendicular to the long axis of the asteroid, regardless of its rotational motion. Powerful explosives would then be inserted in the holes. The explosives would, of course, need to be preheated and super insulated so that they would not radiate their heat into space, preventing the necessary chemical action from taking place. Each explosive device would be equipped with an electronic detonator. A triggering wire would lead from the holes to an electronic receiver. Each of the holes would then be partially filled with the rubble from the excavations. The charges would then be triggered simultaneously by a radio signal. The signal must be accurately timed so that the exits of the drilled holes would be facing in the opposite direction from the desired movement. When the charges explode, Newton would strike again. The explosion would press against the bottom of the drilled holes and, simultaneously, project the rubble out of the hole at a very high velocity. Our friends F = M x V and Newton come into play and the thrust of the blast would move the asteroid in the opposite direction much as a jet engine moves an aircraft and the recoil of a shotgun presses back onto the shoulder of the shooter.

The Time Crunch

In this manner, I believe sufficient force could be applied to an asteroid to divert it slightly from its orbital path. The success of any method, however, is dependent upon detecting the asteroid months, or even years before impact, so that there would be time enough for such an effort to be effective. The bottom line is that many more resources must be devoted to detection of these intruders to provide sufficient time to act. The last figure I heard was that the total number of individuals devoted to this search world wide was the approximate equivalent of the staff of one MacDonald’s restaurant. Considering the possible consequences, I honestly think we can afford to do better.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Flotsum and Jetsum

No more walking six miles in a Sharpshooter parade for me. The old hips won't put up with it. These days I use one of those little electric carts they provide in the stores so I won't end up crawling on my hands and knees. What's kind of nice about them though, is that pretty ladies and little kids tend to smile at the old fat guy racing around making 'beep beep' noises. The ladies sometime even offer to get stuff off the high shelves for me. I like that... it passes for a relationship with me. I keep telling myself that there must be some benefit for living this long. I guess I'll have to settle for smiling pretty ladies and kids. Could do worse I guess. They could be smiling funeral directors.


Saturday, June 19, 2010

The New Energy Source

Welcome to my post on our energy crisis. I will attempt to define the problem as I see it and offer some general solutions. I will also attempt to lay out detailed plans to make my suggestions more viable.

Drill Baby Drill?

The current disaster in the Gulf of Mexico vividly underscores the pitiful status of our energy policy, or the lack thereof. Wails and bleats of "Drill Baby Drill" show the total lack of understanding of our energy situation by national political leaders. It seems they could have learned the simple fact that oil removed from wells drilled here does not stay here. Oil companies are international in nature and the product of their wells is not typically sold to individual countries. Oil extracted is sold in an international open market to whomever pays the current price. The oil companies that drill in our territory own the oil they remove and are under no obligation to sell it to the United States. In fact I suspect that agreements they have entered into obligate them to sell on the international market.

The Foreign-Oil Problem

Regardless of where the oil originates, our need is not for cheaper or more readily available oil but rather to reduce and eventually eliminate our need to purchase foreign oil at all. We need to find methods of producing non-polluting and renewable energy while securing for our own use the relatively tiny oil resources we currently possess. This means cancelling all oil leases currently active in our territory and sequestering the oil for our own uses. We need to understand that burning fossil fuels is an incredibly inefficient use for them as well as the fact that they produce toxic gases that remain for years in our atmosphere and interfere with the temperature and weather balances of our fragile world.

Wasteful Practices

Most people consider oil only as a means of creating energy. Whether that energy is to be used to move vehicles or to generate electrical energy, using it primarily for those purposes is a disastrous waste. These fossil-based materials have vital uses that will no longer be available when the oil is gone. For instance oil is used to produce a myriad of vital products such as fertilizer, plastics, lubricants, medicine and much much more. We need to set aside our domestic oil resources to fulfill these needs for when the international oil is either gone or is so expensive that we can no longer afford it. Our current reserves only represent about two percent of the world reserves while we use over twenty percent of the world's production. The overall solution, therefore, is to find other clean ways to power our vehicular traffic and generate electrical energy. Until the day comes when we can all own a DeLorean, or it's equivalent, with a fusion reactor running on trash, our best solution seems to be converting our vehicles to run on cleanly generated electricity.

Cleaner Energy Production

Currently there are several methods of generating electricity that do not produce toxic gases and byproducts. These include nuclear power (which has it's own waste-disposal problems), hydroelectric (which would include tidal and river-powered turbines), wind farms, solar (both thermal and direct electric - i.e. solar cells) and geothermal. Most of these processes suffer from the fact that their production is location limited. In other words wind farms, to be efficient, must be located where strong winds are reliably available. Solar generation requires vast tracts of land in locations where strong sunlight is available on most days of the year. Geothermal can only be efficient in areas where subterranean heat is reasonably close to the surface. Hydroelectric dams are terribly expensive and must be located where a large quantity of flowing water is present. In addition, the lakes created behind power dams make very large areas of valuable real estate unusable for crops or homes. Of these, the most effective would probably be the river and tidal-power generation because cities, which use tremendous amounts of electricity, are often located on or near rivers and oceans.

Power Distribution

For most of these processes, however, a major difficulty is that, to be useful, the power must be transported over long distances to population centers. This means that it must travel through our national power-distribution grid. Unfortunately, our power grid is in truly terrible condition. It is literally falling apart and will only get worse as time goes by. Full maintenance and upgrading of the grid will take decades to complete and will cost hundreds of billions of dollars. In addition, the long lines of the grid are very vulnerable to interference from radiation and mass ejections from our sun which, in the past, have caused wide-scale power interruptions. This begs the question: What can we do in the meantime?

Versus Distributed Power

I believe that a major part of the answer can be the creation of a widely distributed power-generation network. Simply stated, this means the building and installation of many thousands, or even millions, of small power-generation sites spread across the country. These could be small, efficient vertical wind turbines situated on homes, schools, factories, offices, apartments and government buildings across the country. Vertical turbines are different from the usual pinwheel-type turbines with which we have become familiar. They could be compared, in appearance, to the old style barber pole sign that used to be so common. They are much less visible, quieter, are much less harmful to birds and can operate efficiently at much lower wind velocities. Being smaller they do not produce the high voltage and current outputs of the 300-foot giants spreading across the midwest and off our coasts. This can be offset, however, by their simpler and less-expensive construction and installation and by being produced in very large numbers. The value of this approach was shown during World War II when the the American army, faced by very large and powerful battle tanks of the German army, produced over 40,000 smaller, lighter and more maneuverable Sherman tanks. Although outgunned and out-armored individually by the Tiger and Panther tanks, our smaller Sherman tanks swarmed across the battlefield and overwhelmed the enemy by sheer numbers.

More is Not the Only Answer

This doesn't mean, in my opinion, that we can solve our energy problem by simply producing large quantities of smaller, vertical wind turbines. They must be just one facet of an overall program that attacks the problem on several fronts. Properly handled, this approach can help solve, or at least ameliorate, other major problems we are facing. We can put many more people to work in long-lasting careers, rather than in just make-work efforts. We can help revitalize a large part of our manufacturing capacity that has been short-sightedly shipped off shore. We can help to stabilize our balance of trade disaster, primarily with countries on the Pacific rim, and we can put a large dent in our energy deficit and pollution problems.

Bring On the Hybrids

The program I am going to describe must be introduced in parallel with a major effort to produce lightweight, inexpensive, plug-in hybrid vehicles. They are a vital part of this overall effort and, if ignored, the entire project may fail. As an aside, we have very large natural-gas deposits that could easily be used to power engines in plug-in hybrids. This should be a relatively simple conversion effort and would go a long way in reducing our dependence on foreign oil. The oil companies may complain about such a program reducing customers for their oil but, in reality, the foreign markets, especially in India and China, are growing by leaps and bounds. Since the oil companies have received billions of dollars in government support for exploration and drilling activities, they should have little complaint about losing the little oil left in our worn-out wells. The loss of much of the U.S. market over several years should have little or no impact on their long-term profitability. We are in the midst of a nearly intractable problem that cannot be resolved by half-way measures. This is a complex problem and demands complex solutions so I ask you to please have patience as I explain my concepts. They may seem to you to be unnecessarily detailed but, as is often said, "The devil is in the details".

Millions and Millions

The ultimate goal is to install vertical wind turbines in millions, yes I said millions, of locations, including individual residences, office buildings, schools, factories, apartment buildings and government buildings all across the country. Each turbine will be connected to its own electricity-storage (battery) unit along with electronics for charging the batteries, transforming the voltage to higher levels and stabilizing the AC frequency to that in the external grid. I parenthesized the word battery because other and more efficient storage methods are being developed and would be incorporated as soon as possible.

More is Less

One major advantage of producing these systems in such large numbers is that it provides what is called the economy of volume production. Basically, the more you produce, the cheaper each unit becomes. By the way, in addition to helping resolve our energy problems we would in all probability find an absolutely huge foreign market for these units. Imagine all the tiny villages and hamlets in Africa being powered by one or several of these units. I hasten to add, however, that this should not be our immediate goal. A moderate-scale pilot program would provide the best opportunity to test the viability of this approach. Imagine, if you will, a program centered in the rust belt of the midwest, near Detroit. With government assistance, which I will describe later, we could build pilot plants to produce these units. There are certainly enough abandoned factories for use and enough idle very skilled workers to staff them. (Oops, I almost said 'man' them.)

Location, Location, Location

Starting in the Detroit area is important, I believe, since that is the focus of our automobile-manufacturing capability and a major part of this program is the development and manufacture of lightweight, efficient, plug-in hybrid vehicles. Placing the first element of the program there means that problems that weigh upon all aspects of the system can be quickly resolved and changes made in a smaller geographical area. Once the program has been validated, factories can be established all across the country, logically in areas of high, systemic unemployment of relatively skilled workers.

The Funding Solution

Although the initial program would probably be established and funded by the federal government, it is necessary to establish early on how it would be financed on a national basis. I believe that, with some initial government assistance, this should be a program owned and operated by individuals or corporations established for this purpose. One needs only to Google 'wind turbines' to find a plethora of small and medium-sized companies that vie for niches in a yet undefined market. Many have very competent engineering, manufacturing and marketing capabilities but struggle to find a profitable place in this immature and fragmented market. The individuals and assets of these companies would provide the perfect hotbed for the development of this program. Although many have the abilities and desire, I doubt that few have the capital to see this through without assistance. If the federal government, however, were to assist in financing at perhaps a 50% level through the purchase of preferred stock in these nascent companies it could provide the impetus needed to boost production to lucrative levels. Then, once the companies were profitable, they could purchase back their stock from the government and be full owners of their operations. In this manner the loss factors to the government would be minimized. This approach has already been proven by the payback of large amounts of the TARP funds.


As I see the program, there would be separate production facilities for the turbines and for their installation and electrical elements, such as the generator, charging circuits and storage equipment. Sales, installation and maintenance could be handled by a number of individual companies spread across the area. As an aside, these companies could probably use idle automobile dealership facilities for their bases. This would provide ready-made display, storage and testing facilities as well as maintenance bays and lifts for their installation vehicles. Talk about synchronicity! The management and workers for these facilities should be readily available from the existing turbine companies. If necessary, the same government assistance could be made available for these companies. Since expensive manufacturing equipment and raw materials would not be needed, the costs should be significantly lower.

Bring in The Power Companies

At the final installed level there are just a few items to clear up. By bringing the electric power companies into this project early and fairly, animosity by them could hopefully be minimized. It would probably be a good idea to restrict ownership of these units initially to individuals and companies who also own plug-in hybrid vehicles. In this way, there would be a built-in incentive for the system in saving vehicle-operation costs. First claim for the power should probably go to charging vehicle batteries. Any excess electricity, for instance that generated after the vehicle is charged or late at night or when the owner, company, office or school is closed, could be shunted directly into the power grid. There might be some significant benefit in shared equipment ownership by the owner and the power company. This could be effected by shared purchasing costs, or by the owner bearing all installation, maintenance and insurance costs while the power entity purchases the unit. In this case, all excess power could be provided to the power company at no charge. In addition, the unit owner could be provided a tax deduction or credit to compensate for the necessary road taxes to be assessed on the electricity used by the vehicles.

... And Finally...

Finally, it's essential that this effort begin as soon as possible, if not sooner. Even as we blog, the problem gets larger, deeper and more difficult to converted to more effective pathways. Even should you think my ideas are bunkum, I urge you to develop your own thoughts and let them be known. We the people are the only ones who can create solutions for these problems. They don't go away by themselves if we just ignore them.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Gravity I, II, III

Gravity I/II/III

Gravity I: The Challenge

"If you can keep your head while all about you are losing theirs, perhaps you just don't understand the gravity of the situation." A paraphrase of an old, twisted statement that fits this post perfectly. It has bothered me no end that nobody seems to know just what gravity is, and that includes most of the great minds of science, including Albert Einstein. Al spent the last 20 years of his life engrossed in an effort to understand just what gravity is and how it propagates through space. He needed that understanding if he was to integrate the four powers in nature that hold our universe together. These powers are the strong force, the weak force, electromagnetism and, of course, gravity. He failed. Of course his many successes made that failure about as important as a fleabite on a rhinoceros.

In the light of that opening statement, I'm sure that what is to follow will probably cast me as the most arrogant blogger in blogland. For that reason, I have to lead off this post with a disclaimer, painful as it is, that I have no advanced degrees in physics, chemistry, mathematics, astrophysics or even Shiatsu Massage. Never mind 'advanced' degrees, but no degrees at all. Since retiring I have far too much time on my hands, especially late at night when I can't sleep. I find myself thinking about the world and its challenges and problems and searching for answers. Many of the other posts in this blog are the result of those long nights when sleep refuses to come and release me from my mundane world.

One of those challenges is the understanding of the force we call gravity -- what it is, how it works and how it propagates for millions of miles through space. Sir Isaac Newton supposedly developed the concept of gravity while sitting in an orchard watching ripe apples fall from the trees, pulled to the earth (not striking him on the head) by some mysterious force. Until that time apparently nobody had questioned why, when they detatched from the tree branch, apples fell down and didn't remain floating in the air, drifting up into the sky and moving to and fro under the influence of gentle summer breezes.

Now I hasten to assure my readers, if in fact any such exist, that I do not consider myself superior to or even equal to those two, or any other, giants of science. In fact, I do not even consider myself qualified to brush Albert Einstein's runaway hair or make cider from Isaac Newton's apples. It's just that I seem unable to ignore these challenges and instead, perhaps, take up weaving gimp into whistle lanyards or making crude leather wallets. Having made these disclaimers, however, I find I must make an attempt to explain my thoughts about these issues, placing them before you for your perusal. So here we go.

From Whence Comes Gravity?

We do know that gravity seems to be directly connected with, and related to, the mass of objects -- objects like planets, moons and stars. I asked myself what comprised the mass of these objects. The answer seems to be the nuclei of the atoms of the elements. These nuclei, of course, consist of positively charged protons and neutral neutrons. What within these nuclei could be responsible for this strange force? My first thought was the positive charge of the protons that holds the almost massless and incredibly fast-moving negatively charged electrons in orbit around the nucleus. Of course one would expect that the effect of the positive charge emanating from such a tiny piece of matter would not extend beyond the orbit of the electrons. I believe, however, that the charge level of the proton holding the electrons in thrall is slightly higher than that needed to secure the electrons. Not high enough, however, to hold more than one electron per proton, but still slightly more than needed.

If this supposition is true, this slight excess of charge might be able to leak past the orbit of the electron to have an attractive effect on the electrons of other nearby atoms. It's doubful that this 'leakage affect' generated by the single protons of a relatively small number of hydrogen atoms, for instance, would be strong enough to be noticeable. Consider, however, the cumulative leakage from much more complex atoms, like for instance Uranium, with it's hundreds of protons in each nucleus. The cumulative leakage effect of the vast number of protons in a body such as a star, planet or even a moon, could easily affect nearby masses. This begs the question, of course, of how these miniscule charges could possibly affect objects literally millions of miles away, as the outer planets of our system are held in place by the gravity generated by the sun. By this time, of course, you suspect that I have some kind of cockamamie answer for even that question. Your suspicions are correct.

Not So Empty Outer Space

Recently, 'real' scientists have begun to suspect that space is not actually as empty as we have assumed. The concept proferred by them is that space is actually filled to overflowing with the tiniest of subatomic particles which they feel are either flashing into and out of existence or are being spontaneously created and then almost instantly destroyed. Let's assume that something like this is actually happening, with, of course, some modifications.

My naieve and untrained mind has some difficulty grasping a process of continuous creation and destruction of some form of matter or it's alternating states of existence. I'm much more comfortable, however, with the concept that this matter has existed since the beginning of time and, rather than appearing or disappearing, may simply be physically flipping back and forth at an incredible rate, exposing first a positively charged end and then a negatively charged end. This would appear to be matter appearing and disappearing or flashing in and out of existence. It seems reasonable to assume that these particles, if in fact that is what they are, would quickly, after their creation in the big bang, align themselves with positive and negative charges alternatively attracting and repelling each other, into a universe-wide three-dimentional matrix.
The closer to a large attractive body, the stronger would be the attraction of the negative charges to the leaking positive charges of the protons in that body. With it's alternating positive and negative charges this matter could conceivably serve as a conduit for the gravitational forces generated by a large chunk of matter like a star or planet. The closer this 'strange matter' is to the gravitational mass, the stronger the attraction, with the attraction bleeding through into space while creating a gravity-density gradient that can project for many millions of miles through this matter.

When Isaac Newton postulated his theory of gravity he was able to create a brand new field of mathematics to describe it. This new mathematics is called Calculus. In all honesty, I have never studied Calculus and barely made it through Algebra, Geometry and Trigonometry. And that was about 100 years ago. In any event, I offer my hypothesis on gravity for examination and likely destruction by wiser heads than mine. In a later post, however, I hope to build upon this hypothesis to offer a possible answer, regardless of how bizarre, of a rationale for the limitation of light speed.

If you are still here reading, I want to thank you sincerely and honor your dogged and, possibly, masochistic nature. Please don't hesitate to comment on this post, hopefully without an excess of profanity.

Gravity II: Light Speed

As the concept of gravity formed in my mind I found that it carried on into other areas. Specifically it seems to have an effect on the speed of light. Light speed has been measured at 186,000 miles per second or 300,000 kilometers per second. So far I haven't seen any statements indicating why this speed is such and how it is maintained over the trillions of miles that light travels through space. One light year, the distance light travels in a year, is stated to be about 6,000,000,000 miles. That's 6 trillion miles. Here on earth we are able to see and record light emanating from stars and galaxies that are billions of light years distant. That's billions of trillions of miles. A long way to walk on a hot day with a pebble in your shoe.

I found myself wondering how the photons, the supposed particles that are in fact light, can possibly travel all that distance at that speed over those billions of years and still have enough energy to register on our eyes and our telescopes. I can't recall anyone else asking that question and certainly not offering an explanation. Well, I'm going to go way, way out on a limb and attempt to answer those questions. If you think I'm being unbelievably arrogant to think I can answer such questions I certainly couldn't blame you.

If you've had the patience to wade through my previous post on gravity you may remember that one of the crucial elements I proposed for the propagation of the gravitational force through space was the supposed existence of some form of subatomic particles that fill space to overflowing and rapidly flip back and forth exposing first a positive and then a negative charge. I hasten to assure the kind reader that these particles are not my construct but have been proposed by real scientists who should know what they are talking about. My concept was that the positive attractive force of the protons in a large mass would attract these particles creating a gravitational gradient that decreased with distance from the gravitational source but still affected other bodies at great distances. Others answers to the action of gravity over great distances include, but are not limited to, gravity passing through a multitude of alternate universes and being carried great distances by them. This is a much more complex concept than the one I have proposed. Very often, simpler is more likely.

Since these particles supposedly fill what we call 'space' light must pass through them to go anywhere. The question, of course is what effect do they have, if any, on photons passing through the matrix created by their presence. Photons or light, are boiled off the surface of stars and ejected from them. We can assume, I believe, that they begin their journey with some velocity and some level of energy. To travel these great distances over such incredibly long times there should be something operating to preserve both their energy and velocity. It is my belief that the subatomic particles, whatever they actually are, perform this task.

First, we must assume that the photons have some charge, positive or negative. As they pass through this particle matrix they will be attracted to the end of particles with unlike charges and repelled by particles with like charges, much as are magnets. What I believe occurs is that as the photons pass through the matrix in space they are attracted momentarily by unlike charges. However, since these particles are continuously flipping back and forth they will then be repelled by the appearance of a like charge. The end result, I believe, is that each particle is alternately attracted and repelled and therefore does not follow a straight path. In addition, this alternating push and pull would maintain the velocity and energy the photon carried when it entered the matrix. The photon follows a sinuous path through the matrix, being alternately attracted and repelled. It's path would resemble what we call a sinusoidal wave through space. With a symmetrical matrix, that I believe would be created, some of the photons would pass through moving up and down and others, probably about half, would move from side to side.

This is significant because of an experiment that has been performed testing the status of light. The question has always existed as to whether light is a particle or a wave. The experiment in question created two very narrow slits in a wall. One slit was vertical and the other horizontal. Light passing through the vertical slit produced a vertical line on a screen behind the wall. Light passing through the horizontal slit, however, produced a horizontal line which created an interference pattern. As I understand it, the conclusion of the experiment was that sometimes light is a particle and sometimes it is a wave. My belief is that light is always and only a particle.

I believe that the differences can be easily explained if the subatomic particle matrix in 'space' is accepted. Quite simply stated, photons that are moving in an up and down sinusoidal manner would easily pass through the vertical slit but not through the horizontal slit. Alternatively, the photons moving in a horizontal sinusoidal manner would easily pass through the horizontal slit but not through the vertical slit. Ergo, light is always a particle but it moves in a wavelike motion through the subatomic-particle matrix in space with its velocity and direction maintained.

This concept could also explain how very-high-energy particles, cast off by supernovae or quasars, can travel at such great velocities while retaining their energy. The combination of size, velocity and energy level would be maintained in the same manner as is that of the photon. This would seem to indicate, however, that the speed of light is not really a barrier except for light itself. A very crude, and really not relevant comparison would be the 'sound barrier'. The only barrier that actually exists is to the speed of sound itself. We now routinely exceed that velocity without any real problems.

In a subsequent post, I will attempt to offer some hope for what we would call 'faster-than-light' travel. I hope you will read on if you aren't busy trying to get me committed for my own safety and that of the scientific world. Until then, keep on shinin'.

Gravity III: Faster Than Light

I've been a science-fiction fan for more years than I'd care to count. But if I was going to count, it would have to be at least 60 years. (I hate reminding myself of how old I actually am.) Our Milky Way galaxy alone is over 100,000 light years in diameter. At the speed of light it would take us well over 25,000 years traveling at 186,000 miles per second just to get to the galactic core. What a haul! There have been so many fictional ways to traverse the incredible distances of the galaxy and the universe. Of course, there's always the warp drive. "Scotty, give me warp 9!" "Captain, I canna do it. She'll tear herself apart. The dilithium crystal matrix is unstable and she'll blow up in our faces!" Ahh, those carefree days of the Next Generation.

These so-called warp drives supposedly operate on the principle of bending or 'warping' space to defeat the light-speed limit. In my estimation, however, there's a small problem with bending space. I don't believe that there is such a physical thing as 'space' that can be bent or warped or whatever. Space, in my humble opinion, does not actually exist as a thing. Space is simply the distance between two locations. Warping a distance, therefore, makes no sense, at least to me in my all-encompassing arrogance. If it were possible, the energy needed to warp the space between, say, two star systems would be absolutely unimaginable. Having said that, however, I think there may, some day, actually be a way for us to travel at velocities exceeding the speed of light.

First, however, I'd like to point out some down to earth techniques that already have and may someday be able to move terrestrial objects at great speeds. Take the Polaris and Trident intercontinental guided missiles that are launched from submerged submarines. When a submerged launch was first attempted, the missile could not be accelerated enough to pass through the water between the submarine and the air outside. Not only did the drag created by the water make it impossible to get the missile into the air, but the intervening sea water raised havoc with the electronics and the solid rocket propellant.

Then someone had a bright idea. A cover was installed atop the missile tube beneath the heavy missile tube cover. The outer cover needed to be strong enough to withstand the water pressure encountered at the operating depths of the submarine, several hundred feet. The inner cover, however, only needed to be strong enough to resist the water pressure at launch depth, which depth is classified but is not too deep. The inner cover is constructed in segments which are held in place by the water pressure when the outer hatch is opened.

Then, when the missile is to be launched, a small rocket motor just outside the missile tube is fired. The output of this rocket fires directly into a container of water. With the intense heat, the water boils instantly, creating a large quantity of steam at a very high pressure. This steam is piped into the launch tube and, almost instantly, blows off the inner hatch and launches the missile through the water. The steam bubbles surround the missile, protecting it from contact with the sea water and propelling it into the air. As the missile stops rising in the air, an accelerometer senses this and fires the rocket motor. Kaboom! Goodbye someplace that used to be nice.

Another similar project is reported to be currently on the drawing boards. In this case a torpedo, powered by a rocket motor rather than a propeller, is launched from a torpedo tube in the sub. As it leaves the tube, a generator internal to the torpedo begins generating large quantities of steam. The steam exits the torpedo through a very large number of perforations in its case. As with the missile, the steam bubbles provide a barrier between the torpedo and the water. It is believed that such a torpedo could conceivably move at speeds up to 600 miles per hour....under water!

And now we return to travelling faster than the speed of light. In Gravity I and II a matrix of subatomic particles were postulated (not by me I hasten to add) filling 'space'. In my concept, these particles were directly involved in the distribution of gravitational energy throughout space. Additionally, it was suggested that they are instrumental in maintaining the velocity of light (photons) over long distances.

I suspect that these particles are the reason that FTL (Faster Than Light) travel is difficult, if not downright impossible. I suspect that when a physical object such as a spacecraft is moving at speeds that are significantly close to light speed these particles will actually create drag, similar to that encountered by aircraft in the air and torpedoes in the water. At our current speeds, this drag is probably totally as insignificant as the drag created by a person walking down the street on a clear windless day.

Although, in my humble opinion, the energy required to warp space (if such were even possible) would probably be in the order of the energy created if several supermassive black holes were to collide. I suspect, however, that at some time in the future we may be able to create some type of force field requiring just a portion of the energy output of a portable fusion generator in a space vehicle. This field would probably act in a similar fashion to the steam bubbles used in the missile and torpedo launches, in that it would radiate outward from the ship and more or less gently move the subatomic particles far enough apart to allow the ship to pass through. At this point, the only limit to speed would be the power needed to push the ship along. It's possible that as the particles moved back into their previous positions they would exert a pressure to the stern, aft, tail of the vessel pushing it along. As a matter of fact, however, it is possible that this could provide all the impetus the ship would need to move at over light speed. Perhaps the further the particles could be moved from the surface of the ship the faster the ship would move without the need for any added injection of energy.

Well, I think this is all I have to say about gravity, light speed and space travel, at least for now. I hope you found at least some of this interesting and I would be very pleased to hear any and all comments from you.

Thank you.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Navy Days

The Beginning

I've decided that I'd like to create a post about my years in the navy and the navel reserve. I'm calling it "Navy Days". I didn't have a full 20-year career in the navy. I finished a four-year enlistment in 1956 and went on to join and serve in the Naval Reserve for the next eight years. I've been extremely grateful for the training and experience I received during my period of service. In my subsequent career, although not an unprecedented success, my navy training and experiences provided me with the knowledge and ability to sustain myself in challenging and interesting work situations. My naval experience contained no big deals, no wars, no scary stories. I wasn't a hero, just another Aviation Electronics Technician trying to keep communication and navigation equipment operating. There were, however, some interesting aspects of service there which I'll touch on later.

I enlisted on November 24, 1952 and finished my tour on November 23, 1956. Boot camp in Great Lakes Illinois, Airman Preparatory school in Norman Oklahoma, Aviation Electronics school in Memphis Tennessee, then on to my duty station at VX-2, Air Development Squadron 2 at Naval Air Station Chincoteague, Virginia.

Chincoteague, Virginia

Chincoteague is a small island town on the eastern shore of Virginia about 20 miles south of the Maryland border. It's on what's called the "Delmarva Peninsula". So named, surprisingly enough because it consists of elements of Delaware, Maryland and Virginia. Delmarva also has some small notoriety as the home of the Purdue chicken dynasty. The peninsula encloses Chesapeake Bay with it's treasures of sea life, primarily oysters and crabs. The town of Chincoteague is actually an island about two miles wide and seven miles long and its livelihood depends, to a great extent, upon harvesting oysters from its beds. As a child you may have read the books about 'Misty of Chincoteague'. Chinco, as it's locally called, is the site of the annual Assateague Island Pony Penning each August. The pony pennings were the impetus for the books.

I was lucky enough to be present for three annual pony pennings. Maybe just a note of explanation is in order. The local lore says that long before the ancestors of the present residents moved down from the Canadian Maritime provinces, a ship, supposedly a Spanish galleon, was driven ashore and foundered on a barrier island just east of Chinco. This island, about one mile wide and 20 miles long is called Assateague. Being exposed to the sea and having a minimum of forage materials the island proved less than perfect for the Arabian horses who were the only survivors of the shipwreck. They migrated then across the narrow channel to Chincoteague island which was better protected and better stocked with forage.

In the early 1700's emigres from Canada worked their way down the coastline looking for a place to settle. The story has it that these were a feisty bunch who had little patience for 'outsiders'. In my time there I observed first hand that these characteristics were still alive and well. A marsh and channel separates Chinco from the mainland providing the settlers with the degree of isolation from 'outsider' civilization that they required. The horses, refusing to share the island with the humans, swam back across the channel to Assateague and have remained there to this day. At least their offspring have. I don't think there are many of the original shipwrecked horses still around.

The residents would, on occasion, cross the channel and 'rescue' some horses for their use. In time, the horses were proclaimed to be no ones property. The residents then simply branded their own mares, swam them across the channel and left them there. The next summer they would return and swim the entire herd back across the channel to Chinco. There they would separate the colts from their mares and claim them. The balance of the horses would be returned to Assateague and the process begun again.

Pony Penning

In time, with the evolution of the motor vehicle, the horses became less necessary as work animals. This process was declared at some point to be in the purview of the local volunteer fire department. From that point on, the horses would be swum across in August of each year and the yearling ponies separated. The event would trigger a week-long carnival, the end of which was marked by an auction of the new ponies. The profits from the auction and carnival were devoted to maintaining the fire department. At the time I was there, the Chinco fire department was claimed to be the wealthiest volunteer fire department in the country. I don't doubt it for a minute. At one point they purchased a 100-foot aerial ladder truck which was interesting because I don't think there was a building over two stories tall, with the possible exception of the Pony Hotel. During Pony Penning, as it was called, the town would be inundated with horse trailers with license plates from a multitude of states. The bidding would be fast and furious and the cash would flow like water.

NAAS Chincoteague

The base, then designated as NAAS Chincoteague, was located on the mainland, just opposite the causeway that crossed the marsh and channel to the island. That stood for Naval Auxiliary Air Station, an indication that this was too small an installation to be considered a real Naval Air Station. There were just two operating squadrons located there, VX-2 and VU-4, along with a Naval Aviation Ordnance Test Station, NAOTS, and Wallops Island, a small island from which sounding rockets were launched to probe very-high-altitude weather conditions.

NAOTS was a fairly secretive site, isolated from the rest of the base by a barbed-wire-topped cyclone fence. I was never sure just what they were testing but I learned one day that they were, in fact, testing the six-barrel, 20-mm, 3000 round-per-minute Vulcan cannon. I happened to drive by a firing range just as they ran a test. The sound was unmistakable - a throaty roar of gunfire so rapid that you couldn't detect the sound of individual rounds. This devastating weapon is still in use in many Air Force and Navy aircraft

The squadron designated VU-4 was located on the opposite side of the hanger where our squadron was based. Their primary task was providing towed target sleeves for anti-aircraft gunfire training. Just a few words about US naval air squadron designations. The first letter of a squadrons name designates the type of majority squadron aircraft. The letter V, for some esoteric reason, designates fixed-wing aircraft. If the first letter is H the squadron is basically a Helicopter, or rotary-wing, squadron. The second letter designated the mission of the squadron. The letter F indicates a Fighter squadron; the letter A an Attack squadron; the letter R a transport squadron; the letter U a Utility squadron; and the letter X an experimental squadron. The number is just a numeric designation of that type of unit. VU-4, then, was the fourth designated fixed-wing, utility squadron.

My squadron was VX-2, the second of a series of fixed-wing-aircraft experimental squadrons. At the time there were, I believe, five other VX squadrons. VX-6 had been involved in testing cold-weather operations in Antarctica. I believe it was VX-4 that flew radio-controlled drone aircraft equipped with sensor equipment, through the mushroom clouds of the Bikini Atoll atomic tests to gather information about airborne radiation levels. VX-2, or Air-Development-Squadron Two as it was sometimes designated, provided radio-controlled aircraft for testing radar-controlled anti-aircraft gunfire and testing and evaluation of anti-aircraft guided missiles such as the heat-sensing Sidewinder and radar-controlled Terrier and Talos missiles. Our squadron insignia portrayed a reluctant F6F drone being controlled by the ever-present 'beep box' located in the chase planes, or with ground controllers on board the test vessels. We served a small flotilla of ships off the Virginia coast for these tests. They included the USS Krause, a fleet destroyer, the USS Northampton, CG-1, the very first guided-missile cruiser and the battleship USS Mississippi, temporarily re-designated as a guided-missile-test ship. Our drones would approach the ships in simulated attacks such as strafing, bombing or torpedo runs while the vessels evaluated the operation of radar and missile operation.

The Hellcat

The primary aircraft we used as targets were WWII fighter aircraft known as F6F Hellcats, manufactured by Grumman Aircraft in Bethpage Long Island. Thousands of these planes were built to counter the Japanese Zero in the Pacific and were sometimes called the 'Big Blue Blanket' referring to their color and their effectiveness in covering the Pacific theater, destroying over 5000 Japanese Zero fighters. The leftovers were mothballed and stored, in part, at NAS Kingsville, in Texas. They were flown in to us by ferry pilots, their obsolete radio communications equipment replaced and the necessary radio-control receivers installed and tested. Initially, this was part of my responsibility as a flight-line maintenance technician. I later was transferred to the radio-repair shop where I was responsible for the maintenance of 14 different types of communications and navigation equipment. The radio-control receivers accepted the signals transmitted by chase aircraft and channeled them through the aircraft's autopilot which activated all the flight and engine controls. The craft were also painted a bright red color to designate them as a target aircraft. During flight tests and ground-operator training, the drones were sometimes occupied by safety pilots. When unoccupied, the flights were called NOLO flights, meaning No Live Occupant. During NOLO flights, the red vertical tail was over painted with bright fluorescent red and white stripes were added on the tail.
The chase, or control aircraft used were also Grumman aircraft, the F8F Bearcat, which was also designed to counter the Japanese Zero fighter but arrived too late for action in the war. It was a smaller, more nimble version of the F6F which made it appropriate for chasing and controlling it's larger sibling. The Bearcat achieved some lasting fame as a racing plane in the postwar years and some are still prized as powerful and maneuverable racers. It may be simply my imagination but I feel that the Bearcat bears an amazing resemblance to what was considered by many the finest German fighter of WWII, the Fokker-Wolfe 190.

The Privateer

For a while, we also used the navy version of the air-force B-24 Liberator, a four-engine long-range bomber. The navy designation of these planes was PB4Y2KD. This stood for the fourth type of Patrol Bomber manufactured by the Consolidated Aircraft Corporation (Y).

The B-24 was used extensively during WWII in the European, Mediterranean and Pacific theaters. Although not as resistant to combat damage as the famous B-17, it's long range and heavier bomb capacity made it ideal for the seemingly endless over water distances in the Pacific.

The 2, in its designation, indicated that it was the second version of this aircraft, called the Privateer. The KD designated that it was configured for radio remote-control operation. During our operations, they were also painted bright red to differentiate them from the controlling aircraft. Note the large single tail on the plane. It's predecessor, the PB4Y, called the Buccaneer, retained the twin tail employed by the original B-24. Since the a large tail surface was needed for lateral control, the Privateer was provided with a very large single tail. The Privateer was larger and more difficult to control in flight by the pilot of a single-seat fighter so it was normally controlled from a larger, twin-engine attack aircraft called the JD, shown below. This is a Navy version of the former Army Air Force A-26 attack aircraft and is, in my opinion, a sleek, smooth-riding beauty. I was privileged to have a few rides in our single JD and loved them all.

The Ill-Fated Whiskey Run

I have what I think is an interesting tale about our JD that I'd like to share with you. Shortly after I arrived, our JD was dispatched to the Naval Air Station at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba for what is euphemistically called a 'whiskey run'. Since the price of liquor was much less at Guantanamo, the officers in the squadron would occasionally find a legitimate reason for the JD to fly to Gitmo. They would pool a bunch of cash and, while on the mission, the crew would purchase quite a few cases of normally expensive booze. This trip was no exception. The pilot was a well-qualified veteran but the co-pilot was fairly new. On the return flight, it was necessary to land at Miami for fuel and for customs inspection. As the aircraft descended over Miami Bay, the co-pilot asked if he could land the aircraft. The pilot agreed and the landing sequence was initiated. The cases of whisky had been loaded centrally in the fuselage, directly over the bomb-bay doors.

As the plane descended over the bay, the co-pilot eagerly activated the landing gear handle. Unfortunately, it was adjacent to the bomb-bay control. As you might expect, he opened the bomb bay by mistake and the entire load of whisky tumbled down into the water. Miraculously not one of the many pleasure and fishing boats plying the bay were damaged. The major damage was to the reputation of the co-pilot and his financial status since he now was required to reimburse his squadron mates for the lost whiskey. As a Lieutenant Junior Grade, this would prove to be a rather long-term struggle for his pay grade.

Runaway Robot

This is a tale of a drone mission gone awry. I think it's kind of interesting but I'll let you be the judge of that. An F6F Hellcat drone was launched from NAS Chinco by VX-2 for evaluation of anti-aircraft fire-control radar. The weapon of choice was a 5" x 38 gun, firing inert (no warhead) shells. For these tests the drone carried sensors that could detect the shock wave created as the shell passed by. The level of the shock wave showed just how close the shell came to the aircraft. The idea was not to shoot down the drone. It would just be much too expensive to lose a drone for every pass at the ship. Not just financially but in terms of the many, many hours needed to adapt a mothballed aircraft into a fully functional drone. Therefore, weapons were only fired for effect, that is with live ammunition, in the last phases of each test run. Typically we would have several weeks of this type of test before several drones would be sacrificed to test, not only the radar or the missile-control equipment, but also the effectiveness of warheads and proximity fuses.

I happened to be in the squadron communications center when this episode began and listened to all the radio chatter as it developed. The drone executed a flyby of the ship and radar tracked it and initiated a firing command to the gun. Apparently, the powder bag used as propellant had become contaminated at some point so that instead of the expected explosion nothing seemed to happen. This is called a 'hang fire' and has specific procedures that are to be followed. The powder bags placed in the breech behind the projectile are filled with what we can call gunpowder and are made of silk so that when they burn no burning particles are left in the breech to set off the next powder bag. Sometimes the powder does not fire at all and, after an appropriate waiting period, the breech is opened and the powder bag disposed of. At other timess the contamination of the powder is small enough so that it will burn slowly until it reaches the uncontaminated portion of the powder and then it will fire. This is the reason for the wait. In fact, this powder bag was indeed performing a slow burn.

When the hang fire was declared, the pilot in the chase plane turned the drone to the south and released control to the internal autopilot. A few words about the autopilot if I may. An aircraft autopilot is simply a much more capable version of the cruise control found in most cars today. The cruise control, once actuated, will maintain the preset speed over hill and dale until changed by the driver. The autopilot does the same, except that it also controls the altitude and the direction of the aircraft by using inputs from various sensors such as a compass, air-speed indicator and altimeter. Normally, the chase pilot transmits signals to the drone which are detected by a radio-control receiver. The signals are evaluated by the receiver and forwarded to the autopilot to control the drone in speed, direction and altitude. If the autopilot receives no signals from the receiver, however, it simply continues to execute the last set of commands it received.

In this flight Murphy's law was fully operational. Apparently nobody noticed that the gun was still tracking the drone as it executed its turn to the south. At that time the powder bag exploded and the shell was on its way, directly at the drone. It struck the fuselage just behind the midpoint and passed completely through the aircraft. Unfortunately it also passed directly through the radio-control receiver, destroying it. Control of the drone was now completly in the hands of the autopilot. Since the last commands received placed it on a heading of about south at an altitude of about 3000 feet and an airspeed of about 180 knots it was now working industriously to maintain those parameters. And it did it quite well. Unfortunatly those parameters placed the drone on a course directly at Norfolk VA. Panic ensued.

One of the chase pilots suggested that he try to tip over the drone by placing his wingtip under the Hellcat's wingtip, allowing the aiflow to lift the drone and tumble the gyroscope that was used to maintain stability. This is a technique that was used in England when Germany was firing V1 Drones at London. One of the speedier aircraft, such as the Mosquito or the first English jet fighter, the Gloster Meteor, would sidle up beside the V1 and, using the aforementioned technique, tip the drone, breaking stability and causing it to crash. The difference between these two cases, however, is that the English aircraft had much larger wing area than the tiny german drone and could easily lift it's wing. Unfortunately, however, the F8F Bearcats used as chase planes were smaller than the F6F Hellcats. They had been designed to counter the Japanese Zero aircraft but the war ended before they saw service. They were designed with smaller wing areas than the Hellcat to give them more maneuverability to counter the Zero. This meant, however, that the Hellcat was much more stable and couldn't be tipped like the tiny German V1s.

The next thought was to shoot down the Hellcat before it left the protected exclusion zone 40 miles out to sea. Permission was given and the attack began. Now the Bearcat would normally carry three or possibly four .50 Caliber Browning M2 Machine guns in each wing with about 400 rounds of ammunition for each. Since we were not in a war zone, however, each chase plane was equipped with a single .50 caliber machine gun in each wing with only 100 rounds of ammunition for each. Murphy's law came surging to the front again with a vengeance! In both aircraft, believe it or not, only the gun in the left wing would fire. In this condition, the pilots found it impossible to make enough hits on the drone to bring it down. Each time that single gun fired, the Bearcat was turned to the left, breaking it's aim. In fact, the Hellcat was so ruggedly built that it was extremely difficult to shoot down in the best of times. The Grumman aircraft were so strong that the company was often called 'The Grumman Iron Works'. Neecdless to say this effort failed totally.

The panic level in the operations room was almost incindiery at this point. Local radio media had somehow picked up the story and were announcing that a "Marine Bomber" was out of control and headed for Norfolk. Not a good thing to hear!

Someone suggested to call the Air Force at Langley Field Virginia and ask them to send up interceptors. This was done. The interceptors were Air Force F-94s equipped with multiple 2.75" unguided Zuni rockets, designed to be fired en-masse at intruding Soviet nuclear bombers or in a ground-attack mode. Of course they didn't have guided missiles because we were still developing them! By the time the F-94s arrived, the Hellcat had passed out of the exclusion zone and was flying over private and commercial sea traffic, making any weapon release impossible.

The drone passed over Norfolk without incident with the jets trailing helplessly behind it and headed toward South Carolina. Eventually, just west of Charlston SC it ran out of gas and, with the autopilot industriously trying to keep it airborne, crashed more or less gently onto an island in a lake northwest of Charlston. With no fuel there was no fire. The sigh of relief in the operations room was palpable. Essentially, no harm, no foul. Just another Navy Day.

Abortion, Heaven Help Me

I take my courage in both hands by discussing this issue as a male, but before I begin I hasten to state that I agree fully with the ruling in Roe v. Wade. In my opinion, each and every woman has the unrestricted right to determine the status of her own reproductive condition. No person, male or female, has the right to question whether a woman's choice is or is not correct. Only the woman can make that decision. Having said that I now move into much deeper, muddier and more-dangerous waters.

First, my opinion, and that is what it is, on the viability status of ovum and sperm. The unfertilized ovum has no potential as a complete living being. Over a woman's lifetime, thousands of her eggs ripen, burst out of her ovaries and travel down the fallopian tube. Nearly all those eggs will not be fertilized and will effectively cease to exist. Only on the rare occasion when an egg meets one particular sperm cell and admits it through it's outer shell does the potential for life exist. The sperm, likewise, has no potential for individual existence. Its only hope for life lies in being accepted by an egg and triggering the miraculous process of birth.

What bothers me, and causes me to write this post, are the many specious rationales offered to attempt to justify one aspect of the abortion or another. For instance, some state that life does not exist in the instant after fertilization because what exists is only a small cluster of cells which are too primitive to be considered alive. In reality, that instant of fertilization is the beginning of a long and complex process that, if all goes well, will in fact result in the production of a complete human being. It's like saying, after stepping off a 30-story building, that one is not going to die. In reality, the inexorable process of death has already begun and will continue to its logical conclusion. (No fair bringing in parachutes or Superman.)

Several other criteria have been proposed, ranging from 'the fetus feels no pain'. (Calling it a fetus, by the way rather than a baby, is the first step in dehumanizing it, much as the Nazis called the Jews subhuman and therefore lacking the right to life.) Another rationale is that the fetus (sic) cannot live external to the mother and only when that is possible can it be considered alive. This is like saying that a newborn child cannot live if we throw it into a snowbank and therefore it is not prepared for life. The reality is, and this is an interesting concept, is that once the egg bursts its bonds in the surface of the ovary it is no long actually within the body of the mother, any more than the baby kangaroo in the pouch is within its mother's body. I don't think anyone would claim that a roo in it's mother's pouch is, in fact, inside its mother's body.

Now this may seem bizarre but it is true and real. The inside of the woman's uterus is composed of and is a direct extension of the outer skin of the mother's body. This is also true of the entire human alimentary canal. The mouth, stomach and gut of a human (or other animal) is actually a modified version of the outer skin of the body. The digestive processes that occur are made possible by the ability of this tissue to pass liquids and gasses through its walls by the process of osmosis. This means that from the time food enters one end of your body and exits at the other it has never really been inside your body at all. Strange huh? But true!

By now you can see where I'm going. In my opinion, there is no possible way to justify an abortion by claiming that what you are killing is not a human being. It is nothing else. No matter how soon after conception it is flushed from it's dark, warm, welcoming home, it is being killed just as surely as if one had held a pistol to the head of an infant.

So now you say, "Well what is your point? At first you said that women have the unrestricted right to determine their own reproductive status and now you say that abortion is the killing of a human life." Both statements are correct. The woman has that right but, in my opinion, cannot evade the ultimate responsibility of her or our action. I am certainly no moral paragon, make no mistake about that. I certainly have my feet of clay as do we all. What I cannot bear, however, is the duplicity inherent in creating this logical ballet of rationales to avoid responsibility for our actions. The honest course, in my humble opinion, is to make our decision, do what we feel we must do, and then admit, at least to ourselves, exactly what we have done. Our common law has given the woman the right to make this choice and I believe she needs to make it honestly and bravely and accept what she (we) has done.

We will never be truly evolved human beings until we accept the responsibilities of our actions. Living such lies throughout our lives is like drinking acid. Even if it is diluted it will eventually eat through us and destroy our souls and our humanity.

I want my readers to know (if there in fact are any readers) that I do not write this with any amount of arrogance about my own purity or perfection. Far from that, I am just another poor schmuck trying to make my way through life without screwing up too many more times.

Thank you for your patience and forbearance.


Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Capital Punishment Revisited


Well, here it is...my very first post on my brand new blog. I figured I'd start with something that is not the least bit controversial .... capital punishment! Although this would become obvious soon enough I need to make a disclosure. I am a lefty, a progressive, a liberal, a democrat or whatever you want to call me. I am not a communist or a socialist. I believe in the representative democracy that structures our lives and society. I also believe that some changes are needed but I'm pretty happy with the way things work. If our political orientations are in radically different directions and you are not comfortable with my opinions, I can only say "Live long, prosper and be well."

And now to the subject at hand, institutionalized murder, i.e. capital punishment. People argue vehemently on both sides of this issue but all of the opinions I've seen don't come to the core of the question. The arguments range from 'an eye for an eye', to 'they won't do it again', to 'it's cheaper than life in prison', to 'it's a deterrent' and on and on. The only one of these that I'll address at this moment is the 'cheaper than prison' screed simply because there are real numbers to prove this, not just emotion or rhetoric. In reality, according to studies I've read, the average cost to bring a prisoner to the point of execution is about $5,000,000.00. Yup, five million buckaroos. With all the appeals and legal costs and super-tight confinement this is not an inexpensive operation. On the other hand, the average cost to maintain a prisoner in a secure prison environment is $20,000 per year. That's right twenty THOUSAND buckaroos a year. Some very simple math will show that that five million dollars would allow us to imprison our murderer safely away from society for, ready for it??? Two hundred and fifty years! 250 years. Now that's what I call a bargain.

The opposing argument I would like to propose, however, is one that I think trumps all the other arguments. One of the major aspects of a democratic society is that those who are governed cede to the government many of the rights they would normally possess. For instance, although we have the right to protect our homes and families we have ceded that right to the government in the form of the various law-enforcement organizations. Although we have the right to educate our children, most of us have ceded that responsibility to either the government or some other organization, school etc. We don't pave our own streets, or wage our own wars, or regulate our drugs or meat or whatever. We allow our elected representatives to perform those tasks for us.

Summing up, in a civilized nation, none of us have the right to commit premeditated murder on another human being, and I don't know how else capital punishment can be described. It is premeditated, ritualistic and barbarous. Since we do not have that right, it follows then as the night unto the day (Hamlet) we cannot cede that power to the government. We cannot give away what we do not have or own. All other arguments to the contrary, this is I believe the bottom line. We do not have the right to commit murder and neither, therefore, does our government. I firmly believe that it is just that simple.

Thank you for your kind attention.