May 31, 2011

Blue Angels Stand Down

As long-time readers of The Pond are aware, my apartment (known as Pond Central) is just a few miles from Duckford International Airport.  Every year, the Duckford AirFest is held there, sometime during the summer months.  The past two years, the headlining act at AirFest has been the USAF Thunderbirds.  Let's face it, as far as headliners go, that's awfully hard to beat, and I got some great pictures of them last year.

But when the organizers of AirFest announced some months ago that they had nabbed the US Navy's Blue Angels for this year's show, and that they'd be performing on June 4th and 5th, I practically wet myself with joy.  See, 2011 is the Centennial of Naval Aviation, and getting the Angels during that service-wide celebration was a monumental coup.  Then look a little closer at the dates they'd be performing: June 4th and 5th would be the 69th anniversary of the US Navy's greatest victory, the Battle of Midway.  That couldn't have worked out better if I had picked the dates myself.  I was actually thinking about attending the AirFest, instead of standing nearby, I was so stoked.  In the end, I decided to return to the frontage road I was at last year, but either way... wow!

Then Brickmuppet sent me an e-mail, and it all turned to ashes.  Commander Dave Koss had voluntarily stepped down from his position of the Blue Angels' commander, as he had led a maneuver that "had an unacceptably low minimum altitude."

This video is actually two clips; the first clip, shot on May 21st, shows how the move is supposed to be done.  The second, shot on May 22nd, shows the incorrect maneuver.  Keep an eye on #4, the trailing or "slot" plane, look how low he gets... and notice how the diamond scatters, instead of staying together like they do in the first clip.  The lead plane, Cmdr Koss', takes the diamond too low.

It's not a particularly egregious error, but enough of one that the lives of the performers were in quite a bit of danger.  When you fly like the Blue Angels, or the Thunderbirds, or the Snowbirds, or any other performance team, any mistake is enough to kill you and potentially hundreds of spectators in an instant. 

It takes a brave man to admit that he screwed up like that, and a braver one still to step down from one of the high-prestige positions in their business... voluntarily, at that.  He's been replaced by last year's commander, Captain Greg McWhirter, for the duration of the season.  Because of all this, the Blue Angels have gone into "safety stand-down" mode for the next couple of weeks, canceling airshows in Evansville, IN, a show in New Jersey over Memorial Day weekend... and their appearance at Duckford AirFest.

Darn it.

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May 27, 2011

Beginning The Miracle

As all good Pacific War otaku know, the 69th anniversary of the Battle of Midway is coming up early next month.  Regarded as the most stunning and important victory in the history of Naval warfare, three US aircraft carriers, supported by aircraft flying from Midway Atoll, attacked and sunk four Japanese aircraft carriers, three of them in the space of just a handful of minutes on June 4th, 1942.

While the US was outnumbered by the Japanese in the number of aircraft carriers present at the battle, the Americans had broken the Japanese radio codes and had a detailed knowledge of their plans for the whole skirmish.  Taking advantage of this, the US Navy in effect ambushed the Japanese fleet.  Of course, the victory did not come without cost.  Three squadrons of torpedo planes were effectively wiped out, and one of the American carriers, the USS Yorktown, was sunk.

The Japanese presumed the Yorktown to have been sunk a month earlier, at the Battle of the Coral Sea.  Indeed, she had been beaten up, but the first and possibly greatest of the "miracles" of Midway had occurred in the intervening time.

Or had it?

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May 26, 2011

Meanwhile, Somewhere Else...

You may remember that I've been a strong supporter of Quacked Panes, a twice-weekly webcomic by fine fellow waterfowl GreyDuck.  The stresses of trying to come up with two good punchlines every week do take their toll on a duck, however, and every year GD takes a short vacation from the strip.  Last year, he simply went dark, which is never a good thing. 

This year though, he came up with a great idea: allow volunteers to make "remixes" of his comics, takign the original pictures and inserting their own scripts.  Of course, I couldn't not participate!  Today, my three-strip run began.  Go take a look, will you?  Quacked Panes deserves your eyeballs!

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May 22, 2011

The Big Storm

It's 1116pm, and it's still raining outside, but the weather nabobs tell us that the worst of the storms are over.  That's good, because there were three distinct storms that rolled through the Duckford area in four hours.  The picture above comes from the first one, just as the tornado sirens were going off.  What you can't see is that there was a distinct (but slow) rotation occurring in that mass o' clouds, in a counter-clockwise direction.  A couple of minutes after I took that picture, the cloudfront passed over Pond Central:

A few minutes later, all heck broke loose.  Heavy, heavy rain, lots of wind, pea-to-quarter sized hail, the temperatures dropped nearly 20 degrees in about 10 minutes, and a wind gust of 70mph at E State and I-90, which is about 4 miles from Pond Central.  Multiple funnel clouds were reported, one in the Machesney Park area (north of Duckford proper by about a mile or so), and a few to the east and southeast (Cherry Valley vicinity, about five or six miles from Pond Central).  Lots of trees down, some 25000 people without power, the roof was ripped off a school gymnasium, so on and so forth.  The National Weather Service is supposed to be here tomorrow to investigate whether this was all due to tornadic activity, a microburst or two, or just a damn big thunderstorm.

Now, that one was bad enough, but then two more storms rolled through.  Neither caused tornado sirens to go off, but they had a lot more lightning, and a lot more rain.  There's probably flooding in Duckford as a result.

Also as a result, I'm not going to post the F1U! until Monday... I gave up when the second storm peaked.  Shut down the computer, unplugged it and sat far away from the windows.  On the plus side, I am more than happy to report that the Gunslinger Girl manga is great.

Thanks for being patient.

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Weather Delays

I had fully intended to have the F1 Update! for Spain up by now, but we had a few problems here in Duckford.  Namely:

This screenshot was just from just as one of the worst storms I've ever had the "pleasure" to experience hit Duckford.  There are reports of a possible tornado to the north of the city; here at Pond Central, we had a lot of rain, a lot of wind and some small hail.  There was a Tornado Warning here, the sirens went off and all that.  There's a tree down in the treeline behind Pond Central, too.

As I type this, there's a lot of thunder outside, and a severe thunderstorm warning until 830pm.  I don't know when I'll be able to get the F1U! up, but hopefully tonight.  I'll be keeping my head down (and the computer off) until things start to clear up a touch.

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May 19, 2011

The Pacific Q-Ship

In 1915, things were looking grim for the British Isles.  Unrestricted submarine warfare was slowly strangling the country, cutting off the flow of supplies to the nation.  Stocks of fuel, armaments, supplies and food were all at desperately low levels... the Allies were losing the Battle of the Atlantic.  At that time, defenses against submarines were rudimentary at best.  Sonar was non-existent, depth charges were crude and for the most part ineffective, and the homing torpedo wasn't even thought of yet.  The only realistic chance that a defending ship had to sink a submarine was to catch it on the surface.

While it's hard to imagine a submarine allowing itself to be caught on the surface these days, things were different in 1915.  At the time, submarines were what would be called "submersibles" today: able to descend under the waves for a short time only, while doing most of their movement on the surface.  Because their underwater time was limited, a sub would "go under" only when preparing for an attack run... and not always then.  The torpedoes of the time were cranky, ill-tempered beasts that were often unreliable, and always in short supply.  It was quite common for a submarine to sneak up on a target, surface, then engage with a deck gun.  Of course this would only work against an unarmed freighter or transport; it goes without saying that an actual warship would receive a torpedo fired from underwater.

However, even this limited method of attack was extremely effective against unarmed merchant craft... so effective that England was on the verge of starving.  The obvious defense, convoying, or putting a large number of merchant vessels in one group while defending them with one or more warships, was ruled out by the ship-strapped Royal Navy.  There just weren't enough warships to go around.  Something had to be done, and quickly.  Two innovations arose from this desperate need.

The first was the armed merchantman.  More of a throwback than a true innovation, at its heart the armed merchantman was a descendant of the age of sail, when almost every East Indiaman had a good number of cannon lining its rails to fight off pirates and privateers.  The generic armed merchantman of WWI-vintage would have the firepower of a destroyer or light cruiser, six 6" guns and various numbers of smaller guns as a secondary battery.  Since they were built as merchant vessels, they were however fragile: little in the way of compartmentalization to prevent flooding, little if any armor (other than raw size) to prevent damage, with a slow top speed that prevented running away.  Armed merchantmen were mostly for use against commerce raiders as a self-defense measure: if a warship came upon an armed merchantman, at least there was some way to fight back.  However, with their guns carried on deck, they were just as likely as a battleship to attract a torpedo from a submarine.

The second innovation was the Q-ship.  Take a freighter and turn it into an armed merchantman... then hide the guns inside false panels or deck structures or belowdeck.  When a submarine approached, it'd see a nice big fat undefended target, surface and engage with the deck gun... at which point, the Q-boat would drop the false panels, run out the guns and with the element of surprise blow the submarine out of the water.  To be sure, they could take on a surface vessel as well, but their weapons were more designed to engage fragile submarines: a hole or two would prevent a sub from diving, trapping it on the surface.  Q-ships had no set armament loadout, but multiple 3" guns were common.

Despite the clever idea, Q-ships were generally ineffective against submarines in WWI, accounting for less than 10% of all kills scored.  Instead, they were more of a psychological weapon, preying upon the mind of a U-boat captain.  If any freighter could be heavily armed and just waiting for you to surface, the sub captain might be more reluctant to do so, and either let the freighter go or waste a precious torpedo on it.

During WWII, there was a repeat of the WWI Battle of the Atlantic, and the Q-ship concept was revived.  It was even less successful than in WWI, mainly because advances in submarine technology meant that a sub could spend less time on the surface, torpedoes were much less prone to failure and in greater supply.   The Royal Navy commissioned nine Q-ships in 1939, two of which were sunk on their first mission.  None of them sank a U-boat, and they were quietly retired in 1941.  The US Navy converted five cargo vessels to Q-ships, one of which was sunk and the other four failed to engage a submarine during their two-year run.

And then there was the USS Anacapa.

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May 18, 2011

Name This Mystery Ship V

By popular demand, the "Name This Mystery Ship" contest is back!  Here's the rules: no cheating by using photo-matching programs or things like that.  Otherwise?  Free game.  The winner gets a post on a topic of his or her own choosing (within limits: no pr0n, religion or politics).  If it looks like nobody is going to get it, I may decide to post a hint or two.

Here's the mystery ship:

Good luck to you!

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May 14, 2011

A Day In The Life

I've not been posting much recently.  Truth be told, I've not been doing much of anything recently.  See, Monday was the start of Finals week at Duck U.  That means that it was also the start of buyback, and that means it was one of the four "Golden Weeks" at the Duck U Bookstore.  Other than Wednesday's visit with Vauc and Dr John, I've been pretty much focused on work, to the exclusion of most else.  Pretty much I'd get home, eat, watch a little television, then hit the hay.

Today was a bit different, however.  I was summoned by my doctor a few weeks ago, told that he wouldn't allow refills on my "keep Wonderduck alive" medication until I got up to the office for a status review.  Problem: his office is in one of the little towns that surround Duckford, to the North.  Pond Central is on the South side; indeed, if I threw a baseball from my balcony, it'd land outside the Duckford city limits... or at least, it would if my throwing wing was as strong as it used to be.  The upshot is that it's a 45-minute drive, more or less, to get to Doc's office.  Of course we've been too busy for me to get time off work to go during the week.  Such is the excitement of life, right?  Oh, and today was the only day off I'm getting for a while.  Graduation is on Sunday, and there's a Registration Event for the Fall semester next Saturday, and yours truly gets the pleasure of working them. 

The doctor's visit went well, though it took forever.  I've been going to Doc H for maybe 30 years; he was on the board of directors for the hospice Momzerduck used to run back in the day, and it was natural for him to become the family doc, y'know?  Anyway, the passage of time just blows my mind... I found out that his daughter is 21, studying to be a nurse, and will be attending Duck U in the fall.  I've seen her grow up via photographs in his office; that news just freaked me right the heck out. 

After the visit with Doc H (and a very professional stick job from his "lab rats"), I had a birthday party to attend for Ph.Duck's aunt.  She turned 90 on Friday, and there was a private room booked at a Swedish-styled eatery here in town (there's a huge percentage of Swedes in Duckford; indeed, Lilly and her family came over when she was two), always a good place to eat: fresh squeezed orange juice and lingonberries FTW!  Alas, the appointment with the doctor took too long, leaving me in a quandary.  I had planned to go to the doc, then grocery shopping, the the birthday party.  I got back to Duckford too late to go shopping, but too early to go to the party.  So I decided to visit a used book shop nearby, kill some time there.  It's been there forever, but I've never stopped in; sort of out of the way, y'know?

The moment I walked in, I was approached by the store's cat.  It took one look at me and knew I was okay; floor-counter-pile of books-Wonderduck-purrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.  So I spent a half-hour walking around the bookstore, skritching a cat... and if you've never done that, let me tell you, you're missing the best way to visit a bookstore ever.  When I was in grad school, there was a local bookstore that had a shopcat, too.  Whenever I dropped in, which was probably every week, he would immediately drape himself around my neck and just hang there like a scarf for the duration of my visit.  Wonderful way to peruse the shelves, lemme tell ya.  Sadly, the shopcat passed away a few years later, but got an obituary in the town's daily newspaper.

After the birthday party, I came back to Pond Central and promptly fell asleep.  Exciting day, huh?  Hopefully, now that the Spring semester has come to an end things will return to normal around here... or what passes for normal, that is.

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May 10, 2011

Well, I dunno...?

I've been sitting here at my computer, trying to figure out something interesting, funny or stupid to write about.  I'm coming up completely blank, which means I've probably fulfilled the last category with this post.  So I'm coming to you, my loyal reader(s?), with a plea: gimme something to write about.  Think of it like my "name that ship" contest, without having to name a ship... except it's not guaranteed that I'll write about what you name.

C'mon, I'm beggin' ya here!  In a show of good faith, here's a picture that made me laugh:

Don't make me bring out Rio Rainbow Gate! again...

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May 08, 2011

Mother's Day 2011

I miss Momzerduck.  Days like today suck.

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May 06, 2011

Ducklings. Yo-yos. Wheeee!

Really, there's not much more to say.

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May 03, 2011

Guess... Really.

Throwing a curveball at you today.  Why a pigeon?

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